The word "dark" gets thrown around a lot in album reviews, including my own, but I think Cruciamentum really embodies this definition. It's all about how the riffs, growls and blasts come together. This UK-based death metal powerhouse emerged in the late-2007s and has since become a symbol of quality for listeners seeking out the finest in forceful punishment. Cruciamentum's 2015 debut album, Charnel Passages, secured the band's reputation as a doom-laden band with a flair for technical shows of force. Obsidian Refractions continues their reign, toppling all their past achievements with ease.
The album begins with a nod to the previous album with a song simply titled "Charnel Passages," and displays everything that's great about Cruciamentum. The song has slow eerie parts, faster brutal parts, and other shades of sheer terror in between — and this successful blending of moods truly sets the band apart. Each part of Cruciamentum's repertoire is well-executed and keeps the listener wanting more. There is so much boring "new old-school" death metal out there. Even within the band's sub-category — i.e., bands that sound vaguely like Incantation and Immolation — the field is crowded like a traffic jam on Hell's highway. This album is like a cursed hot rod with spikes ripping through all the other vehicles and blowing right past them.
"Abhorrence Evangelium" is an absolute ripper, and shows the power of the rhythm section to full-effect. The balancing of MH's kick drum and CE's bass is just perfect here, as it provides the ideal backdrop for all the soloing and sermonizing done by DL and DR's guitars. "Necropolis of Obsidian Mirrors" sounds like the kind of song that 100 other bands have attempted but somehow made into an absolute snoozefest. Cruciamentum avoids this trap by, again, mixing parts up in a cool way and keeping things interesting. Pay particular attention to the part that comes in at 3:25, as it's a tempo I didn't expect at all and one that differs in a subtle way from those used by many similar bands.
The fourth track, "Scorn Manifestation," is the one that most resembles the style of other bands in Cruciamentum's class: Drawn and Quartered, Ritual Necromancy, Dead Congregation and so on. But that's not a bad thing, it's what you came to this album to hear, and it totally delivers. "Interminable Rebirth of Abomination" is similar, but displays a different vibe, as the riffs stick with you in a more evocative and thoughtful way. It also shows DL and DR's abilities to play off each other and create a vast ocean of sounds without ever sounding too busy.
As you'd expect for a song clocking in at over 10 minutes long, "Drowned" is the most epic and cinematic on the album, the watery effects at the beginning reminding me of It Follows or a Stanley Kubrick film. Cruciamentum really shines on this song, especially MH on the drums, playing through some fantastic fills (fun fact, he also plays on one of my favorite albums of this style, Blasperian's 2011 masterwork, Infernal Warriors of Death). Though I'll also say the guitar tone itself really stands out here as well, as the listener has the best chance to sink into those black waters and let the distortion carry them away.
And so it is with the album in general, a dark, heavy and engaging release that carries you to faraway and terrifying worlds.