AOSOTH have been releasing uncompromising, disturbing black metal for well over a decade now. Their second album Ashes of Angels remains one of the most nightmarish, abrasive records in the genre, but later albums saw the band flex their creative muscles and push themselves out of their comfort zone, developing a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to songwriting, reaching its apex on 2013’s IV: An Arrow in Heart. On their fifth and final full-length album, The Inside Scriptures, the band successfully bring these elements together on their most well-rounded album to date.
The band effectively weaponise dissonance and barely-controlled chaos, but the jarring, menacing guitarwork perhaps seeks to express something more subtle and more sinister than the abrasive assault of Ashes of Angels. The cerebral nature of their music is very much still present, and at times the music takes on such an ambitiously magnificent character of corrupted, decaying beauty that it’s genuinely impressive to witness. Penultimate track Contaminating All Tongues best embodies this, with one of the heaviest central riffs they’ve ever written, its walls of discordant guitars building to a crescendo amid thunderous blastbeats and MkM‘s tortured vocals. MkM remains one of the most talented vocalists in the genre, and his vicious snarls and demented howls have a textural, percussive quality to them. The lyrics have a startling, unsettling beauty to them, but on a musical level it’s less about vocalising specific words and sentences, and there’s certainly no interest in catchy choruses: it’s more about putting another brush to a broader canvas of colours and ideas, communicating ideas and emotions on an instinctual, non-cognitive level.
The band have often drawn as much from death metal as they have from black metal, but The Inside Scriptures develops this influence to its fullest extent so far, often referencing IMMOLATION as much as DEATHSPELL OMEGA. This album benefits from a great sense of momentum that their previous album An Arrow in Heart sometimes lacked, and in fact the songs here are perhaps their most aggressive and immediately-rewarding since Ashes of Angels, while retaining the complex, cerebral character of the former album. Nothing about this album is truly a surprise to those already familiar with the band’s previous albums, but the band deliver on all of their characteristic strengths while eliminating most of the weaknesses which have sometimes plagued previous albums. The dissonant guitarwork and unsettling character of the band’s sound of course still owes much to their French kinsmen, but at this stage AOSOTH are very much their own beast. There is a confidence and precision here which can only be achieved through hard work and experience over a number of years, and it really goes some way towards pushing The Inside Scriptures from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
Every truly great band has something which sets them apart from the pack, a differentiating factor which marks them out as something quite special; AOSOTH have always truly excelled at incorporating feeling into their music, a vital, beating heart within the eye of the storm. It’s so easy in this genre to write music completely lacking in humanity, and which utterly fails to connect on an emotional or spiritual level. Aristotle wrote in The Poetics that the value of tragic theatre is that in bringing to the surface such intense, extreme feelings of pity and despair, and running the emotional gauntlet, we purge ourselves of these feelings. AOSOTH excel at capturing precisely these feelings of total anguish and despair, and ultimately that final purifying state of catharsis. While The Inside Scriptures isn’t quite as remorseless in its pursuit of the deepest, darkest recesses of the human psyche, there’s a sophistication to its approach which nonetheless reaffirms the urgent character of their music.
This is an album that benefits from careful attention and repeated listens, and while much of that is due to the level of detail and complexity inherent in the music itself, unfortunately it’s often due to the production. The guitars are sometimes too muddy to make out what seems to be very technical, detailed guitarwork, while the vocals are sometimes buried in the somewhat flat mix. It’s certainly not disastrous, but on an album as complex as this it renders a full appreciation more difficult than it ought to be, as the drums overpower and the production overall has a habit of obscuring where it ought to clarify.
Nevertheless, despite some production missteps, The Inside Scriptures still amounts to AOSOTH‘s most well-rounded album and fully-realised vision to date. The culmination of 15 years of toil and struggle, it’s a bittersweet album, full of anguish, pain, and even a touch of melancholy; of punishing, abrasive riffs, crashing drums, and tormented howls; and yet the profound catharsis of its strongest moments bring the album into a morbid harmony rarely achieved. If this is the end of AOSOTH, then they can be proud of ending on a note such as this.
V: The Inside Scriptures is out now via Agonia Records.
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