Usurpress - Interregnum
Agonia Records
Progressive Death Metal
7 songs (39:07)
Release year: 2018
Agonia Records
Reviewed by Goat

So swift and punishing is the pace of modern life that it's easy for a good album to slip away and be forgotten. Such is the case but shouldn't be for Sweden's Usurpress and their fourth album, released in February shortly after which tragedy struck the band with vocalist Stefan Pettersson passing away from cancer. The members of Usurpress had been active in their native Uppsala's extreme metal scene since the early 90s (bassist Daniel Ekeroth the author of the 2006 Swedish Death Metal guide) and the passion for their sound is clear from Interregnum, a fascinating album that blends the expected death metal with a large dose of 70's prog styling. The result is a varied but cohesive listen that introduces itself to you by way of the ominous spoken vocals and laid-back noodling of A Place in the Pantheon, driven as much by fuzzy synthesizers as guitars. Comparisons to modern Opeth are inevitable, but Usurpress do it distinctly enough for them to be unfair, especially since come the following two-minute title track the band are firmly in death metal territory. It's not pure death however, throwing in some interesting drum patterns and melodic, airy leads atop the backing grooving riffs and snarled vocals and proving that even short tracks can have their hooks.

From then on, it's the fusion of these two distinct genres that makes Interregnum so impressive. In Books Without Pages opens with almost gothic, occult rock tones from Pettersson's singing before the rest of the band kick in with some punishingly heavy Swedish death that acts weirdly like a chorus before returning to the atmospheric rock. Backed by session drummer Stefan Hildman (apparently more of a jazz fusion sticksman than a metal one) and helped by a lovely old-fashioned production, the results are compelling to the point where you're disappointed when the song suddenly ends just before the fifth minute. Late in the 11th Hour continues the quality, a folk metal introduction leading to a song that's heavier at points with both blackened and funeral doom sections that are worked in perfectly, but equally willing to let a melody run or take an extra few seconds to explore something lighter.

We could argue for days about which are the best tracks present, but everyone's list will surely lead with eight-minute monster Ships of Black Glass, the most straightforwardly prog-death piece on the album in its beginning and end with repeated vocal hooks of "black!" but with a psychedelic rock interlude, like a death metal version of Cathedral given their experiments in that direction. There's a drum freakout at the end that's utterly superb, the keyboards rising atop a total battering; more death metal bands should use jazz drummers! Doom fans will love The Iron Gates Will Melt which shuffles a little further in their direction, slowing down the tone and allowing that thick guitar tone to work its magic like a particularly vicious Paradise Lost. And those of a more gothic inclination will appreciate the closing The Vagrant Harlot, which sticks to clean vocals throughout and is more akin to Tribulation's recent material.

So varied is Interregnum, so well-put together are its various experiments that it's difficult to nitpick beyond a vague wish that the band had allowed it to stretch beyond its slim 37 minute runtime. Songs end quickly enough that a little more flab wouldn't have hurt, but you have to applaud an experimental band with so tight an editorial finger, and although the future of the band is uncertain after their tragic loss, we do have their back catalogue to rediscover. Fans of the likes of Morbus Chron should definitely have this on their radar.

Killing Songs :
In Books Without Pages, Late in the 11th Hour, Ships of Black Glass
Goat quoted 80 / 100
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