The Chasm - The Spell of Retribution

The Chasm - The Spell of Retribution (2004) - 5/5

It's amazing how long The Chasm have been churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. Since 1992, this Mexican three-piece powerhouse, fronted by ex-Cenotaph guitarist (now doubling as a vocalist) Daniel Corchado, have been playing an interesting style of death metal that features progressive, black, and classic metal influences. Their latest achievement, "The Spell of Retribution" shows them decreasing some of the black metal influences and upping the classic a bit more. It is the most blatantly melodic of all their releases and the most accessible, but it is by no means the weakest. They have not forgotten the importance of songwriting, and they retain their style of epic, melodic, and progressive death metal combined with mysterious, mythological lyrics and heavy amounts of ingeniously implemented influences outside of death metal. The end result is one of the greatest death metal albums ever released.

As usual, The Chasm's greatest strength is not in their raw technical talent or aggression, but rather their songwriting. Yes, they have the chops to keep up with anyone, from Coroner to Dream Theater, but their secret weapon has always been Daniel Corchado's ability to create songs that felt like miniature universes in a constant state of evolution. The great opening salvo, "From the Curse, A Scourge", a three-minute track and the shortest on the album, gives you a wonderful idea of how The Chasm rolls. Starting off with a tapped-solo, it then turns into a mid-paced jog of galloping Maiden riffs and powerful leads over a shifting rhythm. The main solo is reintroduced later on to keep you oriented. And this is only a minor example compared to the songs afterwards. "Retribution of the Lost Years" is a mournful, crawling epic that features melodic, doomy riffs accompanied by incredibly well done acoustic guitars, that while they are simple and most would write it off as "LOL OPETH WANNABES", follow their distorted counterparts like reflections in a mirror. In fact, the real star of this sonic slaughter is the usage of acoustics. Of course, like the rest of the album, this song does not get caught in one speed. As the song continues, the rhythm section subtly adds more tension speed, yet manages to keep the acoustic guitar leads (which feel like they're guitar solos) on the same playing field. It never goes full-out-riff-attack like some of the other tracks, but the numerous twists and turns allow The Chasm to build up a song that does not climax in an epic shred solo, but rather, the most epic acoustic section ever. Then, the band slows it down to Candlemass-speed and lets the acoustic guitars do the talking over slow, gloomy riffage and Daniel's haunting howls. "Conqueror and Warlord" goes right at your neck with percussive riffing that feels like a mix between Suffocation and Coroner, suddenly lunging out at you from the murk of the distorted guitar fuzz intro. The aggression doesn't let up as the drumming speeds up to a fast thrashy pace and subtle guitar evolving guitar melodies are introduced. Suddenly, it's mid-paced time and Corchado even throws in a simple yet tasty solo, avoiding the usual over-the-top shred-tactics of most progressive metal bands. The pacing of the song grows increasingly frantic, and out of nowhere comes a slow, eerie break from the action, punctuated with more leads and yet another solo that builds upon the simple foundations of the previous, with more dynamics thrown in and pseudo Opeth-esque acoustics that are almost whispering to you underneath the death/doom riffs that hearken back to the days of "Deathcult For Eternity: The Triumph". The above are basically what The Chasm does: creating micro-metal-universes. Basically, you get a rainbow of variety here, from doomy epics to speedy no-nonsense death metal, all with a strong sense of melody.

It takes more than just stellar songwriting to make a good album. The Chasm is an experienced band and their playing style has evolved alongside their songwriting, showcasing their improved playing abilities and increasingly inventive songwriting tendencies. This might just be their most technical album, although I wouldn't put it on the same technical level as say, Illogicist or Gorguts. In fact, maybe technical is not the best word. The Chasm play a very different style of death metal than the aforementioned bands. "Well-played" is a better example. You can tell these guys are experienced and have quite a few tricks up their sleeves, but the moderate technicality is used as a means to the end of atmospheric, powerful music rather than technicality being the end. The bass, due to production issues, is pushed a bit back into the mix. You can feel it supporting the guitars but you cannot really pick out much in the way of riffs. Which is a shame, because good guitar riffs are best supported by a good bass ones, and I can only imagine how much better this album would be if the bass work was as creative as the guitar work. "Eternal Cycle of Delusion" features some good bass licks, but aside from that, they're few and far in-between on this album, the majority being a bit hard to hear and even then, they're only passable at the end of the day. The drumming has grown and matured as well. Sure, they'll never be matching the efforts of Sean Reinert or Steve Flynn, but fills, rolls, accents and so on are all pulled off at those exact right moments. Antonio Leon handles time signature changes like a pro, and knows how to accent the atmosphere through the careful placement and execution of double bass runs, fluctuations in rhythm, and when he needs to, he can pull off furious yet organic (no drum triggers here folks) blasting. The guitar-work has changed a lot since their previous outings. The old-school death metal and black metal influences are a bit subdued on this one, and while this IS still a death metal album, it feels like the band was listening more to Maiden and Priest than Dismember and Immolation. This isn't to say you will not get stuff instantly recognizable as death metal. "Fortress", the most aggressive and straightforward song on the entire album, features lots of tremolo picking that is similar to early Morbid Angel, and a bunch of the riffs off "The Omnipotent Codex" almost sound like something Death would have done on "Symbolic" or maybe even "The Sound of Perseverance", although Death's sense of sharp technicality is replaced with a more NWOBHM-influenced sense of melody. Corchado, while he may not be Chuck Schuldiner, actually has a couple of good solos on this one. In particular, "Remains of the Covenant", containing the fewest lyrics but the most guitar solos, show him and Juan shredding it away as if it's the 80's. While the soloing was held back on earlier songs, where the solos were more atmospheric and meant to fit the mood, for a somewhat longer period of time, Daniel and Juan really let it rip on this one...albeit in a rather controlled fashion that you'd only see The Chasm doing. Maybe that's a good thing, as if they went Cacophony-death-metal-styl
e, the atmospheric feel of the song would have been sacrifice.

