Written by Kep
Orphalis – As the Ashes Settle
> Technical/brutal death metal
> Releasing August 25
> Transcending Obscurity Records
There are a few bands that I consider to be, for lack of a better word, mine. These are the acts that I either discovered and fell in love with before they were widely known or that I just feel like I love more than most. For example: I consider myself to be the Twitter’s foremost Orphalis fan. They’ve been one of my bands ever since I happened across The Approaching Darkness in 2019. That record floored me, a perfect mix of ferocity and technical prowess with strong songwriting and extremely satisfying production.
As the Ashes Settle is the German five-piece’s fourth full-length outing since their inception in 2010, and their first with Transcending Obscurity Records. The back catalogue is strong—especially their last album, as I mentioned before—but if this is your first time encountering Orphalis then you’re in for a treat. Boasting everything that made The Approaching Darkness great along with slicker production and bolder writing choices, this is their best work yet. Expect elite level technical death metal with a consistent underpinning of brutal death.
They don’t waste a single second breaking down the gates, bursting forth with a massive full-throated assault in the very first instant of the album’s runtime. There’s an unquestionable immediacy to their riff-writing that means you don’t have to wait more than a second or two for any given track to get the hooks in. Guitarists Jens Dürholt and Morten Formeseyn are aiming straight for your dome, whipping out riffs like the elbow-swinging drive of “Watch Them Descend”, the crashing walls of syncopation in “From Shadows Arisen”, or the melodic black metal-esque carving that opens scorcher “Labyrinth Configuration”. They also add periodic solos to the proceedings, an oft-underused element in brutal death, with particularly notable examples in bookends “As the Ashes Settle” and “Crowned in Hatred”.
It’s eminently clear that this is a band that’s expanding their sound, still pushing the limits of what they do 13 years into their run. There’s no stagnancy here after a killer last album; you can hear Orphalis upping the ante, cranking the intensity and brutality to 11 while adding new dimensions to their sound. They’ve added a fresh sheen to the production, which is plenty loud and dense but feels a notch cleaner than on The Approaching Darkness, and it suits their newest experiments quite well. The album-opening title track, for example, features some backing symphonic effects in its final stretch for an extra bit of grandeur, and there are some murky dissonant moments (near the end of “Watch Them Descend”, for example) that wouldn’t be out of place in a dissonant death release. There’s remarkable clarity throughout, with “An Effigy to Humanity” standing as perhaps the best example of the outstanding production: it’s got subtle backing synth, formidable bass lines that roll to the top of the mix, expansive chords and tremolos with shifting levels of density, and intricately interwoven riffs that sneak within thicker textures, all delightfully audible. And those guitars have so much bite and focus to them; those searing lines in the aforementioned “Labyrinth Configuration” will speak to that.
Perhaps the greatest individual aspect of The Approaching Darkness was the prominence of the bass, played by session contributor Clemens Maik of Infecting the Swarm. They’ve somehow *improved* on that already stellar aspect here, as newly-minted member Thomas Köhler’s instrument rumbles and clatters and bubbles notably up in the mix across the runtime. He shreds nimbly through several nifty solos (the eight-bar example early on in “Ritual of Conflagration” is one of the coolest, check the video above) and adds a steely punch to all sorts of riffwork (check out the way it pops on the stabs near the middle of “From Shadows Arisen”). The bass is sometimes more active than the guitars, taking the ensemble lead like in certain riffs on “Staring into Ruin” where it rubberbands busily beneath the guitars’ more static chordal work. It’s complete band songwriting and it rules.
The strength of Orphalis’ music lies in how effectively they combine elements of techdeath, brutal death, and straight up death. Techdeath is the leader in the clubhouse for the most part, but the tracks each approach this balance a little differently, using varying riff styles and keeping things fresh from section to section. Songs like “The Wolves Draw Near” and “An Effigy to Humanity” lean heavily into fretboard-scaling tech riffs and meter shifts at times, while others like “Labyrinth Configuration” and “To Embrace Defeat” are outright pummelers with moments of melody and concise passages that function as changes of pace. Drummer Phillip Hatcher’s vigorous performance behind the kit is the catalyst for their full-tilt, nothing-held-back approach to it all, his patterns lively, interesting, and powerful from top to bottom. Likewise, vocalist Thomas Szczecina’s visceral larynx-obliterating roars are unquestionably a highlight; his voice is an enormous, intimidating presence that’s smartly prominent in the mix and is never less than captivating.
My gripes are minimal. Orphalis has always used the familiar brutal death trope of including bass drops, but there are a few more than I’d prefer and they feel mostly unnecessary anyways. The best drop lies in the back half of “To Embrace Defeat”, and with the exception of that spot and one or two others I’d rather the rest be gone. Interlude “Moon Supremacy” is the other complaint: the electronic beat-based instrumental feels pulled from a different album. I appreciate that they matched the tempo and some of the rhythm to following track “From Shadows Arisen”, a monster of a song that’s among their best, but on the whole it just feels like something they forced in to break up the runtime.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As the Ashes Settle is all that I had hoped for and more from Orphalis: not just a worthy follow-up to the excellent The Approaching Darkness, but a stellar effort that surpasses it. It’s impressive front to back, well-written and even more well-performed, and I’d bet this is the record that makes the larger metal community take note of an exceptional and deserving act.