2016 has been one hell of a year for extreme music. We’ve seen a number of freshman acts break through with some stunning debuts. There has been a massive showing of genre-blending releases from both these newer acts and veteran projects, all of which have ultimately help push the boundaries (and sanity) of the listener’s expectations of extreme music. Which brings us to Hierophant. These Italian purveyors of sonic destruction are ramping up to release their fourth full length entitled Mass Grave‘on November 4th courtesy of the always sickening Season of Mist. And while yes, this might be considered their ‘senior output,’ Hierophant’s name isn’t one that is overtly uttered by a vast majority of the scene. Which is a damn shame. Because everything they’ve done since day one has been a scathing attack on the senses.
With every release, they’ve gained a little bit more notoriety, and I’ve always liked that they’ve lurked just under the surface. It’s made every record they’ve put out that much more terrifying and startling without sounding as if they’ve been saturated with mainstream trends. For the better part of six years, they’ve consistently upped the ante in terms of their sound. Every record is a re-tooling of their core, which has resulted in Hierophant being of the best kept secrets to date.
I’ve always thought of Hierophant as a mutant offspring of noisy, feedback-driven, His Hero Is Gone styled Crusty-Hardcore, tinged with nods to Grind and Death Metal injected throughout every release. And up until this point, they’ve pulled it off pretty damn flawlessly – but Mass Grave is a wholly different beast. Perhaps it’s the line up changes that have occurred over the course of their existence. Perhaps it’s them maturing as a band. Or even a deadly mixture of both these factors. Mass Grave should be considered a turning point for this them. A strong, almost behemoth-like showing of strength and aggressiveness, one that firmly puts its boot down on the throat of the underground scene.
“Hymn of Perdition” serves as the grime-caked welcoming mat for the album and one fact becomes startling clear as it explodes: Mass Grave is easily the most streamlined and aggressive album they’ve put out. When comparing it to their previous releases – particularly Peste – the Death Metal element absolutely soaks through the musical shroud they’ve crafted. The first three tracks are a battering of blast-beasts and tuberculosis-infected growls, and with the speed and intensity at full force, it’s almost hard to catch your breath. Thus making the third track, “Forever Crucified,” so potent at its ending. A voracious mixture of their previous releases’ sounds amplified by eleven in order to properly crush ones ribcage.
Hierophant have always been at their best when maintaining a mid-tempo, engine-of-destruction-styled barrage. The title track transitions the album from the tornado of razor blades into more of a Scandinavian sounding Death Metal approach, punctuated with a goblet raising guitar passage that is equally sinister and destructive. It’s not that this song is a break away from their evolved sound, but more another facet to the maligned sonic plane that they traverse. Hierophant are comfortable at any pace at this point in time, and this song, alongside the more rage-fueled fifth track “Crematorium,” show that time has indeed aged them into masters of self-immolating, face-scorching metal.
Up until the mid-portion of the album, Hierophant have been comfortable never going over the three and half minute mark as far as song duration, thus resulting in Mass Grave almost flying by. With the quickness of each song matched in turn by their ability to produce some crushing segments, it’s almost impossible to catch your breath, which makes the seventh track such a eyebrow-raising endeavor. “Sentenced to Death” wraps around your throat with a vice-like intensity. Its roots lay somewhere between a Crusty-Hardcore approach covered in the spider webs of Doom Metal. It invokes the feeling of suffocating under a pile of bodies as you desperately try to claw your way out. The laborious pace acts as if it were the treads of a tank, slowly inching forward over the mound of corpses. Again, Hierophant have evoked another approach that, while entrenched in their menacing sound, serves as yet another reminder that these guys fucking get how to make great music.
With the album working its way to the end, it’s painfully obvious that Hierophant still have more tricks up their sleeve. Track eight – which is oddly enough titled “Hierophant” – back peddles its way into the more early, feral moments on Mass Grave, ripe with the decrepit stench that we’ve plagued the land with and brimming over with fury. The feedback transition between this track and “Trauma” only seems to nurture their need for a scorched-earth policy. Deep within the flesh of this song is one of the heaviest moments this band has created, and for those familiar with Hierophant’s uncanny ability at laying waste, take that into consideration.
Which leads one into the final track, “Eternal Void.” Techinally an eleven minute track, but really they batter the listener one last time before fading out into noise and feedback, almost as if they wanted the listener to sit back and collect themselves in order to fully appreciate the abusive relationship they’ve just endured with Mass Grave. There are a few bands this year that have unleashed some terrifying, well put together albums – ones that are capable of truly radiating out from this sea of shit we live in, NAILS’ latest offering being perhaps the crown jewel of these styled bands. Mass Grave, however, has the balls to stand up toe-to-toe with You’ll Never Be One Of Us as the most violent and soul-crushing album this year. It shows a band whose fear of the unknown and working knowledge of what they want to sound like is at its best. Mass Grave is a savage, spit in the face of all other bands in this genre of metal release. Hierophant’s ability to navigate between so many different styles and package them with such precision should be a wake up call to all of you. If you weren’t familiar with these Italian masters of nihilistic aggression, take a serious moment and ask yourself, ‘What the fuck have I been doing with my life?’ And for those hungry to hear this next chapter of one of the best bands out there, you won’t be disappointed.