Album Title: 
The Solace Of Death
Release Date: 
Monday, March 23, 2020
Review Type: 

After several digitally self-released tracks, the Australian outfit MaziKeen (an archaic Hebrew word meaning something like deleterious soul or detrimental spirit) signed to Satanath Records from St. Petersburgh in order to release their first official full-length album; it’s a cooperative happening with Iron, Blood And Death Corporation from Mexican soil. Anyway, to keep it short, this first official full-length album in more than seven years of existence has a digital option to enjoy, as well as a physical one; the latter being a compact disc edition on ‘normal’ jewel-case, including an eight-page booklet, which includes the lyrics from their own songs (the album includes several cover tracks; see further). It comes with very nice artwork by James ‘Jamie’ Ludbrooke (the logo, FYI, was created by the Order member / moderator Ivan Gossage).

The band, just as additional information for you, dear reader, started about eight years ago as an outfit by Andrew Shiells (performing the string-parts), yet throughout the years it did ‘grow’ into a real band. On this album, Andrew was assisted by drummer Marco Pitruzzella (also involved with e.g. Six Feet Under, Waking The Cadaver, Sleep Terror or Fetal Sewage, amongst many others), chansonnier James ‘Cronovras’ Edmeades (you might know him from the unique Black Metal act Claret Ash; he’s also responsible for layout and visual design, in case you might be interested), guitar player Kris Marchant (nowadays also involved with Tech-Death formation Devolved), and Plasmodium’s Aretstikapha on keyboards and piano. Besides, a few guests joined the latest recording sessions (and during earlier studio works), contributing with vocals and lyrical content, being no one else but Josh ‘Slikver’ Young (think: Atra Vetosus and Astral Winter, the original founding guy behind the now-Belgian-based top-label Immortal Frost Productions) on two of the newly recorded hymns, Ashahalasin (of Somnium Nox fame) who contributes on two of the cover-tracks, and Ian Mclean (known from The Maledict).

The very lengthy album (fifty-three minutes without the bonus cover-songs, seventy-eight including these ones) brings a fast and energetic form of technically-skilled and universal Black Metal with a timeless song-writing and quite some variation on different levels. Take the main vocals, for instance, varying from hysterical screams over deep-grunting growls, and everything in between. The blackened screams, being the major form of throat-rape, are somewhat high-pitched and sulfurous, piercing one’s eardrums with a rusty barb. Besides, there are some harmony chants, spoken words and clean singing too, yet decently dosed within the whole package.

The tempo varies a lot as well. The better part balances in between up-tempo and fast, with several blasting outbursts and malicious assaults. However, no matter if a piece is explosive like a pyroclastic eruption or just mid-tempo-oriented, the whole always remains forceful, overpowering and intense. The dynamism works oppressive and convincing, never about to surrender, never prepared to float back. And even the (very few) slower passages, like the opening sequences of Apostate, overwhelm with a merciless and intolerant arrogance. The drum-work plays a big deal within this sonic energy, with molesting double bass-drums, ear-raping artillery-salvos and total percussion devastation. Listen to those comet-fast drum attacks in Vexation Through The Golden Sun to have a clue.

The string-section acts like the spine of the album, with monolithic guitar-driven melodies, added by ingenious solos and tremolo riffing, a colossal rhythm support (rhythm and bass guitars) and a modest yet fine-tuned addition of acoustic and semi-acoustic fragments. However, despite being considered the ‘spine’ of the better part of the compositions, the strings do not have the insufferable arrogance, hubris or conceit to act like the harsh-beating heart of the whole sonic organism.

The sound of MaziKeen has that sort of unique and subtle ‘extra thing’ caused by the carefully chosen and executed synths and piano (even-though the latter gets quite rarely performed; then again, an intermezzo like Harrowing Cessation stands for one or another piano / synth / acoustic guitar-based horror-soundtrack; Mors Vincit Omnia, on the other hand, is like a piece of Contemporary Classical Music with a touch of gothic elegance). In a piece like already-mentioned Apostate, for example, the keyboards add a grandiose level of victorious bombast (the harmonic choir-singing and clean vocals strengthen that epic attitude). It’s like a monumental ambient wall of sound at the background, pushing the lead instrumentation to higher levels of abundant grotesquery and mystic bravery. Other fragments get that touch of astral magnificence, then again the synths color (or is it: uncolor) a darkened sphere of static hypnosis and paralyzing mesmerism. And more than once, cf. a composition like Fractricide (one of the pieces with Josh Young), the keyboard-work reminds me a lot of Dimmu Borgir’s late Nineties’ era (Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and its successors).

MaziKeen did cover several tracks throughout their career. As said, four of them are part of this album, as some kind of bonus for the listener, and as tribute to some bands that have been of influence and source of inspiration for Andrew and his horde. I am not going to analyze any of the covers too deeply, but I cannot but show respect for this band’s eccentric yet still appropriate own vision of them. First comes Mayhem’s Freezing Moon, with the raw voice of Ashahalasin, executed in a manner that would make the guys of Mayhem blush like a young schoolboy watching his sexy teacher’s [whatever, hehe] for the first time. …or something. Okay, a cover is (almost) never as satisfying as the original, but damn, this is a fine piece of tribute! Ashahalasin ‘sings’ on Darkthrone’s legendary hymn Transilvanian Hunger too. It touches the intensity of the original, caressing the sharp-edged grimness that characterizes this bleak piece of evil Aural Art with awe. Still there is a primal tang within the sound, respecting the Old School. And then, those hurricane-laden drum charges, what the f*. Night’s Blood by Dissection comes with at least as much force and dynamism as well. Striking are the well-executed lead passages and, evidently, those thunderous drum salvos. The calmer, epic intermezzo at (almost) half of the song is a breath-taking passage, showing this band’s capability to do the right thing (of course, it does say a lot about the ingenious original track too, evidently, and the magnificence of the initially performing band, Dissection). The most divergent cover-song is the reinterpretation of The Mourning Palace (Dimmu Borgir). It’s less ‘usurping’ or overawing than the original track; rather atmo-symphonic in decoration and slightly catchier as well. That’s an interesting approach, once again demonstrating MaziKeen’s self-interpreted sonic universe.

The production on The Solace Of Death is nearly top-notch, being totally intoxicating, and covering the whole experience in a thick, impenetrable nebula of obscured and opaque (sur)realism. It has something theatrical and dramatic for sure. The mix (EOL Studio, with long-time collaborator - mixer / master Mike Trubetskov) shows a nice balance of all instruments (vocals and acoustic instruments included), although the enormously overpowering mass-instrumentation might confuse and disturb. Once in a while it’s even discordant and chaotic, yet in its core, this material maintains a fine, and necessary, equilibrium of all details involved.

The Solace Of Death brings, simply put, Symphonic Black Metal, yet totally penetrated with aspects from both Atmospheric and Nordic-styled Black Metal, Symphonic Death Metal, Morbid Doom and Dark Ambient. It’s a rich, decadent experience for sure. Anyway, if you can appreciate – and I know that what follows is a radically open-visioned approach – the likes of Emperor, Mactätus, Limbonic Art, Morgul, Obsidian Gate, Alghazant, Dimmu Borgir, then you will surely adore this epos of blackened-symphonic orchestra!