Artach – Sworn to Avenge


The Canadian province of Newfoundland is famous for its subarctic climate and permafrost and is no doubt an inspiration for Artach’s ice cold black metal chill. Following on from last year’s debut, Chronicles of a Black Winter, the duo of Fíochmhar (vocals, drums, keyboards) and Sruthán (guitar and bass) are back with more raw noise and intestinal pain contortions and have decided to present us with a 65-minute sophomore effort. You can’t fault their ambition or confidence, but their ability to self-edit might be called into question once you get through this whirlwind of menacing metal.

The first thing we should say about Artach is that they have an impressive record collection. Like Darkthrone, the Newfoundlanders could publish their own extreme metal almanac with the many influences they channel through their transgressive art. Opener, ‘Tuiteam an Duine’, might give a nod to Venom, but you’ll find no Satanic parodies or tongue-in-cheek heavy metal clichés of the 1980s that are now fashionable once again. Indeed, the duo take their extreme metal heritage seriously and school us in the harsh noise of Bathory with the technical approach of early Megadeth. Fans of English black metallers, Shadowflag, will find an instant home here for their bloodthirsty tastes. ‘Ice Throne’ even attempts an unthinkable synergy of Hellhammer with a Dave Mustaine snarl and the vintage hard rock harmonising of Thin Lizzy.

At times, the vocals come across as brattish and distasteful as if Fíochmhar is trying to rid his mouth of a fetid stew concocted by Jeffrey Dahmer. ‘Shimmer’ is a stupendous pentatonic bedazzlement of Hell Awaits riffage filtered through the hand of Chuck Schuldiner, but the voice imitates the sound of a person succumbing to appendicitis. Somehow it suits the music, and you might even overlook the abrasive nature of the vocals due to the passion of their creator. ‘Into the Frozen Woodlands’ is as agonising as scaling the winter Alps barefoot and subsists on a blackened thrash bulldoze of clattering drums and noisy guitars. The balance between good showmanship and the danger of crashing in a mistimed execution of stray drumbeats and sloppy guitar fretting is a real one, and one that will keep you enthralled throughout. Make no mistake: Sruthán is a shredder of the highest calibre and could easily spruce up his sound with ProTools, but Artach put most of their energy into making Sworn to Avenge sound as nasty as possible. On ‘Mistress of the Black Thorns’ they get it right, mixing the disembowelled throat screams with heroic leather-clad rock poses that soon give way to a foray of death-doom. This is when you realise the paradox at work here – Artach have the technical ability and the scare-your-parents attitude to match.

There are many risks with this album, but the one that backfires is the decision to include a 21-minute song at the halfway point of the record. ‘Endless Tundra’ has some great ideas and mixes the outro melodies to Black Sabbath’s classic single of the same name with spoken word and pinch-harmonic riffing. But the pasting together of various songs into one longform composition is sloppy and unnecessary. The plagiarism of Megadeth’s ‘Mary Jane’ solo at the ten-minute mark would be forgivable if they ended it there, but another eleven minutes of self-indulgent heavy metal fantasies lie in wait. You might even need to check the sleeve notes to see if Conrad “Cronos” Lant from Venom is making a guest appearance with his ‘Too Loud for the Crowd’ vocal remonstrations.

It’s clear Artach could have held back some of the songs here for their next album, but you cannot fault the raw brutality or conscious rock heroics emanating from their melting pot of 1980s extreme metal madness. The cheap Casio keyboards and primitive black metal of ‘Winter’s End’ will make you smile when you hear the incorporation of Yngwie Malmsteen among the carnage. Artach are a breath of ice-cold air and a reminder that black metal should not be afraid of the stadium theatrics of a bygone age, where solos and head-banging pentatonic riffs once dominated. What delights they serve on their next album is anyone’s guess.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 15/06/2021

Record Label: Depressive Illusions

Standout tracks: Tuiteam an Duine, Shimmer, Winter’s End

Suggested Further Listening: Ysgaroth – Storm Over a Black Sea (2020), Hellhammer – Triumph of Death (1983), Shadowflag – In Asylum Requiem (2020)