Written by Kep
Olkoth – At the Eye of Chaos
> Death metal
> South Carolina, US
> Releasing May 26
> Everlasting Spew Records
I’d heard good things about Olkoth and their debut At the Eye of Chaos before I’d ever heard a note of the music itself, so I guess my expectations for the album were already decently high when I sat down to give it a spin. 35 minutes later that spin was over, my speakers were on fire, and there was a nine-foot demon belching smoke and dripping blood all over my living room. We exchanged glances, I shrugged, and started listen number two.
To say At the Eye of Chaos is intense would be an understatement, and it would be the same to say it’s good. This record is a goddamn flamethrower, all settings cranked to 11 and laying waste to everything in its path. Every riff is like a circular saw to the face, every word is spat out with the savagery of a rabid lion. There are next to no respites across the runtime, unless you count the few breathless seconds that elapse between tracks; this album is designed to dig into you with filthy piercing claws and not let go.
The South Carolina three-piece really impresses here on their first non-demo release. Guitarists Zach Jeter and Hunter Ross provide a firestorm of jagged riffs, technical and relentlessly abrasive. Their work is brash and aggressive, the sort of stuff you’re familiar with if you enjoy bands like Aeon or Erik Rutan’s various projects like Hate Eternal. Beneath, Alex Rush’s bass tone is set to boss mode and his playing is leveled up to match, showing every bit as much power and technical prowess as the six-stringers. There’s something about the sound of a hefty bass ripping agilely through wicked energetic lines that hits all the right buttons in my brain, and this record has plenty of that. Session drummer Krzysztof Klingbein is as solid as it gets behind the kit as well, keeping that brutal assault of speed and fire engaged.
But this band has plenty of tricks in their bag beyond straight up velocity and fury that keep things entertaining from start to finish. For one, they utilize riffs in odd meters and with added beats much in the way Cannibal Corpse does; the opening licks on both “The Resurrectionist” and “Thousand Faced Moon” are the sort of off-kilter beasts that are tricky to play and even trickier to headbang to. They dip into the Nile playbook frequently, too, writing blisteringly technical fast riffs with a ton of heft. The opening of “Lords of the Kali Yuga” channels a lot of that feeling, with its downtuned undulating lines that rise and fall before a writhing burst snakes its way into heavy pummeling. There are also plenty of touches of wicked blackening that really enhance the infernal feel of the record. You’ll hear it in the hypnotic weaving guitars and ruthless blasting in songs like “Eidolon in the Flames”, where they deftly transform slower-moving riffs from evil to brutal and back again with shifting rhythms and layered lines. And, of course, there are a number of impressive guitar solos across the tracks; my favorite is the veritable eruption of flurrying magma midway through the title track, but they’re all impressive.
With such an intense and full-bore record, you might be worried about listener fatigue or that same-y sort of effect that can pop up, but At the Eye of Chaos skirts that issue by virtue of its eight tracks featuring main riffs that are all notably different from one another. It’s almost miraculous when you think about it but truly, despite the songs all unapologetically living in the same blazing, fervent wheelhouse, they’re each built on very distinct musical ideas. The base of opener and lead single “Alhazred”—a great Lovecraft pull, by the way—is a riff that waves like an infernal flag in the wind, modified at times to wallop heavily, decorated with pick scrapes, and matched against instrumental bridge sections arpeggio runs that are almost neoclassical in nature. The wild “Incendiary Prayer” rips along with a bold tremolo theme that feels very Swedish, the aforementioned “The Resurrectionist” and “Thousand Faced Moon” feature distinctly flavored asymmetrical meter riffs, and so on.
Olkoth self-recorded and did a bang-up job: that guitar tone is scorching, the bass is a beefy presence and pops when it needs to, the drums are a thundering battery, and Jeter’s seething roars are downright fuming with spiteful fire. A special hat tip goes to the masterful mixing and mastering job by Ronnie Björnström, which achieves the ideal balance of clarity and abrasiveness for this brand of extreme metal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It would be easy for me to say “this record is awesome” in any number of ways. I do it all the time with all sorts of albums. So while that’s still true, instead I’ll say this: all in all, what we’ve got here is a debut record that’s far, far better than most. You’d be hard-pressed to point me out a recent first outing that delivers the level of musicianship, songwriting, and production quality that Olkoth does on At the Eye of Chaos. Keep your eye on these guys; they’re going places.