Thursday 20 April 2023

The Black Harvest - Mortuary Dogma (2023)

Country: Chile
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Mar 2023
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I've been listening to this album for a few days now as I wrap up some books for publication and it's soaked into my skin. It feels immersive to me, the beat steady rather than slow and the production excellent. The music reminds me of Winds of Sirius, who put out an amazing album back in 1999 and vanished, but with production that the French band could only dream of. Every component is easy to follow, so we can go to ground with the dirty bass and rhythm guitar and watch the clean lead a long way above us, soaring in beauty. The vocals move between the two.

The Black Harvest have been around for a long time, formed as far back as 2004, though it took ten years to get round to a demo. That may be because it was initially a much smaller project, with the guitarist today, who goes by D.b, playing every instrument and M.v providing vocals over the top. I see that line-up on both demos, but it fleshed out in 2016 to a full band. I'm not sure when current vocalist Jorge Quilape joined, but everyone else showed up at that point, so they've been solid for seven years now.

I haven't heard their debut album, a self-titled effort in 2017, but this feels like exactly the sort of thing that should show up after a six year wait because it's well worth waiting for. The opener is a strong way to start and it establishes a sound, just as any self-titled song ought to, but Torment of the Damned promptly takes it all up a notch. This is an epic, almost ten minutes in length, and it's one to really sink our teeth into, from the tasty opening riff into the echoing opening guitar solo. It feels exactly right to the degree that if I played you ten seconds from it at random, you'd be able to tell me where in the song I'm at. That's a breakdown in the midsection. That's the home stretch with everything doubling down on the groove. That's soon in, as the intro gives way to a build and the song starts to grow.

The more I hear this album, the more I love it, but that goes double for Torment of the Damned. It keeps throwing out fresh details that I didn't notice before, little touches in the background that don't do much individually but do something that deepens the song just a little and those touches add up to a heck of a lot once it's all said and done. Nothing else here matches its length but these don't tend to be short. Insurrection Path at the heart of the album is only four and a half minutes long, putting it a couple of minutes shy of anything else. Theater of Blood comes closest to being a second epic at eight and a half, which ought to count.

There are five musicians in the band and they all play a key part. Lino Contreras is excellent behind the drumkit, but what he does is emphasised by the bass of Manuel Vera Barria and especially the rhythm guitar of Moisés Alvarado, which is a wonderful contrast to the lead guitar of D.b. The lead is always clean and it soars and sustains, in the style of Paradise Lost's Gregor Mackintosh, echoing over the other instruments. Alvarado, however, plays a vicious rhythm that's built from edges and dirt and grittiness. When he's laying down a riff and D.b's soaring over him, as happens often, the contrast is magnificent. I'd almost call it the signature sound of the Black Harvest. I'm not sure if I prefer that stretch on Insurrection Path or The Succubi Delight.

And that leaves Quilape, who underlines how genre-fluid the band are. This is doom/death, with a doom pace and a death bite, but it often moves into gothic metal. Part of that is inherent in those Paradise Lost comparisons, but Quilape emphasises it. He alternates between a death growl, that feels warm and neatly rumbling, and a deep resonant clean voice. There's some Nick Holmes in his delivery but plenty of Andrew Eldritch too and something that reminded me of a powerful monk who renounced his faith to sing darker rituals. That's at the fore during the first half of Theater of Blood, before Quilape shifts back to his death growl halfway.

Perhaps most important of all, the combination of all the above may work on individual songs but continues to work throughout the album, with every song in contention for a highlight, so that the best song becomes the one that you're listening to at any particular moment. Each one of the five musicians also has multiple moments to take the spotlight without anyone appearing to show off. Contreras remains the solid backbone to the band but even he gets moments, like the very end of From Flesh to Ashes. It may be the simplest thing he's done on the album but it stands out.

And that means that this is another 8/10 for what's been a tasty week. Notably, all three of my 8s have come from the lesser known bands I'm reviewing first before a more established band. That seems telling.

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