Label: Redefining Darkness Records
The upside of reviewing albums from bands you didn’t listen to before is you never know what you’re gonna get. The downside of reviewing albums from bands you didn’t listen to before is you never know what you’re going to get. It’s always a roulette, but sometimes, you don’t end up like Dostoyevski but instead end up hitting the jackpot.
This is one of those times. I say this without reservation: Saprophytic Divinations is a stellar album.
What Helleborus brings to the table is a unique concoction that I can only describe as somewhat progressive blackened slightly techy death metal. If that sounds too contrived, I’ll offer this: the music is grounded firmly in black, sans the raw production (more below); the riffs and drums are often a mixture of more straightforward black / death rhythms and more technically-inclined, sharper passages. The drums deserve special mention for their whiplash-inducing speed and precision here (seriously, some amazing cymbal work here.) The vocals offer throaty, well-enunciated growls, gurgling growls and screams. All this takes place against the backdrop of wonderful, operatic keyboards.
These are some of our favourite things, but they are nothing without good songwriting attached. Luckily for all of us, Helleborus excel at that. From the opening salvoes of Celestial Grave to the final notes of Saprophytic Divinations, every single song is a tightly-woven, engaging and most importantly, varied songwriting that commands attention.
This strength of variety is two-fold: within the songs themselves and the album as a whole. Songs have different movements that mesh together in coherent, cohesive and naturally-flowing wholes perfect balance between memorability and keeping things moving forward. A good example is Nocte Amnes that alternates between burly, chuggy riffs and the deliberate black metal swagger of the hook.
The other side of this is that Saprophytic Divinations doesn’t pull the same trick twice. With moments like the unexpected acoustic interlude Verum Fidei, the more operatically-inclined theatrical piece Decaying Observer or the terribly dissonant, wonderfully angular tour-de-force that is Juniper Shine keep you on your toes and make sure you don’t tune out.
Tying all this together is the atmosphere. Saprophytic Divinations is, above all else, a gothic opera, no two ways about it. It’s wonderfully dark, embellished with a sinister, yet somehow morose presence. The black and death elements that make up the bulk of the music, instead of indulging in some kind of evil, instead work to compliment the dense, living, breathing moods.
To add to all this, the production of the album is just right. Seriously, apart from a slightly too-glossy guitar tone at times, Saprophytic Divinations is geared towards maximum impact. The guitars shine, the bass grumbles, the operatic elements and keyboards wrap around the songs like silk sheets, the vocals menace at the center. The reverb used is also mercifully well-gauged, never overwhelming the sound. Some of the bands I’ve heard this year or ever should definitely be taking notes, right now.
To sum up -do I really need to say it- Helleborus has delivered one of (if not the) best albums of 2019. Saprophytic Divinations is what happens when everything aligns. Someone out there likes me very, very much, it seems. Absolutely recommended.
S. Wyatt Houseman – vocals, lyrics
Jerred C. Houseman – guitars, songwriting
Ian Horenman – bass
Brent Boutté – drums
01. Celestial Grave
02. Alraun Ghost
03. Verum Fidei
04. Devil’s Garden
05. Juniper Shine
06. Decaying Observer
07. Nocte Amnes
08. Blakulla’s Meadow
09. Saprophytic Divinations