Like an unholy classical arrangement in four movements, Spectral Voice spew forth a cacophonous funeral rite from the netherworld dubbed Sparagmos.

Release date: February 9, 2024 | Dark Descent Records | Bandcamp | Facebook

Spectral Voice are a death-doom band made up of three out of the four members of Blood Incantation joined by Eli Wendler of Black Curse on vocals and drums. So talent wise we’re off to a pretty good start before we’ve even hit play on their new record Sparagmos. Spectral Voice’s last album was several years back now, 2017’s Eroded Corridors of Unbeing. As with that album Sparagmos flirts with various elements and influences with a heavy focus on atmosphere.

If you’re wondering about the album’s peculiar title, Sparagmos comes from an Ancient Greek Dionysian rite of dismembering a sacrificial victim alive. Fun Fact: the flesh offerings, which were occasionally human, were often consumed raw after their ceremonial slaughter. In this context the overall tone of the record and especially the album cover take on an even darker more sinister nature. Sparagmos delivers forty-five minutes of torturous death-laced doom split over just four monumental tracks.

There’s something special about long form songs which demand a near hypnotic level of focus, which pays off in a profound sense of clarity. My love for music presented in this extended form began long before hearing the sixty minute one track monstrosity that is Dopesmoker or the epic Sorrow and Extinction of Pallbearer. (Or much more recently on Body Void’s Atrocity Machine, which was easily my favorite metal album of last year.) For me it all started with Opeth’s first album. Orchid revealed to me the strange joy of being forced to pinpoint down to the exact timestamp of a favorite moment within a thirteen minute song to even begin to discuss it at all. There’s a bond to be found in the kinship such detail oriented specificity requires. You can’t simply say, ‘I really liked the fourth song.’ But instead when you talk about the guitar solo at five minutes and forty three seconds on “Forest of October” they know exactly what you mean.

Sparagmos starts off with an ethereal windy extended introduction where the drums and vocals rise and fall in false starts that build up an uncomfortable anticipation which lasts until about halfway through the first track “Be Cadaver”. It’s at about the six minute mark that the elements that have been building up all along fuse together. The drums rise in the first proper blastbeat. The guitar and vocal work go a bit wild, before deconstructing again. The focus now shifted to these wicked growls backed by ominous guitar lines.

The drum fill and bell at the end of “Be Cadaver” are like a signal chime to reawaken back into your body. This meditation is over. It’s a good thing to have this wake-up call as preparation for the start of “Red Feasts Condensed into One” because it explodes with total unhinged anarchy. The song goes on to swell and contract from this chaotic beginning. At five minutes and forty seconds in, an otherworldly wind chime and brass fuzz out to a noisy drone before the doomy guitar and drums return. Later on the drums and guitar work at the nine minute mark are just one of many highlights throughout the many delightful twists and turns this album takes. But before long “Red Feasts” outro drone is swirling towards its watery conclusion.

The guttural growls of death-doom go beyond simply being vocals to actually becoming their own distinct instrument. They are arguably second only to the wails of black metal in this regard. This is partly due to the nearly indecipherable nature of the lyrics, which impose a disconnection from the analytical. But also in the pure animalistic quality of the voice itself. This is in addition to the tonal or sonic qualities of these disparate vocal styles. Black metal’s high pitch wailing screams are contrasted with the cavernous lows of death-doom. In describing this I’ll forever recall Strong Bad’s observation that death metal lyrics should be screamed “from the bowels of your lungs”. The filth that Spectral Voice have pulled from the bowels of their lungs on Sparagmos is the perfect complement to the album’s ghastly death centric thematic and sonic elements.

Viewed in this light long form extreme metal with harsh vocals can be taken as the antithesis of pop. A typical radio friendly unit shifter is only about three minutes long and sticks religiously to the standard verse-chorus formula. The music will be catchy and danceable. The lyrics will be boldly at the fore. Universally relatable and easily sung along to, especially at the chorus. Contrasting starkly with metal where oftentimes, even for a seasoned listener, you can’t understand what the fuck they’re saying.

Unlike the smooth natural feeling transition between tracks one and two the switchover to track three is rather abrupt and attention grabbing. At almost eight minutes “Sinew Censer” is the shortest song of the bunch, containing some of the liveliest and most dense material on the entire album. After some forceful drum fills there’s a sort of raspy whispered interlude while the drums are building up in the background. Then about halfway through everything else cuts away and we’re left with this sort of eerie lone guitar riff, which the drums and raspy growls rejoin. All the noise cuts away once again to another lone guitar riff now sped up a bit. When everything else returns to the mix this time it’s with an added fury that is maintained to just the last few seconds of the song when a similar transition to between the first two tracks takes place. It’s this kind of constant tension by addition and subtraction of elements that’s at play throughout Sparagmos.

“Sinew Censer” can be imagined as the wild thrashing of a mammoth realizing they are stuck in a tar pit. Fighting to break free in reckless fits that surge to the point of exhaustion only to build back up again. But by the closing track “Death’s Knell Rings in Eternity” our mammoth is no longer struggling. Having accepted their fate they are now sinking ever further into the oozing blackness of tar awaiting death’s release as their only companion. “Death’s Knell” stretches and lurches ever forward highlighting some of the harshest truly evil vocals to be heard anywhere all fuzzed out and echoing. The album closes with a near funeral doom procession towards the unknown that lies even beyond death, that mammoth’s corpse now encased in darkness for eternity.

Whereas Blood Incantation delved further into death metal on their absolutely phenomenal 2019 album Hidden History of the Human Race and have lately been experimenting with ambient soundscapes, Spectral Voice are exploring the slow laborious sludge of doom with decidedly brilliant flares of death bursting to the fore. So despite sharing three members with Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice are sonically quite distinct. The bands are comfortably treading different paths of a shared forest. One of the stark differences between death and doom metal is in composition. Death metal albums tend to be more a collection of songs with a heavy emphasis on riffs and beats. Doom metal however slows things down to a near glacial pace stretching out moments shifting attention to individual notes and melody. With Sparagmos we get the best of both worlds, a meticulously crafted album interlaced with blast beats and guitar work that keep the hook in deep.

Sparagmos is an exceptional record which I expect to see all over album of the year lists. Furthermore this album has the kind of staying power that grows on the listener rewarding return visitations. I feel strongly that in the fullness of time we will see Sparagmos held up alongside other modern classics of death-doom such as Ahab’s The Call of the Wretched Sea and Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper as exemplars of the genre.

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