Chthe'ilist’s Le Dernier Crépuscule was a bona fide modern classic. Easily one of the decade's great metal records. So, to say that the bar is set absurdly, unfairly high for any follow up release is a colossal understatement. Still, Passage into the Xexanotth nearly hits the mark. The Canadian death metal anomaly’s new two-song EP is an unearthly descent into a primordial hellscape. It's split between the title track and a cover of the long-defunct Swedish death metal band Crematory’s “Beneath the Crypts.” It utterly annihilates any notion that Chthe'ilist’s 2016 debut was a fluke.
Fans of Le Dernier Crépuscule will be right at home, which is monumental praise in and of itself, but the title track is hardly just a rehash of the band's prior work. Although hardly necessary, Passage into the Xexanotth is further proof that Chthe'ilist’s technical skills songwriting prowess exude inventiveness and unpredictability. The song constantly warps and slivers around in tone and pace, while the sheer quality of the musicianship means that all ingenuity stays fresh on numerous subsequent spins.
The bass lick that ignites the song’s first heavy segment about a minute into the record is easily one of my favorite musical moments of the year so far. The song’s following grisly and monstrously heavy outro ends things on a monumental note. Of course, frontman Phil Tougas’ genuinely inhuman vocal performance is still without peer. The demon that inhabits Tougas—his vocals are far beyond anything else in the genre—is a malicious entity. It perfectly complements the relentlessly alien nature of the backing music.
While the EP’s clearest highlights are found in its title track, much of this effusive praise is also owed to the release’s cover song. The Quebec unit hits the perfect tone for a cover song, staying true to the original sound while adding their own twists and signature stylings as needed. While “Beneath the Crypts’” more direct structure differentiates the song from Chthe'ilist’s more convoluted original work, the track hardly sounds out of place here.
While the title track’s opening and closing sections are particularly exceptional, the atmosphere and production in its midsection are noticeably thinner than Le Dernier Crépuscule's material. The haunting soundscape that defined that record is most prominent in “Passage into the Xexanotth’s” closing sequence. Of course, there’s no denying that the song as a whole is a comparably straightforward listen. This isn’t necessarily severely negative and stylistic diversions are certainly welcome, but the utterly Lovecraftian bleakness that defined the band’s debut elevated the superb material into a truly masterful territory, and its comparable sparseness on the EP is nonetheless unfortunate.
Make no mistake, it is the minute differences that separate this EP from one of the best albums in years. We’re apparently some time away from Chthe'ilist’s sophomore record, but Passage into the Xexanotth is ample proof that it should be one of the most highly anticipated metal records. Until then, this EP is mandatory listening.