In case you didn’t know, these Italians take their name from the ancient Egyptian temple complex near Luxor. Karnak have been in existence since 1997 so are not the straightforward Nile worshippers that you might innocently take them for. In fact, their past releases – such as ‘Melodies of Sperm Composed’ and 2010’s historical ‘Dismemberment’ – don’t appear to deal with the mummies and pyramids context at all. With this EP, however, there is certainly more than a nod to their conceptual namesake, as the whole thing deals with the erection of the mighty pyramids. Or maybe that should be the mighty pyramids’ erection? Either way it don’t sound right…
But what of the band’s style on ‘The Cult of Death’? Well, once we get past a fairly brief ritualistic intro, ‘The Construction of the Pyramid (the Demon’s Breath)’ puts things plainly in perspective. Here Karnak is absolutely dedicated to brutal death metal reminiscent of Deicide, Incantation and early ’00s brutal USDM bands, as ultra low rumbling death alternates with grinding power. A few bizarre technical flourishes of screeching guitar punctuate the general morass of stodgy brutal death. An interesting convention, which provides a good sense of continuity as the EP continues, is how each track merges into the next – ‘The Construction of the Pyramid Beta (Invocation)’, for instance, emerging from the feedback of ‘…(the Demon’s Breath)’. In this third part, we also actually do get an atmosphere approximate to early Nile – albeit in a far more restrained and brooding context.
The tortured solos and gradual sense of momentum in ‘…the Pyramid Beta (Invocation)’ build into something most pleasing to the ears. It’s not earth-shatteringly original but does add a bit of welcome contrast. Fourth track, ‘The Construction of the Pyramid Gamma’, unsurprisingly shifts gears back up to the blasting drums, grinding riffs and random guitar embellishments which characterised the opener. This time there is perhaps a bit more speed, which curiously I find less effective compared to Karnak’s slower dynamics – as in the end part here. Rounding things out is a cover of Celtic Frost’s magnificent ‘Jewel Throne’, which fits in surprisingly well with the original material on offer. Naturally it operates largely in the slower, heavy-as-fuck realms – which suits Karnak – but I particularly dig the blasting the band has added to the up-tempo section and solo. Great stuff!
All in all then, ‘The Cult of Death’ is a quality piece of death metal. It won’t alter perceptions of the genre, but it should certainly do the trick if you live for death. The fact that I happily listened to it five times consecutively while excavating and digging (doing some gardening) earlier should tell you all you need to know.