With suitably eerie artwork, Usurpress beckon you into their unconventional and strikingly different world before you’ve heard a note. The band’s resume, (three split releases, one EP and a full-length debut back in 2012) heralded the arrival of a band unafraid to dabble in D-beat, crust and death metal whenever it suited them, and there is little question that fans and newcomers alike would have been more than happy for that state of affairs to continue. Usurpress, however, had other plans and so the latest album, whilst still heavier than a sackful of rusty nails, features flutes, pianos and (whisper it) progressive elements. This, of course, does not mean that Usurpress have gone soft. Far from it. The album still attacks the listener with a feral snarl and razor sharp claws. It’s simply that the aggression is now tempered by a distressingly dark intelligence and the album flows with a malevolent grace that was lacking on previous releases.
Opening with ‘the heart of the last kingdom’, the song moves through an introduction that has more in common with stately doom than it does with previous Usurpress outings, only for the band to perform an abrupt U-turn, gleefully smashing into a riff that has more in common with Darkthone than Candlemass. It’s a furious opening and it sets the tone for the album – stylistic volte-faces, unhinged, death-tinged metal and hitherto unexplored avenues suddenly opening up where previously the band would have remained content to smash their listeners into the dirt over and over again. ‘Storming the mausoleum’ sees the band slow the place to a sludgy crawl on shit stained knees. Dirty and downtrodden, the track explodes into violent life with the band heading into fully-fledged Cannibal Corpse territory, all growled vocals and searing riffs. It’s brutal yet thrilling stuff and the abrupt changes in atmosphere and pace keep the album fresh even whilst it remains resolutely savage. A most surprising track ‘The undeification’ ripples with soft-hewn progressive elements, including well-played flute and classically influenced piano. It is a moment of obscure beauty amidst the brutality and it segues into the none-more-brutal ‘fire in the minds of men’, a full-bore death metal maelstrom that revels in its own sense of violent excess. Yet even here, the band indulge in the unexpected and dark-hearted, clean vocals appear amidst the blazing riffs. Opening in a hailstorm of feedback, ‘Insignia of illumination’ is a vicious piece of blackened death metal that is redolent with spite. Unhinged and unholy, it is death metal at its most convincing and convinced and it will leave listeners shell-shocked.
The album continues with the evil trudge of ‘ritual warfare’, a sludge-laden beast that gains power from its slower, darker pace, the riffs corroded, the vocals torn from the depths of the earth itself. A highlight of the album, it is a slow-building nightmare of ferocious riffs and crushing percussion. In contrast, ‘the eyeless spectator’ is a full-tilt rampage that tears and snarls with inarticulate rage. Once again trespassing in blacker pastures, ‘fan the flames of madness’ is a crushing track that tempers the more traditional death metal found elsewhere with elements of Darkthrone and Satyricon. It’s a vicious album highlight and it stands wonderfully at odds with the beautiful, progressive cover of Bo Hansson’s ‘lothlorien’ – a 1970’s tribute to the work of Tolkein. The oasis of calm only lasts so long, however, and ‘deny salvation (wolf-like dogs)’ is one of the fastest, nastiest tracks on offer here, sounding all the more brutal for following such an ethereal piece of music. As the album draws to a close, two final tracks remain. The sludgy, dark-hearted ‘embracing the vultures’ and the beautiful, poignant ‘as the monolith comes alive’, the band pulling out one last surprise via a piece of music that sounds more akin to the progressive work of the late 70s than the work of a crushing, full-on metal outfit.
Usurpress know the value of subtlety. Whilst the music is so often brutal, they introduce just enough progressive elements to add an extra dimension to their sound without the transition sounding jarring or forced. This is not a full-blown, opeth-aping transformation. Rather this is a band introducing an element of light so that the remaining shade might seem all the darker. This is, for the most part, brutal and uncompromising music aimed at a masochistic few. The music is obnoxious, dark, unyielding, and whilst the band may introduce elements that appeal to a brighter, better world, the album is, for the most part, a trawl through humanity’s darkest desires For those who love their death metal tinged with the most appalling blackness, ‘Ordained’ is the album for you. Intelligent, talented and dark as hell, Usurpress are not a band to be approached lightly or ill-advisedly.