Many thanks to Sarmat's new lead vocalist Łukasz Kobusiński, formerly of Mortis Dei and Puki 'Mahlu, for sending over this album for review. It's a debut for Sarmat, but it's an accomplished one that does not remotely feel like a debut. Sarmat was formed in 2018 by a pair of guitarists, Daniel Szymanowicz and Krzysztof Kopczeński, both of whom have credits with other bands, Szymanowicz spending over a decade with Aggressor. I presume there are other musicians in the band beyond them and Kobusiński, though that may well be a drum machine, but, if there are, I have no idea who they might be.
Sarmat hail from Poland and I've liked a lot of what I've been hearing from that country of late, even if I'm not discerning a particular scene; the best bands I've heard so far are from all over the musical map: the folk metal of Velesar, the epic doom of Monasterium and the ever-reliable thrash/death of Vader, not to forget the prog of Fren and the hard rock of Kruk. Of those, Sarmat are closest to Vader because, while they're listed as black/death, they (especially the drums) play at a serious clip and I've heard lots of slower thrash bands lately. That black metal influence is a big one though so, if you can imagine a layer of black metal that over recent Vader, you won't be too far from Sarmat's sound.
Initially, it sounds good but also very consistent in approach. I think I was four songs into the album before I acknowledged that I'd moved to another track, the intro to Seeds of Uncertainty eventually shaking me out of that mindset. Repeat listens do allow each of these tracks to carve out its own identity from the rest but they're still very consistent in tone and tempo for quite a while, meaning that, if you like what you hear when the album kicks off, you're going to like the whole album, but, if you don't, it has no intention of converting you later on. You're either in or you're not.
The good news is that this particular tone and tempo is a decent one that gets immersive. The drums are usually very fast indeed, providing a black metal wall of sound backdrop. The guitars often play a lot slower but they're also part of that wall of sound and they speed up, adding a surprisingly bouncy feel sometimes, given the darkness inherent in the sound. The vocals are a warm death growl that's harsh but welcoming. All the playing is technical and intricate, sometimes reaching math territory on songs like Evilution. It's easy to just fall into this and let it take us places, forgetting that it's actually shifting from one track to another.
All that holds true for pretty much everything on this album, which means seven out of eight tracks, so it's very difficult to call out highlights from them. I would raise You Don't Live in My War as the exception because it takes a different approach vocally and the whole tone of the song shifts. This one feels a lot more atmospheric black than death and its both angrier and more patient. That's a tasty guitar solo late in the song that we'd usually expect to hear on a song with much slower drums. Those drums vanish entirely during the bookends too, which are an important part of this song, conjuring up a sparse but hellish landscape, with a demon serving as our guide. It's a really neat track and, if Sarmat go down the road that this suggests they should, they're going to be a damn good band.
However, it's that variety that makes this one my favourite track. While I enjoyed the album as a whole and it ought to play well to die hard black/death fans, I'd have appreciated more of that variety and, when it shows up in this track, it's obviously a better album because of it. If you're one of those die hards, please add a point to my rating because this is strong, uncompromising stuff played impeccably. If you're not, this probably isn't your best introduction to the genre and you should check out their fellow Poles Behemoth first, or other more accessible blackened death bands like God Dethroned or even Goatwhore. If you find that you dig the style, come on back to Sarmat too.