Switzerland played a pivotal role in the evolution of extreme metal thanks to the ugly proto-black/death metal of Hellhammer and the band’s subsequent transition into Celtic Frost in 1984. So, it’s only fitting we should be reviewing one of the most extreme and experimental albums this year from an artist that call the former Helvetic Republic their home. If you’re unaware of Rorcal, know this – they don’t dwell in the abyss. Rorcal are the abyss.
That’s right. Like New York industrialists, The Body, these Swiss blackened doom torturers write the soundtrack to the extreme suffering and human atrocities that darkened the extraordinary scientific achievements of the twentieth century. Every civilisation has a dark underbelly of oppression and violence. Rorcal are that sound in your head that dares not contemplate the violent revenge fantasies and murderous rage inside you.
For this record, the band brought back their original bass player, Bruno da Encarnação, who now goes under the solo moniker of Earthflesh. Out of respect for his work, they call this a collaboration rather than a reunion, a bit like if Emperor brought back Mortiis into the fold and put his name on the front cover as a co-creator. Between them, the respective parties recorded two fifteen-minute songs for Witch Coven, aiming ‘to give birth to the ugliest, darkest and roughest tracks of their career.’
Yet it all starts with a superficial flame of hope in the shape of two minutes and forty-seven seconds of multi-layered acapella harmonies at the beginning of ‘Altars of Nothingness’. The textured voice phrasings resemble a Hare Krishna congregation collaborating with the Beach Boys at a funeral wake. Yep, you should re-read that sentence. It’s enlightening and uplifting until the first distorted guitar chord rings out. Then it’s a direct fall into the pit of hell within a matter of seconds. It made this reviewer jump when he first heard it. Add in the layers of harsh television static and wretched drones of guitar and bass and you could be in a sixteenth century charnel house as envisaged by Hieronymus Bosch. No regular drumbeat emerges until the first chugging guitar riffs appear at the six-minute mark like nails hammering the last corner of your coffin lid. If Gridfailure composed post-metal and pushed their horrific background screams to the forefront of the mix, it might sound something like this. Vocalist, Yonni Chapatte, will remind you of Pede from Alkerdeel in the way he bursts his eye vessels and damages his spleen to get the last remnants of his screams heard by the microphone. The studio engineer probably has tissues waiting for him to stop the inevitable nosebleed that follows a performance of such intensity and fury.
Second track, ‘Happiness Sucks – So Do You’, takes the opposite approach and explodes into the pain and anxiety of extreme doom metal from the first note. Neurosis are the kings of this noise blast of hyper aggression, but Rorcal are their equal here. This is proof you don’t need lightning speed and blast beats to create something heavy, although the latter appear in sporadic moments throughout the fifteen minutes of hell. One must ask the question: Is the goal here to translate the agony of torture and human suffering into the language of music? If so, they succeed. The rage is as cathartic as a Harakiri for the Sky workout but with more variation in tempo and dynamics. Listen to the eerie percussion of the middle parts. Do they remind you of Triptykon’s intimate moments on stage with the Metropole Orkest? The heaviest drone parts capture the no man’s land of Passchendaele in 1917, where wounded soldiers found solace in the crater holes away from the mortar shells, only to realise that the torrential rains on the horizon could drown them. Many perished in these horrendous conditions with limbs missing and no way of crawling out of the sanctuaries that granted them temporary respite from the carnage of war. We don’t know what’s going through the mind of Yonni Chapatte as he screams his way through this song, but the soldiers that floated to the top of rain-filled marshes with no means of escape probably made similar noises when calling out for a mercy kill.
It doesn’t get much more extreme than this record. Insane levels of rage and inhumane layers of distorted guitars are commonplace in metal, but few descend into the seventh circle of hell where Rorcal find themselves. You need to hear it for yourself to believe that musicians can produce something so hostile and harrowing.
Release Date: 02/04/2021
Record Label: Hummus Records
Standout track: Altars of Nothingness
Suggested Further Listening: Myopic & At the Graves – A Cold Sweat of Quiet Dread (2021), Gridfailure – Sixth Mass-Extinction Skullduggery II (2020), Alkerdeel – Slonk (2021)