|Artwork by David Herrerias|
Stygian Swedish band Irkallian Oracle formed in 2012, and while they hail from Gothenburg, you won’t find a hint of that city’s famed melodic death metal on the band’s debut, Grave Ekstasis. Instead, what you will encounter is underworld Babylonian mysticism, hermetic existentialism, and apocalyptic occultism; all boiling in a cauldron of arcane black and death metal. Originally released on cassette by underground label Bolvärk in 2013, Grave Ekstasis quickly sold out on that format, and it’s now in the hands of Nuclear War Now!—with the vinyl and CD reissue of Grave Ekstasis no doubt set to bring Irkallian Oracle further into the light.
That, in of itself, presents an interesting dichotomy; because Irkallian Oracle’s “ultra-void vibrations” are wholly suited to the vaults of the rare and obscure. The band’s prophecies may well unearth, or more accurately, disgorge, forbidden knowledge with a primordial and esoteric accent, but Irkallian Oracle’s revelations are more fitting for a close-knit and select cabal of listeners.
That’s not to do the band’s heavily ritualistic sound an injustice, or suggest Irkallian Oracle should limit its audience per se, but Grave Ekstasis is simply cult metal, for the discerning listener. Of course, we don’t live in an age where underground bands remain hidden anymore; anyone with access to the internet can attest to that. So, in order for bands to retain a sense of mystery, or exhibit powerful philosophic or aesthetic expressions of enigmatic and dark metaphysical thought, they need to communicate an all-encompassing vision. One that negates that the idea that spirituality is irrelevant or even absurd in this day and age, while also questioning whether this epoch, spilling over with all its scientific confidence, is really providing all the answers.
Some bands scoff at scepticism while bringing to mind the questions science can’t answer extremely well—see Antediluvian, Grave Miasma, Dead Congregation, Cruciamentum, Teitanblood, Necros Christos, and Vassafor, for a start. Like those band’s, Irkallian Oracle uses black and death metal to weave a sense of conceptual cohesiveness throughout it’s work, with Grave Ekstasis’ magik motifs and thoroughly murky musicality combining to not only speak of matters unearthly right now, but also to ask what comes when our existence in this realm ends.
Are we headed for a dimension where post-existence becomes pre-transcendence, or are we facing a void full of the horror of nothingness? Are we destined for a sphere where the sky bleeds red from the arteries of gods, or is death followed by a spectral existence, where notions of logic, ego, awareness, perception, or reality are rendered meaningless? Who’s to know, until we all get there, but those are the kinds of pathways of inquiry that Irkallian Oracle explores and evokes for 45 fantastically forbidding and phantasmal minutes on Grave Ekstasis.
Irkallian Oracle is here to shatter the illusion of selfhood on lengthy tracks like “Ekstasis” and “Dispersion”, while the 10-minute-plus chronicles, “Iconoclasm”, and “Absenta Animi”, tear the gates to the abyss wide open. Irkallian Oracle’s sound is dense, down-tuned, icy, churning, and is steeped in the swirling waters of thick and asphyxiating doom. Vocals are buried on Grave Ekstasis, with throat-slit growls untangling themselves to fight to the surface, while drums batter away in caverns as glimmers of experimentalism arise--the kind featured in the works of Abyssal or Mitochondrian, or in the oppressive, choking timbre of Portal.
In truth, Irkallian Oracle isn’t providing anything musically innovative as such, but that’s not to say the band isn’t wielding its abrasive arsenal superbly. Grave Ekstasis's claustrophobic crawls come with repetitive, clawing refrains that strip away the bounds of now, encouraging a state of being that mines the possibilities of otherness. Any question that Irkallian Oracle aren't fully aware of their chosen realm of exploration is rendered mute, because Grave Ekstasis avoids any of the superficial otherworldliness of trend-hopping occult death metal, and sounds exactly like a band committed to digging deep into the grottos of the underworld should.
Irkallian Oracle describes it’s ethos/objectives/text in many cryptic ways, but perhaps what suits Grave Ekstasis best is, “a prophecy of black stars revealed as an oracle..." Certainly, Grave Ekstasis feels like esoteric wisdom is being divulged, but it’s also a murky, squalid, and sepulchral album, so it's not granting you any immediate answers to anything. Like the best black and death metal communiqués set on unveiling sinister gospel, Grave Ekstasis's sonic reverberations serve as a catalyst; something to pierce the veil, and offer a glimpse of the beyond, through a crack in the wall of reality.
I guess, in the end, it’s up to you to push on through; question is, how much do you really want to know?
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]