By Nathanas Trismegistus
Irae – Lurking in the Depths; released June 26, 2020 by Signal Rex. Here we have another band I know very little to nothing about (and, admittedly, the same sentiment could be expressed regarding my knowledge and experience with the Portuguese black metal scene as a whole). Though Irae have been around for some time, having now released five full-length albums, this is the first one that I have ever listened to. I had only just recently listened to, and purchased, their 2019 compilation, Satanic Secrets from the Mausoleum; though, that release could hardly have prepared me for this new album as, stylistically speaking, the differences from that collection of unreleased tracks is so dramatic that Lurking in the Depths might as well have been released by an entirely different band. But don’t interpret that as negative criticism, this “new” (I am putting that in quotations because there are four other albums which I have yet to hear) sound is definitely closer to what I would consider to be an original sound. Now I have to put “original” in quotes as Irae clearly have their musical inspirations. Whereas I might have put last year’s compilation in the category of borderline-Satanic Warmaster covers, this new album I would probably place into the far more populated category of old school, Darkthrone- and Horna-worship; albeit, high in the ranks.
Interestingly, with Lurking in the Depths, Irae, unlike a lot of substandard black metal bands today, doesn’t frontload their album with all the good songs and collapse qualitatively after the third or fourth track (you know, probably well after you’ve already decided whether or not to purchase the album). In fact, the middle of this album is probably where you’ll find the most interesting compositions of the whole. That’s not to say it begins or ends weakly. Quite the contrary. Track 1 perfectly draws the listener in with probably the most darkly enchanting melodies I’ve heard in a while and track 2 follows closely in its impish footsteps. The album ends with a perilous, labyrinthine number, steeped in mystery and wonder. The true gems, though, like tracks 4, 5, and 6 (my personal favorites) are merely buried away, a nice reward for those stick with it all the way. The only tracks I probably didn’t care for would be tracks 3 and 7 only because I thought the former had an obnoxious rhythm and the latter didn’t seem to fit thematically with the rest of the album. Track 7, for some reason, reminded me a lot of Burzum’s “Key to the Gate” (which is strangely technical and progressive for black metal).
I cannot stress enough just how wickedly awesome I think some of the composition/songwriting of this album is. The eerie, haunting and evocative melodies deftly swept me into the path of a nameless, inexorable terror bourne through sylvan realms of distant memory and awakening, not unlike that which is represented by the album cover. They do vary from simple, memorable affairs to the more bizarre, intricate ones. A nice contrast, in my opinion, if given a fair chance experienced fully. If I had any complaints about this album, though, it would be that the rhythm-oriented riffs or sections of these songs are kind of weak—unspectacular. While I think the dark melodies are great, I think some focus should be shifted over to bolstering the chuggy, stompy bits.
The production on this album is very warm and wet—moist even. Particularly with the guitars. In that sense, Lurking in the Depths varies drastically from the typical cold, trebly Nordic black metal sound. The album glows with raw, dense saturation, which I would expect from a band hailing from the Iberian Peninsula. The sound is very reminiscent and emblematic of the Mediterranean climate from which it originates. Everything sounds real and fraught with that ever-elusive analogue warmth. Can that be faked? With today’s technology—certainly. But I trust that every instrument is real and their performances well captured; that is, except maybe the drums. The high hat specifically sounds a bit crushed and digitally distorted. Not that it’s a massive, immersion-shattering problem or anything, but I only ever hear that type of effect on overly compressed cymbal audio samples. It was marginally distracting once I noticed it and I, of course, couldn’t un-notice it. The shrill vocals, no doubt boosted with maximal gain and performed with an appropriately cheap mic, fry through the mix and the throbbing bass is pleasantly, and surprisingly, present and audible throughout.
In summation, I genuinely and thoroughly enjoyed this album, in its entirety. It’s a solid 8 (out of 10) for me only because it’s a style with which we’re all fairly familiar. Otherwise, nearly perfect. I will purchase this album, eventually, and I would highly recommend anyone with a similar taste in black metal to do the same. I would deem it essential listening for this year. Irae’s Lurking in the Depths is far from the best black metal album I’ve ever heard, but a fairly formidable contender for album of the year for 2020. What’s your homework for this week? Go give this album a listen. It clocks in at nearly 44 minutes, so it’s not short, but it’s not ridiculously long either. Perfect full-length LP running time, if you ask me. I’ve listened to it five times now; there’s no excuse. And now I must do my own homework and go back and listen to all of Irae’s other releases. Whenever I can find the time. Wish me luck.
Listen/buy here: https://irae666.bandcamp.com/album/lurking-in-the-depths