The musician known publicly as simply ‘S’ has endured various obstacles over the last five years to bring this first full-length album by his musical vessel Qrixkuor to life by all accounts. Line-up changes have occurred, music has been re-written and re-arranged, and the current line up spans continents. At the time I was finishing this review, even the release date had changed. I can imagine it’s been a thoroughly gruelling experience to bring Poison Palinopsia to fruition, which seems fitting because it’s a truly gruelling listen.
It’s no particular secret that S has a degree in musical composition, with a focus towards soundtrack work, but Poison Palinopsia really does reflect that background with a blinding clarity. Two lengthy compositions of approximately twenty-four minutes each, the orchestral sections that appear are not samples, as is often the case. These were written and arranged by S as part of these pieces and were performed by actual musicians.
When this ensemble opens the album’s first piece, Serpentine Susurrus – Mother’s Abomination, with a blood-freezing sonic panorama of hell, it’s not simply some mood setting intro; you could imagine the entirety of these two tracks being performed on this instrumentation, rather than guitars and drums. Compositionally, Poison Palinopsia has more in common on paper with Penderecki, or parts of Christopher Young’s Hellraiser soundtracks, in terms of its atmospheric power and being an ever-evolving series of movements. But it’s as if that train of compositional thought had been applied to the Hadean tonal palette world of Realm of Chaos era Bolt Thrower.
As complex and expansive as it is, this isn’t some ultra-abstract modern classical piece. It’s still VERY much a death metal album, and one that doesn’t sacrifice the guttural power of the genre for overly intellectual pursuits. It applies that soundtrack/modern classical approach to the compositions and fuses it to downtuned, hellish riffing and blasting drums. In the early 90s, any Trey Azagthoth or David Vincent interview you read, circa Blessed Are The Sick, would invariably see them waffling on about how they were at the cutting edge in terms of elevating and sophisticating the genre; Qrixkuor here have made a damn fine effort in doing so for the current occult death metal generation, lifting it out of mere brutality and pantomime horror theatrics, into a convincingly unnerving piece of work. Unlike a lot of current death metal, it actually sounds frightening, like being trapped in a nightmare you can’t wake from.
The first ten or so minutes of second track Recrudescent Malevolence – Mother’s Illumination is the record’s pitch-black heart. There’s a particular intensity to this section, featuring (but not limited to) some of the slowest and doomiest passages of the album. Qrixkuor excel at all speeds, but their slower moments are spectacularly sinister and that’s never been more evident than here. There’s a sequence early on where feedback, a churning background riff and competing snaking guitar lines compete, it’s particularly eerie, piling on the layers in a way that evokes a growing sense of terror. It’s like watching the sky darken above you and the apocalypse actually beginning.
It applies that soundtrack/modern classical approach to the compositions and fuses it to downtuned, hellish riffing and blasting drums…
It is at times a little impenetrable, no doubt by design. To say ‘There’s a lot going on’ would be an understatement and the nature of the music is in the constant metamorphosis from one riff, or section, to the next, as soon as you feel like you’ve locked into a particular section, it moves on and the ground is pulled from under you. That’s the nature of the game however. If you’ve ever experienced a hypnogogic jerk at the edge of sleep, imagine that for forty-eight minutes, where instead of waking up instantly, the feeling of falling is continuous. It all comes back to the world of sleep with Qrixkuor, their music being an experience that often comes close to capturing the terrifying experience of sleep paralysis and the countering of entities in that state which has famously inspired it. The blast section is rife with a sense of panic, the vocals are a harrowing voice uttering the unutterable directly into the cavity of your chest, rather than your ears.
Close your eyes at any time during this album and the vivid mental pictures it creates can range from fireballs shooting over an abyssal plane straight towards you or being submerged in some sort of oily black swamp and gasping for air; all different, all dark. Poison Palinopsia is a developed and impressive evocation through music of a genuinely dark and fantastical world, as much as it is a pile of riffs to enjoy, and indeed this is the aspect in which that aforementioned soundtrack training really succeeds in a way that most other albums, in this style, lately don’t.
While the hallucinatory artwork and thematic grandiosity are as complementary to the whole effect as the music, you could be handed this thing in a plain black sleeve and it would still transport you away through your headphones and directly across the Styx. It’s a wild proposition, perhaps, but one wonders if S and Qrixkuor might take the bigger leap into the abyss and attempt a piece of this scale at some point in the future solely using classical instrumentation, unchained from the metal band set up. The mind boggles at how that might possibly sound.
This is not a casual listen. Death metal, of course, should never be, it should be an escape to another darker world, but Poison Pallinopsia is not otherworldly, it’s underworldly.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes