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Album number seven sees Inquisition both pushing for new horizons while also showing signs of growing a bit too comfortable with their own formula


Album Review: INQUISITION Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith

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As a completely self-sufficient genre of music, black metal has twisted and turned itself into a myriad of shapes and forms. Having been appropriated by a secular, non-traditional generation and focused through a multitude of lenses, it is both refreshing and (un)life-affirming to behold the bands still willing to raise the fist of Satan. Inquisition, that duo from Columbia who transplanted long ago to the United States (let's see you build a wall to keep these guys out Mr. Trump), returns here at summer's ragged end to torment the new-schoolers with their seventh full length album.

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Entitled Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, the dark matter intonations of Inquisition once more find a home at Season of Mist Records. A band known for spontaneous, over-the-top bursts of black metal terror amid slow hypnotic tones, and one of occult metal's more inhuman vocalists in Dagon, they have actually been around as long as, if not longer, than most of black metal's originators. With an album title reaching Bal-Sagoth-ian proportions of wordiness, does the music contained within their new opus suffer from a stall in inspiration, or does the black flame burn ever hotter as time goes by?

Over the last half-decade or so, Inquisition has become a household name in the underground, the duo of Dagon (guitar, throat) and Incubus (battery) having benefited from a number of prominent tour slots with the likes of Behemoth and Deicide. Fans were captivated by two things, arguably. Simplicity and otherness: Inquisition brings both in spades. Pulling up the fires of below by reaching out to the beyond never sounded better than when focused through Incubus' unique drumming style. If Dagon's voice dared to tread a little too close to that of Abbath on 2013's Obscure Verses For the Multiverse, fans didn't seem to mind.

Bloodshed . . . begins just as their last one ended. An off-putting intro sets the mood with a bit more gravitas than the campy movie samples of yore, much as those were endearing. "From Chaos They Came" erupts out of the speakers, the astute listener once more marveling that the racket only comes from two dudes and not four or five, or at least three. And yet it is paint-by-numbers for this band. Is it tight, aggressive and good? Sure, but is it a special tune or a step forward? No. But despair not. Excitement is born aloft soon after by nothing other than the "Wings of Anu." Inquisition fires on healthy cylinders when they contrast blasting sections with mid-paced, head-nodding passages of double-bass attack. Along with a brutal little snarl of a chorus (Wings of Anuuuuu), this song is that delicious burst of elitism and technical fury fans of the band have come to love.

When spinning this album, there come times where you wonder if they're spinning their wheels a bit, but on some of the songs a few listens reveal that there's something going on that sets the album apart from their last one. Take "The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation," which plods along at a slower pace until Dagon's leads and the strummed phrasing in the background serve to hypnotize, not bore. As one would expect, the songwriting going on in Inquisition is evolving with time. In the past, the contrast of speed and slowness was a bit more black-and-white. This made for some immediate impact, but a song like this one truly gets under the skin. Instead of stabbing right through the flesh, it leaches its way in a bit more slowly. The riffing towards the end is as mystical and occult as the iciest of Norse black metal guitars can get.

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The more death-metal styled "Mystical Blood" passes by, stolid but standard. Here on the album's back nine, though, is where Inquisition puts it all together and blows the listener away. "Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe is Known" has an odd time signature going on in the verses, with the total feeling in the song stepping us over into some darker form of pagan metal. This one bleeds right into the title track, which when digested in solitude bleeds mysticism from its every sonic pore. A haunting lead approaching the two minute mark gives way to muffled voices, alien and eldritch, building the tension with Dagon's freezing guitar leading the way. Layered leads make for the next haunting passage of garbled voices… upon reflection, this song is like Agalloch and Deathspell Omega had a baby and raised it on Lovecraft novels. Magnificent stuff.

The final two songs are solid if unspectacular renditions of a sound Inquisition has certainly made their own. The latter, "A Magnificent Crypt of Stars" stands out. The slowly intoned vocals over the blast beat, driven around pockets of medium-paced riffing, sound even better here. On the new album, Dagon's voice is not the froggy croak of old, yet it is still quite a subterranean gravel-pit growl that is damn effective. Following two outro styled tracks, both atmospheric and disturbing in the extreme, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith comes to an end.

Album number seven sees Inquisition both pushing for new horizons while also showing signs of growing a bit too comfortable with their own formula. Trim some of the fat and this would be a goddamn masterpiece. That being said, its still among the more well-rounded and solid pieces of black metal art battering eardrums today.

Score: 8/10

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