Billed as “the new nobility of British black metal”, Formicarius appear to be suffering an identity crisis. Rising from the ashes of proggy fantasists Phyrexia in 2014, their debut album “Black Mass Ritual” gained the band attention with its symphonic melodeath leanings in 2017.
I must begin by singling out the lead guitars and keyboards for their frequent overlapping displays of almost neoclassical virtuosity, notably on passages of “Inherit Our Sickness”, “Stalker Amongst The Stars” and “Crimson Purge”. This is all supported by skilful musicianship on drums, bass and rhythm guitars, all maintaining a restrained approach that never spills over into self-indulgence or showboating. These performances provide an underpinning vibe reminiscent of the polished cinematic grandeur that Cradle Of Filth are famed for, with nods to the melodic discipline of bands such as Kalmah, Norther and Wintersun.
One of the slower tracks on the album, “Early Will I Seek Thee” begins with a spoken word passage from legendary Rotting Christ frontman Sakis Tolis, and maintains a brooding atmosphere throughout, and the spectre of Sakis lends an air of authenticity here to an album that feels quite clinical in most places. “Inherit Our Sickness” is a belter of a tune that successfully melds the best of several genres in the way that Paladin, Charred Walls Of The Damned and even Control Denied have managed, and the aforementioned melodic interplay between keyboard and guitar provide a sprinkling of gothic flavour. Unfortunately the frankly awful vocals are a massive distraction from otherwise great performances.
Though I do hear snippets that vaguely support their claims to black metal peerdom, it would be more accurate to describe Formicarius as genre-neutral. Recent months have also seen new albums from comparable UK luminaries such as Deadwood Lake and Necronautical, both of whom have exhibited the passion, soul and authenticity long associated with black metal. I’m unable to identify these attributes with Formicarius, but this in itself should not be taken as a harsh criticism; the band are truly at their best delivering clinical, polished melodic compositions. Raspy vocals, a smattering of panda paint and guest vocals from authentic genre alumini does not a black metal band make, and such necro-garnish only serves to detract from the quality of their songcraft.
In conclusion, the skilful musicianship and songwriting on this album is sadly undermined by the dispassionate monotone croak of their lead vocalist, and this weak link that strangles the potential of some great songs is the sole aspect preventing me awarding 7.5/10 or more. Formicarius clearly have the appetite and prospects to be ambassadors for UK extreme metal, but they need to discard the unconvincing black metal tropes and embrace their true calling as leading exponents of quality progressive melodic death metal.