SHEZMU: À Travers Les Lambeaux
Release year: 2020
Label: Krucyator Productions
Back when I was a kid first getting into extreme metal, death metal was what I first got into. As someone coming from a background of classic heavy metal and bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Manowar, the horror movie/comic book darkness of death metal was way more accessible that the introvert, daemonic darkness of black metal. Eventually, the tables were turned and black metal became my main diet and death metal only a side dish, but the essential division remained the same in my head: death metal was more graphic and – yes – juvenile, like a splatter movie or gory comic book, whilst black metal was about serious darkness. Of course, the fact that bands such as Cannibal Corpse were what ruled the larger scene’s understanding of what death metal was did to a large extent justify this view.
However, as I have dug deeper and deeper under the crust of death metal in the years since, it has become painfully obvious how erroneous I was in my rash and harsh division of the two genres. There is plenty of utterly serious, real darkness in death metal. And has been ever since the inception of the genre, lurking underneath the surface of ultimately far more easily accessible splatter gore bands.
Shezmu from Canada are a younger purveyor of this subterranean, esoteric pure darkness in death metal. The kind of darkness that is every bit as real and evocative as in the best of black metal, but benefiting from the heavier audial landscapes of death metal. Having formed in 2016, they’ve released only a few demos and EP’s prior to À Travers Les Lambeaux, their debut album. Without having heard any of the earlier releases, I am impressed by the maturity of the three-piece.
The Canadian trio inhabit and thrive in the blasted territory in the borderlands of black and death metal, decidedly planting their feet in the latter but effortlessly dipping deep into the former to lift such elements as fit their sound. Whilst the base sound is not unfamiliar to fans of modern blackened death metal, ripe with chaotic, dissonant riffing and a vast, cavernous echo to the sound, there will be plenty of savoury meat for fans of black metal of a somewhat warlike and bestial bent here as well.
In a nutshell, I guess one could say that if Tomb Mold and Teitanblood took the best and most compatible parts of their sound and added a venomous dollop of down-tuned deathly doom, the end result could be something along the lines of Shezmu: death metal, but in a form that will equally appeal to fans of black metal.
As many albums of a similar bent – regardless of whether they are classed as death metal or black metal – À Travers Les Lambeaux is not so much about individual songs and riffs, but the utterly oppressive, dark, cavernous and titanic atmospheres the album as a whole emanates. With the exception of the instrumental interlude La Rage, which evokes images of ancient Egypt, this is an unrelenting onslaught of formless black torrential abomination. And perhaps therein lies the only weakness of the album and Shezmu at this point of their evolution: there’s nothing particularly characteristic or individuating about À Travers Les Lambeaux. It could almost as well be an album by a score of other bands feeding from the same maelstroms of daemonic putridity. In other words, there’s probably nothing here you haven’t heard before. But, positively, Shezmu’s sound doesn’t echo any band in particular too much.
Still, undeniably, this is a flaw. But putting things into perspective, it’s not too serious a flaw at this point in time: if that’s basically all one has to place in the negative cup on the scales, it is easily outweighed by all that can be placed in the positive cup. Adequate even if somewhat faceless compositions, expertly weaved cavernously dark atmospheres, capable instrumentation, and that ever so elusive something that just makes things click. For a band with less than five years to their name, getting this many things right and leaving that one thing lacking on their debut, is perfectly forgivable.
Ultimately, À Travers Les Lambeaux is a fine slab of non-euclidean horror. Taking their metal of death and plunging it deep into black metal territory, Shezmu not only offer a genuinely good debut album, but raise expectations of things to come high. One can only hope that in the future they can reach as high as the bar they’ve set for themselves.