Review : Atramentus - Stygian by TheMetalOneAboveAll
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Via TheMetalOneAboveAll : "Over the course of the last 2 weeks, this is a record that has shot up in my attention. The vast majority of reviewers and metal channels I follow throughout Instagram and YouTube have done nothing but give the highest praises to this album, after listening to a small sample just last night I decided to give this record a spin. Formed back in 2012 out of Quebec, Canada Atramentus play Funeral Doom in the same vein as Bell Witch, Ahab etc however from what I’ve heard very recently this is an album where it was unsure whether it would ever see light owing to who is involved so the fact that we’ve got it is all the greater. It’s also worth noting that the lineup of Atramentus features the vast majority of Chthe’ilist as well so it’s a nice, unique perspective of what that band can also offer us in the context of a different subgenre. This is Atramentus’ first album and I’ve seen people hail it as a total gem, something that will stun people so I was extremely curious to see what was making this album such the hot topic to discuss and speak in hushed tones about. This is Stygian.
I like how this album opens itself up from the very beginning. There’s no gradual rise in guitar tone or a sweeping vocal assault, it’s this massive piano chord that repeats itself through and through but because of the sheer weight of the keys implemented it’s so enveloping that’s you can’t help but because quickly encapsulated by the immensity of its scale. Not to mention that this piano chord is soon followed by a great and heavy guitar tone before what I can only describe as the single heaviest vocal uttering I’ve ever heard follow suit (we’ll cross bridge eventually). Ultimately its an album opening done right where the band are instilling this immense weight to their songwriting before subjecting you to the full light of their track progression and that’s especially saying so, when you consider how 2 of the 3 tracks herein cross over 15 minutes in a nearly 45 minute record. It’s an introduction that very quickly pulls you into the mix of it all and then keeps you there, blanketed almost by the sheer wall of sound that is constantly surrounding you on all sides.
The vocals you get here are monstrous in the literal definition, they sound and feel like something deep within the earth, something that should never have been found, has found its way to the light. This is one of the few vocal performances I’ve ever heard that are on par with what we’ve received before now from Demilich and Chthe’ilist where the vocals aren’t simply diabolically heavy but also manage to latch on an additional, croaking effect that lends the vocals that extra, hyper abnormal factor to its presence. It wasn’t until after the album was finished that I realised it was actually Philippe Tougas behind the vocal helm, who also the frontman of Chthe’ilist so it’s no wonder the vocals sound similar to that band since it’s the same man. The vocals here simply do not sound human and that’s what really helps the band make their mark here as you know it’s a person behind the vocal helm, so it’s like you’re trying to convince yourself that this is a human performance. But I also like how the vocals aren’t utterly dominated by this one vocal style, you’ve got instances whereby the vocals can reach higher into the sky however it’s a harsher and more coarse form of vocal performance where you can feel the dregs of the throat cry out in utterance much in the same manner as you can feel the insides of the vocal cords as the croaking, ooze-drowned delivery is brought to the forefront. It’s also worth noting that you do get clean vocals here in the form of chanting, like something performed through a ritual or initiation rite; it conjures up strong imagery of the occult but namely the kind of imagery the artwork is giving us.
It’s a pretty brave move for a band even one that performs such intense Funeral Doom as Atramentus do so here, to include just three tracks throughout their full length album. Even then only two of them are proper songs so the album is basically just 2 full tracks with a 5 minute breather in the middle that bridges the gap between the two pieces, the beginning and the end. However it’s a brilliant piece of album structure, the band have effectively tapped into a three-act structure where the opening track introduces us to the atmosphere or soundscape, the second track is what takes us from the beginning to the climax but not before we get this final cacophony of sound and a relief of inhaled air uttered by an unnamed male until the final track brings us to the album’s outstanding crescendo. As much as the second track is this atmospheric and instrumental piece to carry us over through to the last section of the album, it also serves to get the audience ready for what is to come as the final track is a monolithic 23 minute piece. Stygian is an album with terrific courage especially as a debut effort as well as if they’ve seen Bell Witch and Ahab atop their mantles and said “We can top that”, I love that mentality. The idea that bands can continuously and potentially top one another leads to greater works of art being conjured.
To say that this album has a monstrous atmosphere and tone would be a dire understatement. The band fully immerse you within its gaping, gargantuan soundscape. No matter where you go throughout this album you are there amongst the incalculable depths of this record. This soundscape is completely inescapable, the only way you can get away is to turn the album off but due to the sheer scale at which this album is playing at you don’t want to turn away, you want to keep listening. You want to keep going further to see what lies beyond even when you know full well madness is the only reward; in this essence it’s Lovecraftian horror brought to sonic realisation, that idea that no matter what route you take and all the care you can allow yourself you will still fall victim to the album’s dominance over your senses. Whether it’s howling winds, swaying background vocals, piano keys, deep and bellowing guitar tone, gigantic drums that litter the atmosphere with sickening malevolence or the sheer act of the vocals that permeate the vast majority of this album with such a total and absolute tone, this is an album that immersed you fully within its atmosphere and just does not let go for any reason whatsoever. The atmosphere and tone is what makes this album so addictive since it’s so thick and realised, this is the case of a band that has really put in the effort to make sure you cannot go without the atmospheric element because Funeral Doom when fine right cannot be removed from the atmospherics, because when things go right the audience will think go the atmosphere first and then return to it.
The last track of the album is a journey unto itself let alone what it feels in the context of the album as an entirety. This is an excellently well paced and losing track especially when you consider how the band close out the album with a song that is more than half it’s entire runtime so they needed to provide something strong to finish things off and leave a memorable presence with their fans. I can say wholeheartedly that this is one of, if not THE, most powerful, singular songs I’ve heard all year round. The journey we’ve taken through the album mirrors the kind that the band insinuates the unnamed man has gone through, as signified by his gasp of air at the end of the second track. It’s worth noting that the album really details the kind of soundscape and experience you are venturing on, the first song is very subterranean as if you’ve been thrown away, banished, exiled etc and are trying to crawl your way back to the lands you’ve been sent from. The second track is where you start getting closer, you feel the hints of where you belong only for you to finally break through the depths and feel the air rushing back into you before the third and final song is where you return to the place you remember, it’s where you were before the record started and the way the guitar work becomes much clearer and unloads far more radiant and glistening kinds of guitar licks speaks volumes about how the band want you to feel. But it’s in the final 7/8 minutes where the band utterly triumph in their songwriting where the gradually building power through beautiful guitar work, rising drumming and vocals that soar into the sky. The level of power and cathartic might. Brand are able to achieve here is simply otherworldly, you can tell when the band are moving in for that final segment of their album because the tone becomes triumphant, it becomes glorious, it feels like you yourself have come through the obstacles and adversities of this record and now you reap the reward and can return, can ascend back to the mantle of godhood you originally held. But it’s a position you feel like you forgot you always had and so as the album closes out in a breathtaking climax it’s like you feel all the despairs, all the pains and struggles that you went through tinrexch this point all fade away as you bask in this one moment of everlasting power. This final phase of the album feels like salvation incarnate, a piece of songwriting that would not work without the album’s devastatingly crushing atmosphere and tone pervading most of its runtime. It’s an emotionally cathartic experience where you yourself will feel like you have saved yourself through your own efforts and determination not to give in, it’s something we can all relate to and by the album’s end I was in tears. The fact that the album managed to warrant a legitimate emotional response from myself is something else, that is not easy to accomplish. As album conclusions go, it’s flawless.
In conclusion, this is an album I had heard heaps of praise after praise attributed to. I decided to listen to this record after a final bout of curiosity and what sample I listened to amazed me. After experiencing this album in full and realising I could listen to this record all over again from start to finish even as I knew the final track was still ending, I realised just what a juggernaut of a record Atramentus have on their hands. In a single album the band have taken their place amongst the giants of Funeral Doom where Mirror Reaper and The Call Of The Wretched Sea can be matched, but those albums are over an hour to nearly 90 minutes long and Stygian isn’t even 45 minutes so this masterpiece of Funeral Doom is half as long as other well established monoliths of the subgenre. It renders Stygian therefore as even more accessible (which is strange to say for Funeral Doom) for new fans to become enamoured with especially when you consider how there are only 3 tracks to the full album but really it’s just the one song split up into three various phases that each add their own purposes and impacts to the conjoining songwriting and album experience. 20 Buck Spin have found themselves an honest to God masterpiece, one that I feel I could listen to every single day until they release something new and I still wouldn’t find myself dulled by it. Stygian is deserving of every praise and commendation it receives for it is as cathartic as it is soul crushing, as triumphant as it is nihilistic, as despairing as it is inviting salvation. An incredible experience that I won’t forget any time soon and a record I’ll be sure to play over and over again even if to just make that final track worth it. Stygian takes you under its wing and never lets go until it finally does, and you feel the freedom that was likely there all along but never realised you had. The new zenith of Funeral Doom." 10/10 Originally written for https://themetaloneaboveall.tumblr.com/