Usurpress - Interregnum - (7.5/10)
Published on April 5, 2018
Anyone who approaches the fourth Usurpress album thinking that they are in for a treat of old school death metal is in for a shock and then some. Not because the quality of Interregnum is poor (though that may take a long time to decide), more because this album explores musical paths generally not associated with death metal in the least. The unorthodox approach comes in the form of an atmospheric prog metal twist that is singular in its understanding of both prog and death, leaving this very far from any other band you would care to call progressive death metal. Yes, we’re looking at you Opeth.
It’s true, there are spots of jazzy drumming and descents into quiet atmosphere, but the refusal to use acoustic guitars and anything remotely resembling folk distances songs like “In Books Without Pages” from previous attempts at this form of cross-pollination. There’s no doubt that Interregnum is deviant in another sense, because this is a slow listen, with only very few sections of songs rising much above a lethargic crawl, which is rare in light of the band’s crust and death metal roots and manifestly an unlikely choice for a 39 minute recording. Perhaps some listeners who have stuck around since Ordained might recognize the kind of oppressive riffing that rattles off “Ships of Black Glass”, though as a look at the song length and perplexing title will tell you there are a lot of genuine progressive diversions thrown over the basic structure of Usurpress’s original “three minutes of dirty death.”
The thing that will have fans of Daniel Ekeroth et al scratching their heads is how wilfully Interregnum abuses the listener’s expectations during its seven songs. “A Place in the Pantheon” is a song that never gets much beyond the crisp drum rolls and narration which accompany its melancholy slow guitar melodies and, by opening with such an obscurity, Usurpress make it a matter of guesswork over where the album is headed, which – return to heavier territories aside – is an accurate summary of what happens. There are moments that will please old Katatonia fans, Moonspell disciples, the Enslaved army, and any Meshuggah groupies who have burst their eardrums, while a whole slew of unique flavours come steaming off the parts that aren’t influenced by jazz and sedate prog rock.
Simply allowing for a look at “The Iron Gates Will Melt” will produce broken chords, slow sludge death riffing with deep relaxed vocals, and a crushing epic chorus that leads into an achingly memorable melody, all wrapped up in a kind of drizzling bleakness that allows for no fun or sense of adventure despite the many tricks used throughout. That last phrase rings true for much of the album, withstanding the brief title track that shows what dab hands Usurpress can be at real Stockholm death metal when they want to; for the most part, however, this takes all the misery of vintage My Dying Bride and Katatonia and, yes, Opeth too, especially when traipsing through the morose melodic majesty of the drawn-out unease in “Ships of Black Glass” and “In Books Without Pages”. Every song is different too, and that’s a feat in itself.
What Usurpress have done with Interregnum is not apparent right from the first listen. From a humourless, unstructured sprawl, the songs here develop a very powerful pull despite not being instinctively appealing in any way, unfolding their construction by increments – a process which could easily go on into double figures on the listening count. Granted, there isn’t a great deal to enjoy (in the sense of having a good time) about dourness like “The Vagrant Harlot”, but there is plenty to appreciate, particularly the way that all bandmembers avoid repeating themselves, not least vocalist Stefan Petterson, who seems to alter his style for each song. A much cleaner production also emphasizes the work that each instrument is doing individually, as well as replacing former nastiness with current melancholy.
For all the shifting and eluding that Usurpress do throughout Interregnum, there does appear to be a uniting factor tying everything together and that comes out towards the end of album centrepiece “Late in the 11th Hour.” After flitting through some forthright riffing and an overdriven bass solo, the song settles suddenly into epic gear, a final battle rush lifting the listener above the album’s playing field and looking directly down on the central philosophy that informs the mood of the experience. From the curious highlighting of the refrain in such emphatic style, one may begin to understand just why Usurpress sound so different from most other bands out there:
“We don’t speak of glory
Of honour and of pride
There’s no sense of brotherhood
When we’re dying side by side”