Album Review: Alkaloid – Numen

Album Review: Alkaloid - Numen
Reviewed by Sam Jones

Alkaloid are a band, or rather a supergroup, that I haven’t heard many people praising as of late. You’d think a band comprising of ex-Dark Fortress frontman Morean, German drumming paramour Hannes Grossmann, ex-Obscura bassist Linus Klausenitzer and ex-Defeated Sanity guitarist Christian Münzer would make waves in extreme metal, yet that hasn’t been the case. Formed in 2013 out of Bavaria, Germany, Alkaloid United these aforementioned giants of their respected bands and fields and sees them out out massive works of progressive death metal and none more so staggering than their 2015 album debut: The Malkuth Grimoire. This album was huge when it first released, only worked upon when the band unveiled their 2018 follow-up titled Liquid Anatomy. Now, another three years on with not a single other EP, Single or otherwise to bridge the gap, Alkaloid look to unleash their third full length work titled Numen, for a September 15th release window. Continuing their Season Of Mist partnership that Liquid Anatomy began, it’s good to see the band return to action and upon viewing the band prepping for another album release, I knew I had to dive into the chance to check this out for myself.

It’s great to hear Morean’s vocals once more, especially since Dark Fortress have since called it a day, but while that band may no longer be together it doesn’t mean their members are completely inactive as this record demonstrates. Morean’s signature raspy vocals are easily recognisable as his delivery complements the steady but impactful songwriting the band provide us with. Alkaloid’s gradual style of songwriting, one that sees us taken on a winding and adventurous journey with every ensuing track, benefits from a vocal style that isn’t seeking to tear our heads from our torsos but rather nestle us deeply and comfortably within a soundscape that’s equally pleasing as it is engaging. The vocals do become heavier and more guttural from time to time yet these sequences are during the most volatile and intense periods of Alkaloid’s songwriting; songwriting that is otherwise reserved for only select occasions when the band want things to pick up a touch. There’s something about these vocals that make us instinctually at home with this soundscape, and it’s just as well considering the long haul Numen has us in for.

Curiously, that leads us into the elephant in the room: this is a long album. Now onto their third full length record, Alkaloid have become no strangers to long albums and even then Numen lasts less time than their debut record. But that doesn’t dispel the trepidation a newcomer might have when first viewing this album’s near seventy-minute runtime. The band are of course a force of progressive death metal so elongated length comes with the territory, but it’s nice to see the band still throw in a smaller piece like “The Cambrian Explosion” or “Recursion”. Providing us with a few shorter tracks helps break up the album’s flow as hurling a slew of length pieces would fatten this runtime more than it already has been and that’s without mentioning how Numen, nearly a double album, uses two discs to support its gargantuan amount of material. It’s a relief to see however, aside from the thirteen minute album closer “Alpha Aur”, any other track here doesn’t exceed nine minutes. The band’s songwriting, owing to its style, is all over the place but never in such a way I found myself wondering where we were heading and, since the band maintain a control over how long they play for, we know an end goal is in sight from the second they start playing.

Album Review: Alkaloid - Numen

The versatility of Alkaloid’s riffs is what drew me to the band in the first place when they released The Malkuth Grimoire back in 2015; their songwriting ranges from vast, concrete slabs of guitar work that beat us down and to the floor, to these exceptionally intricate sections that showcase this as more than just a work death metal, but one that utilises the Progressive moniker seriously and isn’t some stand-in excuse for superficial implementations. The progressive aspect of this band is very real and while the band will certainly throw us through wild tangents that may begin out of nowhere, they’ll always have some notion of the main track embedded within the songwriting so we understand these songwriting offshoots, if you will, aren’t merely performed for their own sake, but with legitimate intentions behind their writing. The band’s progressive style may be worn on their sleeve, but even then there’s genuine power to be found amidst their main onslaught when the progressive tendencies are relaxed. Neither half of this band’s approach to progressive death metal suffers because the band want the other to shine; they’ve got this balancing act down to a fine art now with this third record of theirs.

Given how talented each member of this band are, it comes to as no surprise to recognise Alkaloid’s songwriting is greatly entertaining. But perhaps more noteworthy is their insistence upon dedicating good chunks of particular tracks to songwriting that isn’t immediately heavy, nor feels like something death metal would include amongst its crowd. “A Fool’s Desire” is this eight minute song that moves this way and that, but a good portion of its runtime is committed to acoustic and smooth guitar work that paints a much gentler, careful outlook upon Alkaloid’s sound than the band had yet demonstrated therein at the time. It’s all the more intoxicating to behold these beautiful swathes of soloing when Hannes Grossmann’s blast beats are pounding away in the background, within a mix that let us feel their impact yet never had them overpower another element of the band’s repertoire. This willingness to let the songwriting, and by extension their audience, breathe no doubt aids the record in not feeling like such an insurmountable height for fans to conquer.

In conclusion, making a seventy minute record enthralling, engaging and progressively impressive is no easy feat to pull off, yet that’s where Numen leads us to thinking regarding this newest release from Alkaloid. By the time we’ve reached that massive album closer, the band have thrown us everything bar the kitchen sink in terms of instrumentation, structure, power, impact, intensity etc. This record can be as conventional as any other work of death metal, before the band shake things up rapidly with progressive songwriting that would startle anyone in their writing attempts. But you’ve also got songwriting that’s equally menacing and kaleidoscopic; riffs can be wildly inventive yet retain an unmistakable tinge of ethereal wonder to them. Various sequences throughout this record certainly do not belong in a conventional extreme metal record, but Numen is anything but conventional. Any sense of predictability is jettisoned from the first seconds as Alkaloid once again pull out all the stops at throwing us into the deep end, yet it’s not so deep that newcomers can’t keep their heads above water. It’s a fine line but Alkaloid have managed to craft a progressive death metal album that’s as intricate as any versed fan would want to find but it’s still inviting enough for new fans to jump on board. Seventy minutes flew by like a breeze. That says it all really. This album is worth your time. Alkaloid may not release material all the time, but it’s bonafide gold upon every visit.

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