By: Sam Birkett

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Released on April 15, 2015 via Invictus Productions

In 2013, Ireland’s Malthusian came out of the ether with an EP of demos, MMXIII. On it was a glorious blast of blackened death and doom metal, a thundering 25 minutes that demanded the attention and praise of the underground with its distinctive style and force. Over the next two years they lurked in the wings, steadily stoking their reputation with breathtaking live shows before thrusting themselves back into the chaos with Below the Hengiform.

On this new EP, their sound is even bigger than before. The higher production values, while removing some of the gravelly edge of the demo, have given the band a vast expanse to fill to the brim with ferocious drums, foreboding guitars and phenomenal vocals. Every aspect demonstrates a uniquely forward take on extreme metal, taking influences from death, black and doom but extracting from them something altogether different. It’s a thrilling experience, and nowhere is it clearer cut than by their three vocalists, who overlay one another with guttural and higher-pitched screams, interjecting and overlapping in a hellish contortion that keeps the surface of tracks like ‘Slouching Equinox’ unstable. The texture and image in ‘Slouching Equinox’ is a highlight, with a drowned, wailing guitar phrase struggling up for its last doomed breaths and ghostly, barely perceptible human cries underscoring lyrics of the ‘guttering flame’ of existence. It’s a crushing track that shifts from movement to movement like the strange beast of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming,’ slouching its way to Bethlehem to be born.

The other two tracks are similarly impressive. Opener ‘The Gasless Billows’ displays their most doom-laden riffs, with a slower, ruthless pacing to the guitars whilst rapid drums flicker beneath. It displays the stylistic nuance and expression they’ve developed on this release, not only in balancing their generic influences, but also in that it captures the feeling of its subject so well. It doesn’t merely remind the listener of apocalypse but embodies the concept in its awesome sound: a subtle skill, and essential to the power of these compositions. What is potentially most impressive, however, is that Malthusian have written – and don’t hang me for this – some bloody catchy melodies. The riffs and phrases on this EP lodge in the ear immediately, particularly on closer ‘Forms Become Vapor’. With swinging, propulsive rhythm the infectious riffs of the mid-section hit that head-banging switch, and you’ll find yourself humming it in the supermarket aisle for days. In a kind of reversion of the lyrics, the song gets meatier as it progresses, transitioning from the nebulous beginning to the physicality of the end, the lyrics becoming clearer too. Of the three tracks, ‘Forms’ is the only one to so far have had full lyrics released, but if their bleak and evocative poetry is any indication of the still-submerged rest, the accomplishments of the music are fully supported by the words.

Below the Hengiform is a towering early opus for Malthusian, achieving in three tracks what many bands can’t in an album. The tension and release of its music is rapturous, its lyrics sophisticated, and if they can manage to extend this level of quality onto their debut LP they will be an unstoppable force. Malthus would approve. Maybe.

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