Orphalis – As the Ashes Settle (Transcending Obscurity)

Friday, 25th August 2023
Rating: 8.5 / 10

The segmented subgenres of brutal and technical death metal, for this scribe anyway, tend to lean far too heavily into tired tropes. Many tech death bands forget about the death metal part of the recipe, often seemingly partaking in a race to play the most complex guitar riff as fast as possible, while losing any hope of a coherent song in the process. Brutal death metal has different pitfalls that are similar in scope, where numerous acts try to tune as low as possible and just be insanely heavy to be insanely heavy. Not to mention an overuse of gurgling vocals. What if there was a band who dabbled heavily into both styles, and not only managed to avoid virtually all of those aforementioned annoyances, but took these subgenre’s strengths and added their own patented spice with immensely satisfying results. Look no further than Orphalis.

This quintet from Dortmund, Germany (Heja BVB), are far from newcomers, having been honing their craft since 2010, with three full-lengths to date. Their real creative breakout came in the form of 2019’s The Approaching Darkness, with all of the elements coming together to create a mix of quality songwriting and vicious technicality that few bands have managed to attain. Now on plying their trade on Transcending Obscurity, they’re looking to move up another rung with their fourth album, As the Ashes Settle. After playing this thing through a few times, it no doubt will take a while for the ashes to indeed settle, as there’s a lot to dig into.

Everything that Orphalis accomplished with The Approaching Darkness is leveled up on this release. Straight away with the opener/title track, multiple time changes are augmented by crushing riffs and poignant leads. The technical prowess is obvious, but the songs on As the Ashes Settle flow without losing an ounce of precision and sheer barbarity. There’s even slight hints of melody within “Ritual of Conflagration” to go along with vocalist Thomas Szczecina’s arsenal of deep growls and throaty screams, which are an album highlight throughout.

Plenty of diversity is paramount, keeping proceedings fresh and unpredictable. “Watch them Descend” and “Staring into Ruin” are fine breakneck doses of the brutal side of the band, if a face shredding is what’s desired. “An Effigy to Humanity” and “Labyrinth Configuration” are both a tad more grandiose than other entries without losing steam, even emitting a smidgeon of blackened tremolos, while “From Shadows Arison” contains an Aborted-like franticness. Closing tracks “To Embrace Defeat” an “Crowned in Hatred” spew particularly nasty dissonant atmospheres, mainly courtesy of guitarists Morten Formeseyn and Jens Dürholt, who reek the most twisted and hard-hitting string work on what are the are finest compositions on the record.

Orphalis have put together their most seasoned and demonstrative work yet on As the Ashes Settle. For death metal fans of all styles and proclivities, there’s a lot to savor, especially to the discerning audience that are typically attracted to the style. If there are any minor criticisms, there are a few too many bass drops for this writer’s liking, which can temporarily halt a song’s momentum, though Orphalis never let anything stray off the tracks for long. As the Ashes Settle is a true progression in every sense of the word. These seasoned death metal vets have a hell of a mixture of keen songwriting prowess and undeniable brutality that rarely work this harmoniously.

Orphalis on Facebook

[fbcomments width="580"]