Bathyum - Rituals of the Damned - (8/10)
Published on October 16, 2016
Choosing to hit the ground running rather than crawl in obscurity for centuries with endless streams of demos, EPs, splits, and compilations, England’s Bathyum is either overly eager to make a mark on the scene or much more modest than its chosen subgenre would have us believe. This one-man project has intentions lined with razor-sharp, Bathory-fueled barbarity that harkens to its chief influence only vaguely, choosing instead to develop itself into something much more even-tempered and contemporary than the mercurial and rarely self-satisfied Swedes ever were. The band’s debut, Rituals of the Damned, plays the second wave straight, so to speak; it is a deeper, uniquely idiosyncratic projection of the style that tries to squeeze as much out of the cloth as possible, focusing on modesty in its riff progressions and sincerity in its melody.
Perhaps it’s this brevity of style that Bathyum truly aspires to be like Bathory, and if not that, then certainly in its comparatively more simplistic drumming. In this respect, it is all too easy to compare the album to Under the Sign of the Black Mark, both managing the snare with equal parts force and finesse so that one doesn’t really notice that the album is actually a highly percussive oriented one. Like Gorgoroth’s Under the Sign of Hell—and also 1349’s Hellfire—Rituals of the Damned relegates the role of the guitars with its distinct flavor on production and elevates the drums to the forefront, highlighting it all with frequent outbursts of militant patterns that sound more like a battle march. It’s these moments that Bathyum uses as gateways into an entirely different, chaotic arrangement that truly brings the circle back to where it inspirationally began.
At this point, it should be obvious that Bathyum’s approach to subtlety is so glaring it’s impossible to not notice it. This is a band characterizing itself on very distinct and seemingly random aspects of an icon that is known for other things, and in so doing, they draw comparisons to diametrically opposed others.
But let’s not forget what we came here for: the riffs. It is here where it might be best to go to another source, a band that like Bathyum writes riffs as cold as its name suggests but keeps the pacing at such a relaxed momentum that only a modest dusting of frost can accumulate. Iskald is indeed the first band that springs to mind but at others, namely “Into the Black Sea of Trees,” “Satanic Sodomy,” and “Heaven in Flames,” I’m reminded of Tsjuder’s distinctly turbulent, sadistic thematics from Desert Northern Hell, again, in reference to the violent outbursts Bathyum frequently partakes in, before the band once more settles back into something more tempered and controlled but still very much on the verge of losing its shit.
There is indeed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dynamic going on throughout the album, and it’s really not too surprising, considering Wyvern (sole member of the band) is probably trying to reconcile his two main sources of inspiration. It turns out to work incredibly well for him, though, and the result is a surprisingly erratic yet consistent album that touches on so many of the aspects that have made certain iconic black metal albums so memorable. It’s not necessarily a modern classic, just a reworking of others into something that definitely needs to be heard.