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Psalm - "Manifest" (CD/EP)

Psalm - "Manifest" CD/EP cover image

"Manifest" track listing:

1. Through the Maze (intro) (2:07)
2. Ecce Homo (4:41)
3. Layers of Impiety (3:56)
4. Exhortation (2:56)
5. Paradox (5:51)
6. Renewal (Deconstruction. Reconstruction.) (5:04)

Reviewed by on September 30, 2008

"Psalm may not be as well known as the globetrotting kings of black metal whose members marry world famous super models or get banned from countries for on-stage crucifixions, but they have just as much of the force and power as any of those bands."

The black metal genre has come a long way in its thirty something year history, from the coining of the term by the infamous band Venom, through its gestation and true birth in the fires of Norwegian church burnings, and on to black metal as it is known today with its combination of symphonic and brutal elements. Besides a few hangers on who feel that the music was truest when recorded on four tracks and hidden behind a heavy fortification of static that had to be worked through over time, the bands representative of black metal today are in a whole different realm than in the beleaguered beginnings. Psalm may not be as well known as the globetrotting kings of black metal whose members marry world famous super models or get banned from countries for on-stage crucifixions, but they have just as much of the force and power as any of those bands.

Pinning a specific sub-genre of metal on Psalm almost seems like a bit of a disservice with all of the various influences that can be heard in their music, but the phrase “black metal” is simply the closest moniker to nailing down the sound. There are times when they reach the brutality of straight death metal, the technicality of math metal, the creeping sense of dread of symphonic metal, and it could even be argued that there is even a dose of the thrash sound in the songs as well. Psalm could be called symphonic blackened death mathcore metal with thrash influences, but there comes a time when the metal scene needs to draw a line and realize that there can be large fluctuations within a genre while still remaining within its overall borders.

The introduction track on “Manifest” seems like a nod to the early bands that spawned black metal and to Psalm’s contemporary peers, using the traditional moaning spirit type of sound effect that steadily grows in the background as a guitar arrangement builds towards the pure metal havoc of the next song. The sound effects are placed well enough with the guitars to sound like a growing wind bearing ill omens. A distorted clean chanting also accompanies the music like a herald from the land of the dead come to give a decree of damnation to the living, which is delivered in full as “Ecce Homo” blasts out of the speakers with the force of gouts of blood being pumped out of the massacred innocent.

Psalm keeps these songs consistently listenable and rather masterfully avoids the curse of bothersome repetition in vocals and guitar work. When a riff has run its course they drop it and move on without remorse or regret. The vocals receive a good deal of variance as well. While the majority of the screams are deep snarl somewhere between black and death metal, there are also much lower and more distorted growls, some clean chanting, and regular use of layering vocals on top of each other to mimic the sound of two demons screaming out their fury together. The frequent changes in sound and occasional meanderings into progressive elements don’t ever drag down the music however, as the sound remains consistently at a ridiculously heavy level.

There are a few problems here and there that keep the EP from hitting perfection, however. Psalm employs a bassist, but no one listening to “Manifest” would ever know that, since there isn’t a single point in any of the songs where the bass can be heard. In a few instances the chanting monk style of vocals do also feel slightly out of place when the less cold and bleak aspects of the music are put on the backburner in favor of technicality or speed. The ending of the album is also a little questionable, although it should be given points for meaning well. The final song “Renewal” ends with distorted feedback echoing on for over a full minute. Although the feedback is given an interesting melody of sorts, sounding likes whales screaming in pain, it just simply goes on for far too long to remain fun to listen to.

It would be exceedingly rare for an EP to be absolutely flawless, so the criticisms should be taken in as mere asides to the majesty of “Manifest.” Fans of modern black metal who need a fix of something new while waiting for the next Dimmu Borgir or Keep of Kalessin can rest assured that they will definitely find what they are looking for here. Maybe with the next full length album Psalm might even manage to take a place next to those names of the big bands of the genre to look out for.

Highs: Brutality, technicality, melody, and its overall fun to listen to

Lows: Can't hear the bass at all and a few of the elements don't come together perfectly

Bottom line: A great example of modern black metal.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)