Sarcoptes – Prayers to Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity)

Monday, 20th February 2023
Rating: 8 / 10

Black metal as a genre has been on quite a roll in the last few years. Many fresh amalgamations of the style have breathed significant new life outside of the classic early workings. Sarcoptes is one of those bands. Boasting an atmospheric black metal attack chock full of the heavier side of thrash, what results is an intriguing mixture. The band’s debut full-length came in 2016 with Songs of Dances and Death, which hinted at the duo’s developing promise. Their 2020 EP Plague Hymns was a step forward in their evolution, with a tightening of their overall sound. Three years on, we have Prayers to Oblivion, with a hope that the breakthrough is upon us.

Conceptually, Prayers to Oblivion is based around specific wars and historical events, presented sequentially. “The Trenches” is about World War I and the horrors of trench warfare, and war in general. The track begins with a the sound of wind and rain, faint shelling heard in the background, accompanied by an increasingly rapid heartbeat, quickly followed by a trench whistle (which was blown to prompt soldiers to exit the trench and charge into “no man’s land” to attack, buried in a blaze of gunfire that sadly resulted in many casualties). This chilling introduction prompts a stop/start drum and riff combination amongst a blackened guitar lead to represent the destructive chaos that follows said whistle.

This is a monster of a song, both in length (just under 14 minutes) and grandiose scope. Gigantic thrashy guitar riffs are accompanied by a subtle symphonic atmosphere, the occasional haunting organ, and a piercing snarl via vocalist Garrett Garvey. For a song of this length, the intensity is constant amongst several tempo changes, and there isn’t a moment where it gets too long in the proverbial tooth.

Frighteningly timely considering the COVID pandemic, next we have “Spanish Flu.” A shorter song, at least comparably to the opener, defined by explosive blackened death underpinnings with a veritable smorgasbord of drum fills being the signature. “Dead Silence” begins with a tremolo-picked lead, settling into a somewhat methodical and crunchy affair, with a focus on more memorable rhythms (and a darn fine solo). “Tet” is based on the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam war, and is a fittingly intense song that is enhanced by well-placed keyboards and a blackened thrash assault Aura Noir would be proud of. “Massacre at My Lai” focuses on the tragic and horrid Mỹ Lai massacre. Beginning with a slow, doom-esque riff of which sets the scene, the song picks up pace as it moves along its over 14 minute timeframe. The organ in the middle of the song is a notably effective transition point, leading to the song winding down to a downtrodden and sorrowful outro.

Sarcoptes has eclipsed their previous works, especially in the songwriting department, with intense epics that get better with each subsequent listen. This is a prime example of a band smoothing out the rough edges and challenging themselves to climb to new heights. Prayers to Oblivion is ambitious as it is focused, cultivating a massive signature sound amongst a sobering conceptual backdrop, of which they provide considerable gravitas.

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