Luckily I’ve been following Devilish Impressions for long enough that I can ignore the publicity behind their fourth album release. Can somebody explain to me how “The I” is “a phonetic acronym of the band’s name”? Such contrived nonsense suggests that there’s nothing to say, which absolutely isn’t the case. What I do know is that this band has gone through grim times but continually risen above all of it through hard work and their commitment to chaos, rebellion and metal atmospheres in general. This album is paraded as a “rebellious manifesto”. I do get that, and knowing the band’s capability for rip-roaring, majestic blackened metal, this was very much what I was hoping for from this album.

I know people who weren’t completely convinced by the band’s previous album “Simulacra” (2012). I personally really like it but I kind of get the criticism as whilst each track is hard hitting, their relative shortness makes them into songs and deprives us of the full opportunity to linger and indulge in these blackened atmospheres. This isn’t the case with “The I”, whose seven pieces are more substantial, in fact more than substantial.

Experimental, industrial noises lead us into a deadened guitar line. Quazarre gives an unrivalled vocal impression of the devil. The guitar meanders malevolently. No mercy is on hand. Quazarre takes his time to disembowel us. Two minutes in, and I’m already bracing myself for the ride. “The I” twists and turns like a knife. Its depth and expanse make it pleasing. For a few moments I feel like I’m in the familiar land of Crown to be Crucified off the 2005 “Plurima Mortis Imago” album. There’s a majestic appeal. There’s some horrible stuff going on out there, but there is a freedom about its patterns. Let me suggest on this evidence that “The I” is a phonetic acronym of ghastliness, death and its portrayal. Not a second is wasted. Thrilling. In fact what I’m getting here is maturity. Grinding down bones doesn’t have to be done in five seconds. Devilish Impressions realise this too. The music is dark, atmospheric as if we’re in dark chasms, and the multiple structures all fall together into a breezy piece of darkness. “The Dove and the Serpent” depicts a shadowy world, in which echoes resound and dark atmospheres dominate. Marionettes are at work in the hands of the King of Worms, the lyrics inform us. Deep and sinister guitar rhythms accompany immaculate drumming. Merciless, drawn out vocals take us over the long and darkest path. The progression is leaden-heavy and military. “The Dove and the Serpent” is imperious. A more colourful guitar line then introduces “Eosphoros”. Vocally, there is a brief cacophonous plea towards the beginning of “Eosphoros”. I didn’t like that so much and couldn’t see the context for it but overall the dark growls and spoken word tie in with the considerable depth and expanse that this track conveys. Transformations are woven into each track, adding to the depth of flavour, but not in an incongruous way. Pleasant summery scenes are not what this is all about.

The ten minute “Blood Imprinted Stigma” provides no let-up from the dingy domain of Devilish Impressions. Once again the power of Icanraz’s drumming and guitar work confront us. There is constant menace. As the tempo picks up, so does the intensity as we are threatened from all angles. The air is made of a multitude of tableaux depicting ghastly horror. Yet out of the black clouds comes majesty before we are trodden on once more and returned to our miserable place. Sinister ringing sounds stand above the thunderous drumming and echoing nastiness. About seven and a half minutes in, there’s another strange vocal experiment, which sounds like a man with a sore throat but the track continues remorselessly. I’ve heard this style before but unless its context is clear, this Polish yoiking, for want of a better way of putting it, is one experiment too far for me. It is the one glitch in an otherwise impeccable and thrilling album. Everything is here. All roads lead to darkness but somehow, somehow there is an epic quality both here on “Blood Imprinted Stigma” and elsewhere which lifts us out of the “earth’s slime”, to quote the lyric, into a higher place.

But it’s ok. We’re soon back to a scene of chaos. “Ipse Philosophvs, Daemon, Devs et Omnia” is the most complex and avant-garde so far, leaving us in no doubt of the dark forces around us. Insane appeals – I don’t think there’s a technical term for this – shake us out of our boots as the air becomes more bleak and dismal. The only light comes from the blazing fire, which this crumbling ruin of a piece depicts. So too “Czerń I Biel” (Black and White) is hard, heavy, punishing and zero-ranking on compromise. Quazarre growls and croaks through the heavy, epic structure of this song, whose military progression pounds into our heads and stays there. As if to shake us up further, the track ends with a short melancholic section to make us reflect on all this hardship. As Icanraz pounds, the guitarist plays a devilish tune. The atmosphere is of course sinister.

And then, as if our brains haven’t been messed with enough, the start to “The Fatal Messiah” is incredible. An unexpectedly lively and upbeat guitar line, along the stylistic lines of Disbelief, strikes up. As is the way with this layered album, outside influences intervene and the world becomes darker yet multi-coloured in its instrumental technique. The words reflect infestation and the denial of enlightenment. The faster tempo remains, and so we have an astonishing concoction of life and death, epic and dark, flamboyant and menacing. But here there is less menace as we are taken into a world of magnificence and once again, majesty. “The Fatal Messiah” inspires me. It is awesome. Before the chaotic industrial noises we heard at the beginning return finally to swallow us up, we gain confirmation through compelling musical patterns that there is choice and freedom, however dark the world is. Devilish Impressions convey this freedom brilliantly on this most fluid and sophisticated track, which brings the stunning journey to a close.

It’s been a while since “Simulacra” was released. It’s evident that the intervening time has been well spent on the painstaking dissection and re-creation of a sinister world. This is different, not just from “Simulacra” or other albums by Devilish Impressions, but in its sense of purpose and imaginative direction as a whole. Just like an old painting spreading its mysteries, the dark forces have became deeper and darker. “The I”s boldness puts it artistically out on its own. The creative ideas and mighty atmospheres are intertwined and heaped upon us like a pressure cooker in action. The result is that Devilish Impressions have released their best and most powerful album yet in their seventeen year long pursuit of chaos and rebellion. “The I” is one of the enduringly sophisticated and most accomplished albums of 2017.

(9.5/10 Andrew Doherty)