Azarath are a band who have, unfortunately, often lived in the shadows of Behemoth. The Polish blackened death metal group are constantly noted for being founded by Zbigniew Robert Promiński, known by his stage name of Inferno and as the drummer of Behemoth, with practically every write-up of Azarath passing comment on the band’s connection to the Polish occult veterans, including this one. Whilst I would personally prefer to critique the group outside of the context of their association with a much bigger blackened death metal outfit, Azarath admittedly evoke a very similar marriage of black metal and death metal, with their distinct sound largely arising from Inferno’s contributions behind the kit. As such, it’s surely hard to ignore the stylistic comparisons to be drawn between the two Polish outfits, but Azarath should certainly not be cheated of their input to the development of blackened death, contributing numerous albums of crushing metal action, with oppressive drum work from Inferno, throughout the 2000s. Their previous album, 2011’s Blasphemers’ Maledictions, despite being Azarath’s first album since the replacement of founding lead vocalist and guitarist Bartłomej “Bruno” Waruszewski with Marek “Necrosodom” Lechowski, exhibited the band as no less ruthless and destructive than they were previously, arguably, in fact, to an even greater extent than usual. Their latest effort, In Extremis, follows the longest period of studio silence from the group and, if the quality of the music on this record shows this in any way, it’s through the six years’ worth of pent-up rage that is unleashed here in full force. Stylistically speaking, Azarath are hardly pushing the boat out on In Extremis, but in terms of the performances and songwriting on this album, the band comes through with some of their most compelling material amongst their recent output. The blackened death metal blueprint may seldom be altered in a particularly remarkable fashion on this record, but Azarath somehow retain a more definitive sound than ever before, with even Inferno’s drumming deviating from what those who are well versed with the work of any of his bands would expect. Combined with the compositional chops of the Bart/Inferno pairing, and Necrosodom’s punishing, piss and vinegar vocals, you have a formula for a powerful and generally riveting blackened death metal project.
The album opener, The Triumph of Ascending Majesty, serves as a fitting mission statement for In Extremis, greeting the listener with a barrage of unforgiving blast beats, wailing guitar leads and dirty rhythm riffs right from the onset, an apt reflection of the no prisoners approach to the sonic intensity of this record. The album has barely just started and, yet again, Inferno exhibits his drumming dexterity, as he blisters between maniacal blast beats and off-kilter fills without breaking a sweat. Inferno’s technique behind the kit has always contributed a great part to Azarath’s definitive sound, but on The Triumph of Ascending Majesty, and indeed on much of In Extremis, the drummer seemingly seeks to shake things up even more than usual, with his sporadic rolling fills giving the track a distinctive left-field feeling that is more reminiscent of Immolation’s brand of death metal than it is Behemoth’s. Necrosodom’s brutal, gargling vocals also enter with full ferocity, displaying the marriage of clarity and raw nastiness that made him fit in so seamlessly when he was brought into Azarath’s fold on Blasphemers’ Maledictions. As the longest song on the record, with a duration of five minutes, the band really steps up their game in terms of the compositional prowess conveyed on The Triumph of Ascending Majesty, breaking up the piece’s weaving passages of sluggish breakdowns and brazen sonic abuse with abrupt accents and triplet fills, as if they are hitting the listener with sucker punch after sucker punch. The cascades of auditory violence only cease during the track’s closing minute, as they are interrupted by an ominous passage comprised of a swirling chorus guitar and what sounds like an eerie, reversed guitar melody; an appropriate outro to what stands as one of the greatest album openers Azarath have yet to conceive.
Following The Triumph of Ascending Majesty, Azarath continue at full throttle, keeping up the pace with no hitches whatsoever. This does, however, highlight the fact that In Extremis is somewhat lacking in variety at points, as the band charges forth into Let My Blood Become His Flesh, it becomes apparent that a very similar songwriting style to the previous track appears here too, with Inferno’s drumming being undoubtedly just as devastating, but also slightly familiar. Then again, the inclusion of swift tempo shifts and a crushing breakdown of booming tom-tom fills and squealing guitar leads breaks things up just enough for this song to maintain its own definitive identity in the tracklisting. What’s more, some of the most enticing moments on In Extremis arise from the group’s willingness to throw the odd curveball, such as the impressive rhythmic diversity on Annihilation (Smite All the Illusions), which ranges from Inferno’s insane fills over the intro to the incredibly well-integrated 12/8 time groove that appears during the bridge section. The Slain God is a particularly remarkable track due to its thunderous, marching drum pattern, during which the band remains impressively tight, even in spite of the bizarre time signature. Moreover, Necrosodom’s choice to substitute his usual bellowing growls for a spoken-word and shouted delivery at the end of the cut was a bold choice that could have ended up sounding quite daft, but he pulls off his preacher-like performance with great conviction that really hammers home The Slain God as a particularly outstanding cut on In Extremis. This being said, other songs later on in the tracklisting could do with as strong a defining characteristic as The Slain God, with cuts like Into the Nameless Night and Venomous Tears (Mourn of the Unholy Mother) standing out as somewhat lacking in variety, but, ultimately, when a band is working with as solid of a blackened death metal formula as Azarath are, a few instances of a slight shortfall when it comes to diversity can certainly be forgiven considering how compelling their sound is as a whole.
Azarath have always been less serious and showy than Behemoth and therefore, all things considered, the greatest strength of In Extremis is its barefaced enjoyability. There is most definitely something to be said when it comes to the occasional lack of alteration to the compositional blueprint employed by Bart and Inferno on the record, but I must admit that this is a point I raise more so as a critic than as a music fan, because this is an issue that barely impeded on my enjoyment of In Extremis in any way, if at all. There are, however, a few other nitpicks to mention, such as the absence of the bass in the mix, with Thorn’s playing unfortunately being hardly noticeable for much of the record. Moreover, the production in general doesn’t quite carry the punch and overall heaviness of that which was featured on Blasphemers’ Malediction, with the band seemingly striving for a more skeletal, black metal aesthetic, more akin to that which was evident on their earlier material. In this regard, the production is hardly disappointing, but there are certain instances in which, for example, Inferno’s drumming is a bit too bogged down in the mix, but, as I say, such criticisms are mere quibbles that I mention for the sake of fairness. Overall, therefore, In Extremis is another thrilling exhibition of a crisp combination of black metal and death metal from Azarath that only reinforces their name as a force to be reckoned with amongst Polish metal bands.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10