|Cover illustration by Slime|
I'm going to start this review right at the beginning of the album, because it contains a valuable lesson for all metal bands: "The Pillar," the first track on Athame's With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve, is the intro track done right. It's about a minute long, it builds dramatically with some creepy vocals and electronic touches, and then it gets out of the way, nicely setting up the album proper. It is NOT several minutes of white noise with annoying samples from a movie or a bunch of field recordings mixed while somebody was high. Take note, other bands. This is how it's done.
And with that, we're launched into this black metal trio's debut album. There's a lot to like here, as evidenced by the copious notes I scribbled while listening to it. Athame hits an interesting balance. It's raw and rough black metal in a way, but without a throwback sound or ultra-low-fi production. The guitars have a meaty, sludgy tone, the percussion is crisp without sounding slick, and the vocals are delivered manic-preacher-style, a lower growl than what you typically get in black metal, and drenched in reverb. "A Lost Congregation" comes out the gate with a relatively straightforward drum pattern and riff, but it's mere seconds before it lurches into the blasting and tremolos we know and love. At times I found myself thinking that Athame almost has a grind sensibility for quick change ups between black, sludge, and doom, but the listener doesn't get whiplash from the changes. The infectiousness of the music carries you along through the twists and turns.
And there are turns a plenty. "Five Fold Kiss" starts like a maelstrom, but the band manages to let a little air and space into the middle of the track without losing intensity. The guitar riff in "The Heretic's Horn" sounds, appropriately, like a trumpet issuing a call to arms. "Nameless Craft" even gets ripping with a little old school thrash in the beginning. But like I said before, this never feels like a mish-mash of styles full of wrenching transitions. It's all blended into a coherent sound that starts from the beginning of the album and, with only slight detours in the interstitial tracks "Nema" and "This is what the devil does," carries all the way through the swirling madness in the last track. It might be weird to call a black metal album "refreshing," but I think this one qualifies, without leaving any of the grime and evil behind.