Daniel's vocals can easily match his sharp riffs. He has a somewhat higher voice than most other death metal vocalists, but he can stay at the upper bits of the mid-range section. His vocals are comprehendible, while sounding like some elder entity from beyond reciting ancient incantations to the listener. He could sing black metal if he wanted to, really. Speaking of black metal, influence from the genre pops up now and then, mostly in the form of eerie, less distorted riffs. "Conjuring The New Apocalypse" has quite a few of these, interspersed between the normal Chasm-riffing, and the beginning of the nine-minute epic "The Eclipse: Monument to the Empire" (split into three parts) shows bits of those, alongside the bass-imitating-a-piano (one of the few moments when the bass sticks out). Some of the open chords have that cold BM feel to them as well, but ultimately, fans of The Chasm's older material might miss the influence of the frigid Norse form of music on this album. I personally feel that a bit more BM style harmonies/riffs would have been great, as they worked so well on "Deathcult", but are now a smaller part of the riff-architecture. Not that The Chasm is not atmospheric; much the opposite. The diminished BM influence is only a marginal set-back to a titanic album. Melancholy, sorrow, redemption, triumph...the eclectic mix of acoustic (Mexican folk?) riffs, death/thrash influences, the somewhat-marginalized black metal influences, all put into these grandiose evolving song structures, evokes all kinds of different atmospheres, from fury to mourning, determination and introspectiveness. This is another big plus: this album can be epic, relaxing, gripping and moving, all at the same time, due to the great variety in the songwriting.

Songwriting and playing aside, this album benefits from great production along with the band's interesting lyrics. The guitars have a rich, crunchy tone to them, one that almost sounds like Satan's "Court in the Act", but louder. The tone feels like it could fit both a classic metal band and an early 90's death metal act. The bass has had a similar treatment, although it seems to have been pushed a bit too far behind the guitars. The drums, while not having as good as a production as the guitars, have an interesting production, being somewhere between "clean" and "gritty". The bass drums have a nice "blunt yet sharp" sound and each stroke of the snare often feels very sharp, except for those occasional moments when the other instruments blot it out a bit, usually in more intense moments, like on "Fortress". Daniel's vocals occasionally echo, and are not very high up, usually hanging a bit over the guitars and drums, with the echo actually adding a bit of atmosphere. Lyrically, The Chasm have a very esoteric feel to their lyrics. Songs like "Conqueror & Warlord" use a lot of blatant symbolism, but when wrapped in the mysticism of their music, helps to add to the mysterious feel of the album. I've heard that they sing about Aztec mythology, and while it seems like they use some kind of figures as archetypes, it is interesting to try to pull some sort of deeper meaning one can relate to out of some of their more openly-interpretable songs. "The Eclipse: Monument to the Empire", details a tale of punishment, soul-searching and redemption, that while it is drenched in weird fantasy imagery, can still be related to and fits in with the grandiose and epic style of death metal the band plays. Of course, some songs, like "Retribution of the Lost Years" just seem to be tales of mythology, rather than some soul-searching journey.

"The Spell of Retribution" is a masterpiece, a modern-day titan of death metal. Standing proud and tall over quite a few of death metal's later efforts, there are few bands out there that have a similar sound. Ridiculously good songwriting, perhaps the best death metal has to offer, is present even on the shortest and simplest of compositions, and these compositions are further supported by a crispy production and powerful musicianship, that is not overly-technical, but simply well-played without using too much in the way of technicality. Add in some interesting and mysterious lyrics that add to the album's mystic atmosphere and you have a flawless masterpiece of death metal. This is one of the most uplifting extreme metal albums I have ever heard, and any fan of metal, from fans of Dream Theater and Quo Vadis to fans of Emperor and Morpheus Descends, should do themselves a favour and give this monolith a spin. The spirit of the death cult that is death metal still lives on, in the form of "The Spell of Retribution", an album that shall stand forever as a stellar example of how to create death metal. A highly recommended album, among the best of metal.

By J. Chan