Written by John Angel
Burial in the Sky – The Consumed Self
Prog/tech death from Philadelphia, PA
Released August 13, 2021
If you ask most metalheads what the first melodeath* band was they’ll probably tell you At The Gates. ATG was certainly more melodic than the death metal that had come before them but to be honest I wish a different genre name had stuck. When I listen to ATG and their many clones that make up the melodeath subgenre, what I hear that sets them apart from traditional death metal has a lot more to do with what kinds of harmonies and the sets of notes they use. I would argue there’s not that much melody. So when I heard Burial in the Sky’s third LP, The Consumed Self, my instinct was to call it melodeath because it’s the most melodic metal record I’ve heard all year – perhaps the most melodic I’ve heard in the last few years. But because the melodeath moniker is reserved for At The Gates-core we’re stuck using the imprecise prog/tech death label. But what the fuck is genre anyway? Let me tell you about this beautifully melodic record that also hits hard with jaw-dropping musicianship!
The Consumed Self is Burial in the Sky’s follow up to their well-received sophomore album and showcases a band confident in the direction it has chosen and growing to fit it’s ambition. The Philadelphia based group have embraced what made Creatio et Hominus tantalizing and unique, taking their approach to a new level with their third LP. The Consumed Self drips with melodicism and harmonic beauty. Every riff is saturated with colorful sonorities and lyrical twists and turns. James Tomedi and Brad Hettinger (guitars) construct passages full of the familiar ideas that pull on your heartstrings while also including lots of surprises to keep you guessing and add a healthy level of musical zest. They dexstrously move from riff to riff, showcasing an effortless virtuosity. Sam Stewart (drums) blazes through intricate drum patterns that leave your jaw on the proverbial floor. He also ensures the structural integrity of said floor by providing a rock solid rhythmic foundation. Jorel Hart (vocals) delivers terrifying shrieks and growls that weave the lyrical tapestry of such a hefty work together.
But I have to say, Zach Strouse is probably the MVP of the record, contributing on bass, vocals, and sax. Did I mention there’s a sax? It’s a beautiful addition to the record and well integrated into the music. Sometimes I feel like metal bands will throw saxophone on a record just as an afterthought. Maybe they left a solo section open in case they could get a guest musician or the sax part was shoehorned on top of some passage that needed some spice. Not so with The Consumed Self. Entire tracks are dominated by and constructed around Strouse’s sax lines and boy howdy does he weave some lyrical lines. “Mechanisms of Loneliness” features a dual sax-guitar solo towards the end of the track and it’s the tastiest thing you’ll hear this year. It’s an absolutely gorgeous album to listen to, especially since the mix is so well done. Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland at Atrium Audio have done a fantastic job translating Burial in the Sky’s studio performance into a stunning listening experience.
I’m in awe of how well The Consumed Self flows. Every section feels like it organically emerges from the next. This group of musicians obviously have a developed skill in writing this kind of long-form music and are expert at manipulating musical ebb and flow. I also think it has a lot to do with the saxophone. I can get lost in the tracks that feature the sax like “Wayfarer”. I think having that extra instrument that can enter as another focal point, another “musical character” if you will, really helps this record breath and provides for a sonic variety that helps propel the musical narrative. It will be interesting to see how Burial in the Sky reproduces this music live. Everyone is gonna want live sax.
Speaking of sonic variety, The Consumed Self has a guest musician list about twelve names long. Use of interludes is liberal and effective on this record and they invested in getting the personnel to pull it off. My favorite example is on the behemoth of a closer track, “Anatomy Of Us”. We hear a passage composed of lush orchestral instruments around the 9:20 mark. I hear this section as a bit of a fake out. It lasts about 40 seconds before launching into the final 2:30ish of the record. Usually such a drastic shift of musical textures, especially to one we haven’t really heard previously on the record, would signal the conclusion of drums and guitars and screamed vocals and serve as the outro. But as I just noted, we still have some more singing and guitar soloing to do! It’s a really fun play on expectations. Another play on expectations I really enjoy from this record is the “good cop/bad cop” vocal interplay. “On Wings of Providence” features the best I think I’ve heard of this style of vocals. I love how Hart trades harsh phrases with the rhythm section while Strouse croons and soars over the chaos beneath. It makes for a passage that’s both familiar and unique at the same time. You really have to hear it to appreciate it. The first appearance of this section is around the :50 mark.
Burial in the Sky came to fucking play on this record. Releasing a perfect record is nigh impossible but this group of dedicated musicians set their sights on perfection and no one can say they didn’t achieve greatness. I’m certain this record will wind up on many AOTY lists and I’ll personally be coming back for many listens. The Consumed Self is out August 13 via Rising Nemesis Records, you don’t want to sleep on this one!
*also known as melodic death metal. You’re welcome mom