These days, there is a (frequently) unspoken connection between “heaviness” and an abundance of breakdowns. This isn’t necessarily bad, or untrue–after all, bands use breakdowns to add that little “flair” of crush to their music in order to appeal to the chug-loving, heavy-holic masses. However, the truly unspoken connection between breakdowns and “the heavy” lies not in the tuning, tempo or fill-work, but the frequency–the dosing, so-to-speak. Where the overuse of the fan-favorite breakdown might result in an overdose into monotony, just the right sparsity and climactic usage of the breakdown can be truly idyllic. Enter Dark Sermon (formerly In Reference to a Sinking Ship), a crushing Floridian deathcore-turned-death metal act who have perfected the use of many elements–the breakdown among them–on their debut album, In Tongues. Filled with driving, skin-ripping riffs, pummeling, primal drums, sinfully heavy slams and, of course, positively punishing breakdowns, In Tongues is a masterfully mature combination of technical, slamming death metal with tastefully thrashy metalcore.
Kicking In Tongues off with a steel-toe boot, “The Shepherd’s Staff” is an archetype of the album’s various heavy and melodic elements, as well as a guiding light to draw the listener deep into the depths of the release. Dark Sermon begin on their strongest leg–that of lacerating speed and primal, visceral energy. Machine-gun blast beats and dark, whirling riffs spiral around harsh, full-bodied vocals to create an immersive experience which traps the listener in a whirlwind of sinful chaos. The multimeric and crushing onslaught waged by the guitars is in an almost neck-and-neck competition with the drums and bass to see which is the stronger driving force. At times, the sheer velocity and punctual fury of the percussion drives the tank that is Dark Sermon. However, at other times during these rollicking, break-neck passages, the guitars hog tie the vocals and drums into submission and pull them forward with sheer, relentless fury. Because of this unique aspect, there is truly no monotony to be found in the blisteringly quick, riff-fueled, percussively monstrous portions of Dark Sermon. This aspect continues when In Tongues drops from near-light speeds into sludgy slams and sludgier breakdowns.
Dark Sermon aren’t a one-trick pony. While tracks like “The Shepherd’s Staff” and “Cursed” excel at their high-speed, spine-breaking pace, even these tracks feature moments where the tempo drops inexplicably and, before a word or sound can be uttered edgewise, the listener is ensnared. Previously, the listener was racing along, blazing through the muddy, technical soundscape that In Tongues paints so beautifully. However, at the drop of a fill–or even the smack of a snare drum–the filth and muck around the listener’s ankles comes to life, wrapping their legs in venomous snakes and filling their veins with spine-tingling poison. If there is one thing Dark Sermon do as well as skin-rending speed, it’s bone-busting heaviness. Bass-heavy, punctual slams which flow into the chug-based, stuttering breakdowns freezes the whirling monsoon of technical heaviness which had snared the listener before, and entombs them in it. The guitars drop from a sky-high, furiously-fretted riff to a looming, doom-and-gloom tone with a new-found low-end, and the drums take an ever so brief break from blistering speed to furiously flog the listener. Lead single and album title track, “In Tongues” does this just as well as any track on the album–which is to say, it does it exceptionally.
As you might have guessed, it isn’t the slams and chugs which are the highlight, nor is it the solo-spiked, shred-heavy technicality which steals the show. Rather, the key is dosage. Dark Sermon know just when to throw in a devastating slam–or when to skip the slam and collapse into a bunker-busting breakdown. Epic six-and-a-half minute long “In Tongues” provides a taste of all of these facets. There are speedy solos, sneaky slams and sinister breakdowns, all woven together into a grim blanket of discontent and darkness. In Tongues doesn’t overuse the breakdown, or use it as a crutch, but rather they lie written perfectly into each track, feeding off of the poetically dark lyrics and screeching, voluptuous vocals. Channeling their energy from furious misanthropy and extreme instrumental prowess alike, the breakdowns are truly edenic–an ideal combination of the energy and sheer fury from Dark Sermon’s speedy side and the visceral, bone-snapping anger from Dark Sermon’s slamming, sinister nature. These elements melt and wind together to create a stunning dialectic which is akin to a musical steamroller: devastating the listener, and all other peers which lie in Dark Sermon’s path.
Whether it’s death metal for people who love deathcore, or deathcore for people who love death metal, In Tongues is not to be missed. Filled with stunning slams, crushing heaviness, stupendously shreddy solos and technical, instrumentally masterful song structures, it is nothing short of surreal. Dark Sermon have come miles and miles in both maturity and musical mastery since their days as In Reference to a Sinking Ship, creating a well-rounded, superbly written and violently visceral juggernaut of an album.