Another fine review from Mr. Mark Brooks...
Review: Domains - Sinister Ceremonies (The Sinister Flame)
It's unusual for me to write about any bands that aren't from New Zealand in an 'official' capacity but this band gave me an email and when they said they were from Spain, it piqued my interest. A country which has an enduring legacy around the world (using an example from my Filipeno ancestry where the Philippines was named after King Phillip II of Spain and I myself, retain some Spanish 'blood' especially with my mother's maiden name being 'Roxas' and all), yet their metal scene is practically unknown with only a handful of known bands (the gore-splattered Avulsed, the excellent but Swedish sounding Graveyard, the bestial Teitanblood and Blasphemy clones Proclamation being the only ones that seemed to have made some leeway globally). When I finally heard the CD though none of this mattered, I knew that I had to review this.
To start with, Domains are a relatively new death metal band. According to their Metal-archives, they've been around since 2005 but have just released their full-length 'Sinister Ceremonies' earlier this year. I for one, am glad that they didn't rush recording if this is the result.
I'll start with the music itself. Although this is a death metal record, it does borrow a lot of elements from black metal. This serves as an undercurrent to the 'brutal' (and I mean that as an adjective, not as a genre) death metal riffs and gives the riffs an edge of dark melody. This builds up the atmosphere to the songs that gives off a chilly, obscure and all together 'evil' sound to them (for instance check out the track 'Mastery' and those ending riffs, feel like you are sinking slowly into the pits of Hell). I know that it was seen 'in vogue' to bring evil atmosphere into a death metal record by either ripping off Incantation or doing the 'bestial' thing (much like their compatriots Teitanblood). You will find this isn't the case with Domains. This is a 'fresh' outlook on how to add atmosphere into your music and although it isn't completely reinventing the wheel or shattering conventions; it nevertheless feels like a breath of fresh air within the mortuary of extreme metal.
The band focuses on more tight mid-paced passages in their music, rather than complete doom, with some occasions that lead into fast parts, reminding me of Immolation. As expected from that statement, you get your blastbeats but these are used to accentuate the carefully honed song structure. The transitions between fast and mid-paced aren't 'unnatural' but flow smoothly, like destructive lava oozing from Earth's mantle. I mentioned earlier that the band uses black metal elements to accentuate their riffs but combining this with death metal riffage also brings about a level of melody and catchiness to the riffs; which the drums do well to also instil this in your mind by adding well-timed cymbal work, rolls and catchy beats to these riffs. It is easy to start humming the tune to 'Raped by Darkness', 'Eucharist of Relevance' or 'Crowned at Dusk' something that they share elements with German death metallers Necros Christos yet far less doomier.
Another thing they share with the aforementioned band is the lyrical themes and general philosophical outlook of the band. This isn't Occultism for Occultism's sake, but something that comes from a deep seated belief in the dark arts. The lyrics are well-written and well conceived. They aren't overly complex but not simple either, they are dark but not coming across as cheesy or non-genuine. You will have to buy the CD to read the lyrics since they don't seem to be up online (at least yet) but I feel as if they are an integral part to this band's vision and are ones that are just as well crafted and thought-out as their music.
The production is a little murky and dense but again this adds to the atmosphere of the album, rather than detract from it. The drums sound fantastic here with great reverb on the snare to really accentuate the atmospheric guitar riffs. The guitar riffs and bass sit well in the mix, neither clouding each other. Likewise, I like where the vocals sit - above the music and they did well with his voice to give it enough reverb without losing its bite. There may be some complaints that the guitar levels could be more 'bright' but I think that would be a foolish thought considering the obvious intentions of this album. It is meant to sound a little obscure, a little hidden...it gives the album an ambience that it has been recorded in a crypt rather than at a studio.
Lastly, I will speak about the artwork and general layout of the CD. The artwork is killer in my mind, but then again I'm a sucker for the old school death metal art of old. It reminds me of the Finnish death legends like Demigod or early Sentenced. It works well to invoke in the listener's mind what the music is all about and the band's vision through their music. The inner layout is simple, curiously without a single band photo, but this aids to visual clarity rather than looking at a dense piece of work.
Finally, there is not much I can fault this album on although as mentioned earlier - this debut album isn't likely to shatter conventions or reinvent the wheel. In saying that it is a very solid album which deserves to be on many 'top albums of the year' lists. I especially look forward to seeing what they come up with next and if it is even possible to top such a strong album. It'll be interesting to see what the next trend in death metal will be; we've had the Incantation death-doom trend and we've had countless Suffocation imitators, I sense the next trend will be a bunch of Immolation clones. Don't, under any circumstances, count Domains as one of them - their music is done with far more genuine purpose than those that will surely follow. If you're a fan of Immolation, Ascension, Necros Christos, Sonne Adam, Mortuary Drape or other dark, evil death/black metal bands (the way it should be really) then do not hesitate in picking this album up immediately. It will not disappoint.
Standout track(s): Crowned at Dusk is a particular favorite but really this whole album is stellar.