If it’s possible to combine the unholy loin fruits of Manowar, Bathory and Destroyer666 into one album – and that’s not even a fraction of the influences I could name here – then let it be remembered that Scythian showed no fear in the attempt of such a nightmarish challenge. Disturbed? You should be. Scythian is not merely the filthy, rabid love child of the aforementioned chest-beaters, it’s more like an orgy of unmentionable and profane delights of countless bands that include, but not exclusively, Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Melechesh and, appropriately for this pretty unpalatable metaphor that I’m flipping you here, German thrash throwbacks Sodom. It’s one way of avoiding being branded an homage-too-far to any individual band. But, more impressively, the mutilated gene pool actually manages to create something nastily heroic as it hauls itself out of the early Bronze Age sewer of times past and hurls itself into the maelstrom of present day extreme metal.
While almost all those points of reference are clearly signposted, with the exception perhaps being Manowar which is more in axe-wielding spirit than style, Scythian still manages to sound like it’s staking its claim to new territory. The energy of thrash, the intensity of death metal and the atmosphere of black metal all in one. There are soaring 1980s-style solos, choral effects and winds blowing across the plains – and even a highly effective spoken word track – which we’ll return to below. But if Manowar, or at least early Manowar – before it descended beyond my reach and into the deepening well of diminishing returns – is a comic book Conan packed full of steroids, Easy Tan and with a sack full of Groupon vouchers to the local waxing parlour, then Scythian is its dirty, blood splattered half-brother gnawing on the bones of what was left of last night’s freshly killed Bison. Hero, yes, but only to the dirty horde who stand with them to plunder and pillage.
Hubris in Excelsis is impressively the second notable album this year from Scythian’s driving force – also known as Craven Idol’s Immolator of Sadistic Wrath – after March’s Heimweh release from his more purely pagan metal project Crom Dubh. At first Scythian, the first UK extreme metal band to sign to Hells Headbangers, seems like a very different prospect. Heimweh was a catchy collection of heathen black metal hymns like a heavily distilled version of Winterfylleth or early Kampfar and played with shrill black-metal tremolo to the fore like the bleak, portentous sound of bagpipes played at the rumbling edges of a mist-swamped battlefield. But Hubris In Excelsis, perhaps even more so, oozes atmosphere. In fact, on closer inspection, it also soaks the sounds of pagan metal into its sprawling mix of genres like the massively extended, warlike tribe it seeks to remember in the band’s title.
Scythian last released an album in 2009 so, baring 2011’s split with Greek pagan journeymen Kawir, this has been much anticipated by anyone lucky enough to stumble upon that. To Those Who Stand Against Us…. was full of hack and slash aggression and, while messy, not something to be topped easily. But perhaps it’s no surprise that that is exactly what Scythian have done. Hubris In Excelsis is full of the same excitement and fury of the early years of extreme metal back in the mid-1980s. Then the mix is sealed with some solid riffs and finely executed death metal vocals before being thrashed to within an inch of its life until every bloody filthy second sounds becomes intoxicated with adrenaline, hate and alcohol before being unleashed into the fray.
Grainy and rough at the edges but filled to the brim with the sheer excitement of having the privilege to play this shit to people in the first place. I should take a pause from the hyperbole and say that there are times when the mounting check-list of bands and influences at times let things drift a little towards lack of focus – perhaps a band getting a little carried away with the possibilities. Like berserkers breaking rank. A little more thought and craft might have made this into something truly monumental indeed. But, despite that and there being room for a modicum more finesse like their blackened thrash forebears, none of this ever feels like anything less than a total assault on the auditory senses – well calculated and with heaps of hooks that are pretty impossible to resist.
There are some nice ‘eastern’ acoustics, keys and choral effects. And for all those who look on metal bands and see any glory in war, there is a stark reminder that it’s a pretty horrid place indeed with the spoken word interlude, War Graves: a passage from First World War poet Wilfred Owen. His poem about a gas attack was a criticism of the propaganda poets of the time who glorified war – finishing by branding a ‘lie’ the line from Greek poet Horace – Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori (“It is sweet and right to die for your country”).
Sure some of this thrashing around with different bits and bobs and the refusal to adhere to genre norms is going to irritate some fans who prefer their metal forms sleek and exclusive. But Hubris in Excelsis is like a dirty, rotting Battle Hymns for the unwashed. A salute to the terror of the Scythians 1000 year reign in the East and many others histories beside – while, at the same time, an acknowledgement that war is pretty bloody horrid mess indeed. Serious fun.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)