We’re living in dark times. That’s a pretty obvious sentiment if you’re reading this website. We – that is the underground Metal culture – are all too aware of humanity’s follies and shortcomings. As a species, we’ve excelled at inflicting pain and anguish onto our fellow man. In fact, one could say that it’s perhaps the only thing that we really, truly have mastered. But really, I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I? Dark times call for dark music. Enter Athame. A three-piece, machine of scorn and hate based out of Maryland and West Virginia. The release of their first blasphemous sonic canticle entitled With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve comes courtesy of Grimoire Records, and as you’ll find out, these three southern fiends are looking to set fire to the way USBM is thought of and perceived.
For the most part, Black Metal has lost its edginess. With the rise and commercialization of the scene, it was inevitable that it would get watered down, which has been the case over the last decade or so. Black Metal is, for the most part, a weak imitation of what it used to be. That is, until the recent resurgence of bands here in North America. I still listen to the classic Norwegian Black Metal albums; they’ll always have a place in my heart. But it’s really the new crop here stateside (and let’s not forget Canada) that are really starting to mutate the sound into something new and wholly perverse.
America as a whole has been really good at two things. One, fucking over just about everyone else in the world. And two, a long history of appropriating and expanding upon the efforts and ideas of others. As a result of standing upon the shoulders of giants, we can pull this freshmen release by Athame into the fold of great, up and coming Black Metal projects. Athame cite being influenced by Gorgoroth and Craft; which rings true for the most part. References to Satanism? Check. Blast beats and creepy guitars that run their skeletal fingers up your spine? Check. Distaste for humanity? Check. But to just sum it up with that would be a disservice to this band and album. Athame are terrifying adept at creating a atmosphere soaked in dread, misery and terror.
Label: Grimoire Records
As one lifts the ladle up from the witches’ cauldron in which these nine tracks churn and rot, one fact is abundantly clear: you’re about to be engaged and challenged in a way that will leave you scarred and tormented. “The Pillar” serves as the opening song and glimpse into what lays beyond Athame’s sonic gateway. Synthesizers reverberate across an astral place unbeknownst to humanity’s perception as barking vocals beckon us to step forward past the threshold of “With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve.” With the tone set, Athame roll out from the darkness with “A Lost Congregation.” A mid-tempo assault that sets the stage for the inevitable blast beats, frantic guitar work and at times, occult-tinged vibe they inscribe across each song.
As the band willingly descend into a frenzied blood-lust with “Five Fold Kiss,” I had already made up my mind that from here on out, all bets were off. Athame are capable dissecting the traditional sound of Black Metal and piecing it back together into an abhorrent monstrosity. The entire scope of this song reeks of years spent studying Darkthrone and Gorgoroth while shunning family and friends alike. The homage and nod to their Blackened forefathers is there in abundance without ever coming across as a carbon-copy. Even more so is the fact that this band isn’t afraid to break pace and slow things down considerably, which is where the band breaks rank from all of the other numerous Black Metal projects. These sinister passages echo across the landscape of each song and gives each one an abysmal depth into which one willing spirals into.
“Nema” (Amen spelled backwards, for those not paying attention) serves as the second instrumental track on here, which works in such a delightfully ghoulish fashion as it seeps into track five, “The Heretic’s Horn.” Guitarist/vocalist/synthesizer master Jere crafts a feeling of witnessing a nighttime ritual of some secretive cabal. It’s hard not to picture Athame’s native Appalachian mountains cloaked in darkness, a lone bonfire burning in the distance and fueled by the chants of servitude to a dark, maligned god. The accursed main guitar riff featured on the opening and end of the track serves as bookend to the detestable scriptures they profess, and it’s on this song where we see this band truly reveal themselves to the world: a band capable of crafting actual songs that have texture and depth, as opposed to just a formulaic approach.
“For Generations” and “Nameless Craft” further follows the path which was burnt into the ground with “The Heretic’s Horn.” Both songs break the six and seven minute mark, which is yet another testament to this band’s song writing ability. “Nameless Craft” feels like Athame themselves are calling out to those who study the forbidden arts, with it’s classic Thrash Metal opening right down it’s militaristic finale – a finale that has a triumphant feel to it thanks to the skills of drummer Haste and bass player NAM.
Furthermore, the next track, “This Is What The Devil Does” really burns an effigy to the years of classic Thrash. As they tear forth from the umbra shroud, it was apparent these musicians have done their homework that was assigned to them in Black Metal 101. Because of the nod to Thrash-influenced Black Metal (namely Aura Noir), this lends credence to the band’s twisted, apocalyptic vision. Athame’s innate ability to weave different styles – all of which are rooted within Black Metal – and skillfully, even tastefully work them into a song isn’t just something that every band can do. Coupled with the voracious sound they’ve conjured forth, Athame have produced one sickening piece of malice and disgust for humanity.
With my allegiance firmly sworn unto their diabolical cause, my thoughts drifted to the finale of this album. Perhaps the most important song on any full length is the final one. It should stand as a tying together of the previous tracks and the bands goals within the album. The aptly titled and imposing Witchfather takes just about every element found throughout this album and melds it together. The end result leaves one with the feeling of witnessing the emerge of the Horned One himself. The stink of sulfur, brimstone and tangible suffering pour forth from the music. Finally culminating in the sinking feeling that this world will never be the same with these fiends inhabiting it.