It’s always a pleasure being confronted with new extreme metal talent from the UK having not lived there for a decade. And even more so when you’re confronted with an act like The Infernal Sea, who hail from a familiar place (well, I’ve been through it numerous times on the train…). Formed in the English Fenlands in 2009, this geographical setting of isolation and flat desolation must surely be the ideal context for depressive black metal art. Although the subject matter for this, their second album, is indisputably grim – centering around the plague – the band actually has cause to be anything other than depressed as it’s being put out by the reactivated Cacophonous label.
A series of curious riffs and drum beats summon us into The Infernal Sea’s plague ridden world, and before long the listener is confronted with all manner of cold, deathly atmospherics. Of immediate interest is the production, which conveys sheer weight and clarity without the music losing a hint of its black metal identity. Darkly glorious riffs and blasts set the pace one minute; currents of blackened groove, the next. In keeping with ‘true’ black metal values, the vocals begin exhibiting a range of unhinged mania during ‘Way of the Wolf’. On top of their ‘usual’ delivery – somewhere between a bark and shriek – we are also subjected to a few bizarre, tortured groans which peter miserably out. On ‘The Bearer’, however, things become truly confounding. Once again the vocals are layered to achieve various degrees of discomfort but it’s the music which discombobulates – incorporating viciousness, obscure deathly soundscapes and classical violin along the way.
As well as demonstrating a deeper side to the band’s ambitions with its contrasting atmospheres of wistfulness and death, the above track also hints at a theatricality common to many of England’s renowned metal acts. This is a sense furthered by ‘The Pestmeester’ which, aside from its Vreid-like groove, kicks off with some unidentifiable rambling before incorporating a bit of ghostly chanting. Personally I find The Infernal Sea at their best when they are meting out more conventional aggression, and there is no better track for this on ‘The Great Mortality’ than ‘Entombed in Darkness’. Gnarly from the start, the composition boasts satisfying guitar/bass work, not to mention the odd brilliant change of tack. Another example of the band doing what they do well is on ‘Plague Herald’, where morbid groove swallows the listener up. In contrast, ‘Purification by Fire’ is nothing special, while the eight-minute-plus closer feels quite uneventful for all its machinations.
In a way I feel as if that final track sums up the album as a whole for me. While admittedly there are some cracking aspects – the production, elements of the songwriting and execution – ultimately I’m left feeling a bit underwhelmed. And despite the ideas and ambition that are evidently oozing from the band, no amount of intriguing plague-related subject matter can detract from numerous riffs which are, at the end of the day, really quite standard Norwegian black metal inspired fare. As a result – and perhaps also due to those more unconventional excursions – there’s not enough of the experience that really imprints itself on your memory once ‘The Great Mortality’ has passed.