Vessel Of Iniquity is a one man band from the UK who purveys the kind of atmospheric death metal that isn’t focussed on brutal riffs, technical proficiency or gory vocals. Across three full-length albums and numerous EPs, multi-instrumentalist SP White has used the basic components of death and black metal, along with a few extra tools from doom and noise music, to create punishing and enveloping atmospheres of utter darkness. It would be easy for this sound to become a never-ending wall of grinding guitars, ghastly vocals and eviscerating drums, but it’s how well the dynamics are balanced that defines the quality of albums in this style. Artists like Gnaw Their Tongues and Portal, clearly big influences on Vessel Of Iniquity, are among the few who constantly perfect this equilibrium without relinquishing any of their unique extremity.
A Glimpse Of The Pattern opens the album with a slow death-doom riff surrounded by dark ambient drones and effects, while the howling, windswept vocals that are a defining feature of this album provide even more texture to the sound. Without warning things kick up about five gears both in velocity and intensity. The programmed drums remind me of the most vicious of modern grindcore while all around them chaos ensues in the bludgeoning guitars and bass. The track finishes on a dark solo guitar melody that transfers through to the drawn-out doomy beginnings of By Allusion Called. There’s a bit more warning this time before everything accelerates, but it still feels absolutely brutal, the guitars sounding like a pneumatic drill through an HM-2, while the drums build up into Agoraphobic Nosebleed levels of absurd speed. After a moment of intimidating calm, the track proceeds to the end with walls of overwhelmingly slow death metal that actually reach funeral doom tempo. There’s a constant threat from the drums that everything might just erupt again, though it never does, and it keeps you on constant edge.
Three Drops Of Milk Before Retiring is an appropriately strange title for what is a creepy synth interlude that sounds like a warped version of Adagio For Strings. Towards the end the guitars and drums return in a twisted, caustic fashion just to remind us not to get too comfortable in the ambience. It all fades out before Dying races out of the blocks with a barrage of blast beats and dense, atonal guitar riffs. The ghostly vocals are here once again, filling the only aural space to have been left bare by the instruments. The track is so relentless that it wears you down, teaching you a lesson for relaxing in that interlude.
The title track brings a little more nuance to affairs, opening with a deliciously dark and doomy intro overlaid with a mesh of fuzz and feedback. Although the pace once again goes from 0-60 in a millisecond, the melody remains stable, providing a wonderful contrast to the instrumental chaos that rages below it. It’s a track that does feel a little underwritten though, running short and seeming to fade out without much fanfare considering it’s one of the best musical movements on the record. Self Not Selff begins in a cavernous fashion, with washes of reverb covering the blackened death metal riffs in a terrifying atmosphere. The vocals gain a little more substance along with their frightening texture too, sounding like a choir of ghouls rather than a lone spirit.
Death State Boundary is another atmospheric interlude, this time pierced through by an unintelligible spoken word piece. The final track proper, Ascension, begins with an echoing riff that sounds like it’s coming from the depths of Norwegian black metal’s most avant-garde moments. That black metal style continues for the rest of the track, composed of a bleak set of droning tremolo riffs and blast beats, slower minor chord riffs and double-bass grooves, and harrowing vocals that for once delve beyond the ghostly wails of before. The album finishes with the barbaric noise track Revelation, a continuation of the spoken word and dark ambient conglomeration that preceded.
The Doorway is a superbly crafted album that constantly looks to both hypnotise you in it’s gaze of traumatic atmospheres, yet at the same time spin you around in a dizzying whirlwind of merciless death metal. Sometimes this is in detriment to individual tracks, and there are occasions where some of the musical ideas feel a little lacking in expansion. However, when listened to as a whole, The Doorway comes together as a complete piece of ferocious, savage and abstract death metal that drags you deep into it’s murky void.
Listen to and order the album: