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For some bands, a little corpse-paint and a few skulls and pentagrams on their press releases photos is enough to make them think they’re coming across as dark, channelling music from the depths of hell when, in truth, their music isn’t far removed from mainstream metal. So, when something truly sinister and other-worldly comes along, it’s a pleasant surprise. On the strength of this, their second demo, Australia’s Chemical Cascades deserve recognition for what they have created, because make no mistake, this is ominous, dark extreme metal, that will fill you with dread. It’s not quite as out-there as the likes of Portal or Ulcerate, but it’s close, and that sense of attachment to the earth whilst still exploring the outer-reaches of space and time is perhaps what sets Chemical Cascades apart.
Right from the beginning moments of opener/intro track “Noetic Contempt”, it’s clear that this release is not simply a soundtrack for head-banging and beers. If the low, foreboding chanting didn’t tip you off, then the murky death/black metal hybrid that they introduce with “Ad Astra” surely will. It’s more than just an attempt to seem “dark” or “evil”; there is something truly sinister about the music on this track. The throbbing, pounding drums certainly help, and there’s something quite malicious about the guitar tone and riffs, but of man, the vocals. It’s when they kick in that it becomes blatantly clear what this demo is about. Buried fairly low in the mix, G. Watson’s howls come across like screams carried by the wind, or perhaps the cry of a beast from deep within its lair. It’s the kind of music you feel in your gut, making you worry that something bad as coming even as you sit at your laptop.
That’s not to say that it’s impenetrably dense and lacking in points of enjoyment. “Within The Clouds of Brhaspati” features some excellent riffs and drumming, as does “Cosmic Winter”. There is an almost Ross Bay-esque feel at points that certain types will find barbaric pleasure in, as well as almost ritualistic uses of repetition at points early on in the demo, though this is complimented excellently by a sense of melody and movement. “Spine Of The World” in particular goes through a series of changes of tempo and emphasis that are very impressive, and the almost 8 minute long “Cosmic Winter” features a superb use of space around the four minute mark, when a tremolo-picked lead is joined by some incredibly crushing drums, before the vocals top things off nicely, before it all drops in to something close to doom metal territory.
Unfortunately, there is something slightly missing from this demo that becomes clearer as it goes on. As the demo gradually moves on from the more ominous, darker sounds of the opening tracks and features increased melody, the nature of the vocals – and especially their place in the mix – makes the songs feel like instrumentals at points, most notably on closer “Surface”. Whilst some who do not care much for extreme metal vocals may find this to be a plus, it lead to my attention wandering at points on this final track. Even so, the band’s talent and immense potential is very obvious, and I cannot help but suspect that with a little more refinement (or stronger production on the vocals), they will create something very special.