The phrase ‘It’s a small World’ always feels redundant when discussing black metal. It’s a genre practically built on musician-sharing, so when avant-metallers The Deathtrip announced the departure of vocalist Aldrahn from the fold, it was hardly surprising that Kvohst would step in to fill his shoes. He’d already replaced Aldrahn once before (in Dødheimsgard) and with session drummer Dan Mullins had more shared lineage with Code, but beyond that it just seems a natural fit – he’s often the first choice for odd, theatrical and disturbing vocal performances, so with The Deathtrip it’s like he’s found a natural home for his talents.
Guitarist and chief songwriter Host’s approach on their second full length doesn’t deviate too far from what had been established on their first, in that there’s an obvious emphasis on the ‘true Norwegian black metal’ sound of the 90s. Be it in rapid, punk-inflected barrages of tremolo and reverb, blastbeats nailed with nanosecond-tight precision or in the slower, doomier passages that are liberally spread throughout these lengthy compositions. But there are two true strengths which have not only remained from earlier records but have been honed to chilling effect.
First and foremost, this is a man who tailors his writing to his vocals. Deep Drone Master took a violently off-kilter approach, riffs twisting and tangling around each other in increasingly erratic patterns, which felt well-attuned to Aldrahn’s maniacal delivery. With Kvohst, there is a massively increased range to work with and so the songwriting is capable of reflecting this. Providing ample speed and skewed aggression to exercise his demonic bellow but more importantly giving room and space for his rich baritone, a voice that could pull double-shift as that of a cosmic priest summoning eldritch abominations. Likewise, the melodies are powerful and intricate, shying away from simple tremolo eruptions (though there are still plenty to be found) to highlight some spry guitar work that flits and dances across these vast soundscapes, keeping it similar in spirit that hefty vocal range.
Grab some absinthe, find a quiet room and lose yourself in The Deathtrip’s hallucinogenic nightmare world, then do it all over again…
Host’s other great triumph is to stress atmosphere over blunt force, leaving Mullins’ brusque drumming to handle the latter. This record practically reeks of delirium, guitars drunkenly rolling and weaving while the synths and other miscellany hold back, amplifying the otherworldly shifts in tempo and timing that keep the likes of Vintage Telepathy on the right side (or, depending on your psychic leanings, the incredibly wrong) side of madness. Though this is likely the album’s strongest cut, Kvohst’s chants and wavering croon operating on a level that rivals anything in his lengthy career, Abraxas Mirrors and Angel Fossils both deserve mention for their ability to make high-energy and resolutely old-school black metal riffing sound fresh again.
This would typically be the point where a big, fat ‘but’ would come along and ruin everything but to be fair, there’s little here not to like. Sure, many of the riffs have already done the rounds with other bands throughout the decades, and Kvohst is most definitely working within his comfort zone, but these feel like trivialities when viewed within the context of what Demon Solar Totem does right. It’s a uniquely weird entity that plays to its creators’ strengths, an eccentric joyride through an alien subconscious that neither takes itself too seriously nor plays out like a pantomime of the scene that spawned it. Grab some absinthe, find a quiet room and lose yourself in The Deathtrip’s hallucinogenic nightmare world, then do it all over again.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes