Over the past few years, NYC has developed a reputation for spitting out black metal that falls squarely on the arty side of things, thanks largely to the misadventures of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and his ego-vehicle Liturgy (burst beats! manifestos! oh, jeez!), as well as the epic-length Weakling-isms (now with a gazillion more notes!) of Krallice. I know full well that it isn’t exactly fair, especially for an outsider such as myself, to judge the Big Apple’s black metal output based on the exploits of just two bands, but that doesn’t stop Mutilation Rites’ Empyrean from coming off like the pulverizing, nuclear-powered alternative to the somewhat pretentious NYCBM that ignited a hipster hunt throughout the internet metal ghetto.
Mutilation Rites’ take on black metal is heavy on the filth, but the production on Empyrean is far from raw, balancing a shitload of sludgy bottom end with just enough clarity to allow the ultra-gnarly guitars to cut like rusty reaper’s scythes. In listening to the album, one gets the impression that the quartet took Nocturno Culto’s declaration that “there’s way too much black / and there’s too little metal” to heart, because Mutilation Rites are clearly a metal band first and black metal second, if that makes any sense. This is down-in-the-trenches heavy metal of that headbangin’/fist raisin’/beer swillin’ variety that I’ve waxed poetic over countless times, it just happens to be wrapped in a crunchy black metal shell.
Indeed, crack Empyrean‘s black metal shell open and you’ll find a Pandora’s box of rad riffage waiting to chew you up and spit out the snapped bones. I’ve often found American black metal to be more brutal and bulldozing than its European counterpart, and Mutilation Rites are no exception to this rule; sure, they whip up the requisite malignant atmosphere, but they also punish your eardrums in a way that recalls the violent abandon of hardcore punk. The quartet sounds like they’re more concerned with pounding your fucking face in NYHC style than with conjuring up demons or ushering in the apocalypse.
Mutilation Rites aren’t all bludgeon and blister though. What makes Empyrean worthy of repeat listens is the band’s dynamic songwriting; every transition flows seamlessly into the next, whether it be a torrent of tremolo riffing or a doomy, feedback-laden breakdown. Mutilation Rites have honed their considerable skills over the course of several demos and EPs, and their time spent in Hell’s woodshed has paid off, resulting in an album that sounds like the work of grizzled veterans, yet is infused with all the hunger and ferocity of a young band out to prove themselves.
Armed to the teeth with decimating riffs and a swaggering mean streak, Mutilation Rites have crafted one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in forever, not to mention one of the year’s best black metal albums with Empyrean. If you’re burned out on art house black metal and looking for some tough-as-nails NYC shit that’ll flat-out knock your dick in the dirt, you’ve just found your new favorite band.