Irkalla is the ancient Mesopotamian underworld and when they are not at home in Anchorage Alaska it is where Druj dwell. I’m not sure if there is a huge difference between the locations having the idea form in my head that both are quite cold and grim and this is the environment that certainly comes across on this band’s debut album. Cold is where it has kind of left me, this is not easy listening and combines various facets of extremity into an uncomfortable canvas that is somewhat unwieldy and obtuse and leaves the listener a little on the confused side about what it all means. Still I like a struggle and try to explain what I am hearing, although a challenge, it is a welcome one.

The whopping opener ‘Ziggurat Ablaze’ heftily clamours in, drums booming and a guitar line buzzing blackly behind it before everything slows down to a mournful classic doom etched form of worship. Vocalist SH has a roar that is solid and throaty, not exactly clean and far from hymnal but rugged and weathered. One thinks they have found the style that is going to be the mainframe here and settles down into it but although this plods away at first bordering on doom structures there are a horde of demons waiting to be untethered and let out the bag. It takes a while though, some eerie and stark acoustic moments add atmosphere and draw into this shadowy world and the growls from the vocals remind a little of Carl McCoy preaching with The Nephilim. It’s also obvious that the group don’t like downing tools before they absolutely have to with some rugged slow drums and riffs leaving the track to continue beyond comfort and time. Filth and a sludgy torpor infect ‘He Who Drinks Of Nanna’ and now it is obvious that this is the sort of style that will have the classic doom fans running away and screaming from, it simply isn’t nice or pleasant in the slightest. With doom like this you know that there is going to be a certain amount of death and it is foreboding in the background, as for any speed though Druj torture with the prospect of it never really dashing forth but preferring to skew rhythms and riffs into a ghastly contusion of lurching sounds.

The title track goes in a near funeral direction with some very interesting melody that borders on cataclysmic as it slowly consumes. Blackness at its heart it staggers and fools the listener every step of the way thinking it will inject speed into things but instead flailing out a bizarre solo from the very void. And so the album continues, somewhat mischievously adding some odd effects and errant near psychedelia into the mix as it moves through foul Esoteric rites and rituals. The band cite the likes of everything from Worship to Wormphlegm to the cold and hostile bands inhabiting the Icelandic black metal scene and you can certainly feel the cast all moulded together in a quite unique way here. This is puzzling stuff and you have to really work to get anywhere close to understanding it, as for actually liking it, the jury is still out, admire and appreciate might be better words. If it’s a challenge you are looking for, welcome aboard. Just be prepared to drown in this stygian sea of darkness.

(7/10 Pete Woods)