Saphath – Ascension of the Dark Prophet


Imagine living in the furthest reaches of Russia. You can’t, but Saphath hail from the Sakhalin Oblast, which is closer to Japan than Europe. Unlike Japanese artists, these Russians must fight harder than most to get noticed, and that’s even more difficult now their country’s plastic dictator has turned the Russian Federation into the most hated state on the planet. But don’t let that get in the way of your listening experience. Metal knows no national boundaries, and Saphath are a sextet that lack nothing in ambition or pomp. Indeed, this is some of the finest symphonic metal you’ll hear all year.

Formed in 2019, the members of Saphath love their contemporary death metal as much as all things gothic. Opener, ‘Children of the Night’, starts with celestial mandolin-plucking and sumptuous strings before the blackened death metal onslaught begins at 00:58 seconds. It’s a moody mid-tempo morass of muscular strangled-throat vocals and double-kick eighth notes, yet the modulation in the chorus shows a good ear for melody and drama. Listen how the choir harmonies enhance the roar, like Agathodaimon covering a Death classic. You might even detect traces of Paradise Lost’s self-titled album from 2005 in the way they deliver the intro to ‘Outcast of Eden’, but it’s much heavier and closer to a symphonic version of Decapitated by the time they bring things to a close. The whirlwind from the east has never been so close to your doorstep.

Saphath’s mix of death metal and classical posturing puts them in the same bracket as Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse, but the Russians are too ambitious to care about genre classifications. ‘Darkness Unleashed’ deserves a stadium audience for the way it merges the might of Shostakovich with the malevolence of Cradle of Filth. The sorrowful pianos and virtuoso guitars sparkle in ‘The Daughter of Ice Plains’, yet the heavy riffs never lose their place in the mix.

Sometimes, they wander far beyond gothic plains and into a fantasy wonderland, as in the romantic pain of ‘Asphodel Meadows’, where the pomp of a blockbuster soundtrack comes to life. How strange that they choose this song to unleash the blast beats and murderous neo-classical shredding. Might we call the Arabian melodies and Moonspell vibe of ‘Language of My Pain’ an attempt at gothic metalcore? The crushing riffs and fierce vocals will leave you with a receding hairline after the last note reverberates into the distance.

As a six-piece, your only reservation will be the criminal underuse of Alexandra Balenko’s female vocals. She appears to be a full-time member of the band but stays in the shadows of Alexey Duraev’s colossal rasp for most of the album. Her dramatic harmonies light up the chorus to ‘Your God’, but you wonder if they could use her range with greater efficacy on future songs. It’s a minor point at this stage of the group’s evolution, and it gives them something to explore on their next record.

If you thought Agathodaimon would run away with the symphonic goth metal crown this year, think again. Fleshgod Apocalypse and Moonspell will never form a supergroup, but it might sound like this if they did…

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/04/2022

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: Children of the Night, Darkness Unleashed, Asphodel Meadows

Suggested Further Listening: Inner Missing – Dead Language (2022), Septicflesh – Codex Omega (2017), Psilocybe Larvae – Where Silence Dwells (2021)