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Lunarterial Kez Whelan , November 18th, 2014 13:36

Can you remember the first time you ever came face to face with extreme metal? It's a feeling cherished by unwashed longhairs the world over, and one that has a tendency to reoccur every time metal pushes itself into more uncompromising terrain; that giddy thrill that shot through your body the first time you heard Slayer, for example, finally being bested by that slack-jawed bafflement that accompanied your first encounter with Napalm Death, and so on and so forth. The genre thrives on this sense of one-upmanship, but as time goes by and the more esoteric tendrils of the genre branch into even faster/slower/uglier/prettier (delete as applicable) climes, these instances of energising bewilderment become ever rarer. Of course, similar concerns have surely been voiced at every stage of metal's subsequent leaps in extremity, but when the envelope has been pushed so far that, in 2014, gravity blasts, nodule inducing shrieks and 250bpm bass drum rolls are de rigueur, those moments that leap out and force you to exclaim "what the fuck is that?" are somewhat more difficult to come by. But they're out there – and usually from bands that get that it's not really about how fast or slow you play, but the energy you put into it that produces those joyously incredulous reactions. Bands like Swallowed, for instance.

For the uninitiated, the Finns caused a bit of a stir about seven years ago with two quick demo tapes brimming with murky, doom laden death metal very much in the vein of Asphyx or Autopsy (even going as far as covering the latter's 'In The Grip Of Winter'), before twisting that hallmark sound into some truly uncomfortable shapes on their eponymous 7" EP released in 2010. The lumbering, squelchy groove so typical of the genre had all but evaporated, leaving the band's leaden chords to hang in the air like thick, black clouds, reducing familiar riff patterns to a series of halted, confrontational strikes and emphasising the tension in between each filthy great slab of distortion. The band then promptly disappeared for a good four years, but the wait was certainly worth it, as the evolution displayed between the demos and EP has occurred tenfold on their debut full-length, Lunarterial.

The album feels far more chaotic than anything the band has done before, structured in a way that will be wholly disorientating upon first listen. Frenzied, ridiculously primal bursts of bestial energy are stitched onto depraved chunks of doom in a particularly surreal way, almost like a strung out and severely sleep deprived Beherit attempting to re-record Disembowelment's Transcendence Into The Peripheral. That demented energy informs even the most ponderous moments of Lunarterial, ensuring the record feels alive for the duration, bristling with a peculiar, edge-of-your-seat intensity. 'Arterial Mists Of Doom' is perhaps the most obvious example of this, jolting between ominous, elongated chords and blistering shards of aggression on a knife edge. The song is actually a restructured version of the EP's side long closer, 'The Dying Misted In The Bloodstream', but the difference between the two is enough to warrant the change of name, the former replacing the latter's sparse, foreboding atmosphere with a completely unhinged, electrifying tension – you can feel when the band is anticipating the next sudden explosion of skin-flaying blastbeats before they even occur by the manic, evil urgency just radiating off it.

And that's before we've even mentioned the album's centrepiece, the 25 minute long freakout 'Libations'. The band's psychedelic influences come to the fore as they take some serious liberties with the death metal blueprint, tearing their sound apart and relishing in the twisted, abstract shapes left behind. If you could liken the bleak, sombre tones of Swallowed's EP to Picasso's Blue Period, then this is surely their Guernica, a harrowing yet gloriously surreal and wonderfully realised vision of chaos and violence.

There's a certain possessed, almost spontaneous quality to this record, lending these songs a visceral quality that some of their more single-minded peers have a tendency to drift away from. Lunarterial is still an exhausting listen, but for the constant grip it exerts over the listener rather than something as mundane as blastbeat fatigue. Like all truly great death metal, it'll take a little while to get over the initial bafflement this album will undoubtedly cause, but once you do, there's a good chance you'll find yourself enamoured with its twisted, demonic visage.