“We Have Such Sights to Show You”: Gomorrah’s “The Haruspex” (Album Review)

As we’ve recently been reminded by New Year festivities, the tendency for humans to prognosticate is a tradition seemingly as old as the species itself; and yet the recent passing of not one but two incomparable music icons demonstrates that we rarely know what’s coming and are subsequently left stunned by change when it happens. (We should note first that a haruspex was a diviner, oracle, or fortune teller in ancient Rome who followed an even older, gruesome tradition among ancient religions: their practice involved “reading” the future from the specific appearance and condition of animal entrails.) Upon its release today, Gomorrah‘s latest recording The Haruspex embodies this universal predicament, as the meticulous configuration of elements that comprise the album are an entirely distinct constellation within the technical death metal universe that could well prove to be a game-changer – once listeners pick themselves, and their entrails, up off the floor.

Gomorrah - The Haruspex (album cover)

Gomorrah – The Haruspex (album cover)

Immediately apparent is the excellent production work done by the band at Rain City Recorders ( http://www.raincityrecorders.com/ ) with mixing and mastering by Stuart McKillop and Brad Boatright respectively. To contain the dark elemental forces summoned down from the blasted peaks surrounding the band’s hometown of Kelowna, each instrument and vocal utterance is audibly provided its own pristine position in the mix, like viscera in glass canopic jars, with pride of place given to the sepulchrally low frequencies that maintain the harmony of the whole. (Having said that, one highly recommends that digital purchasers of the album opt for FLAC format rather than mp3 in order to enjoy its full dynamics.)

What is also clear by the end of the second track (“Nine Kings of Sulphur”), is that Gomorrah are relentlessly incisive songwriters. All fat and filler have been excised to present the leanest, most vicious cuts possible. Yet, as relentlessly efficient as their approach to songwriting may be, there is no lack of artistry: demonstrated in concise flourishes (all but one of the album’s 10 tracks is under four minutes long), subtle, resonant textures punctuate shifts in atmosphere and tone (see “Dismantling the Throne” and “Cerulean”) without falling prey to common traps of indulgence or ambition – Gomorrah don’t need to show off, or catch their breath – their dark offerings are as refined and focused as any classic of the genre (“Venom and Rapture” is a prime example of the restraint that makes their technical proficiency so refreshing: although it is the longest track on the album, one rapidly loses one’s sense of time and is left wanting more at its close.)

Ultimately, it is “Crowns of Flesh” that best exemplifies the fastidious skill and compelling vision persistent throughout The Haruspex. From its haunting, atmospheric opening interrupted by the first pummelling assault (and the wry lyric, “Welcome to the endless hollow”), followed by chugging riffage, malevolent breakdowns and a blistering rapid-fire climax that cuts out as abruptly as the first riff blasted in, the overall effect is stunning. If we can indulge in a prediction of our own without resorting to ritual disembowelment, this will be an auspicious year for Gomorrah.