Over the past decade and a half, several bands that started off as more traditional death metal have transformed into something completely different over the course of their careers. From the regularly shifting sound of Tribulation to the progressive leaps of Morbus Chron and Sweven, some of these transitions have been abrupt and surprising but they have given listeners plenty of interesting ideas that push beyond metal’s usual boundaries. Germany’s Chapel of Disease may be one of the most surprising though, as they also started off playing aggressive and old-school sounding death metal on 2012’s Summoning of Black Gods. But by 2015’s The Mysterious Ways of Repetitive Art a lot more atmosphere and even some progressive leaning elements had seeped in, still keeping things on the murky and cavernous side but showcasing something a bit different. ...And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye represented the most pivotal change for Chapel of Disease though, as elements of death and black metal were woven together with psychedelic and progressive rock riffs that had a distinctive 70s and 80s atmosphere. It seemed like with each effort the group was blurring the lines between rock and metal further and further, and that transformation has reached another critical step on their fourth album Echoes of Light. Stripping away almost all the death metal in favor of sprawling atmospheric melodies, muscular 70s hard rock and 80s heavy metal riffing, there are still some moments that remain on the harsher side but it’s clear that the group has moved towards something significantly different.
If you go back and give ...And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye some more listens before diving into Echoes of Light, the hints of where Chapel of Disease would go on this album are definitely there. But they’ve taken it further than expected, and with the way the material flows it feels like you’re hearing this transformation as the album progresses. The title track is a great combination of old and new, capturing the muscular low-end of the bass while the guitars move between prog/psychedelic melodies and 70s hard rock. Initially the tempo moves along at a brisker pace with drum patterns that give off a bit of a post punk feel alongside some black ‘n roll, but around the six-and-a-half-minute mark there is a quick pause before the sound explodes into a flurry of blasting drums and wild guitar freak-outs. Stylistically the first two tracks have the most metal elements, leaning into tonality that has hints of black, death, and gothic and coming through like a combination of mid-period Tribulation, Moonspell, and more recent Blaze of Perdition. Things begin to change with “Shallow Nights” though, as the heaviness recedes in favor of a lusher sound and guitar work that falls somewhere between 70s/80s hard and blues rock with a psychedelic haze laid over top. There are also hints of heavy metal on “Gold/Dust” and “An Ode to the Conqueror”, and while there are some stunning peaks the emphasis remains on brighter melodies and softer nuances. Chapel of Disease’s guitar work remains superb, with plenty of leads and other riffs that stand out over repeat listens, though it did feel like “Gold/Dust” cut its ideas a bit short.
Where the instrumentals do a great job of balancing the remaining bits of harsher tonality and softer touches, the vocals aren’t quite as successful. That’s not to say there is anything bad or off-putting about the performance, but once the material pivots towards singing it loses a bit of the impact. Echoes of Light sticks towards the harsh side for the first two songs, with guitarist/vocalist Laurent utilizing a raspier scream/yell that still sounds very close to Tribulation. It’s enunciated well enough to make the lyrics easy to parse out, which is a somewhat rare occurrence, and the jagged edges of the vocal work gives the material an edge. “Shallow Nights” moves completely over to clean singing, and while Chapel of Disease only really explored this on one song on the previous album it’s much more of a focus on this one. At this point the vocals take on a much more subdued and echoed pitch, coming through with more of a heavy psych or softer rock approach. There’s also a slight gothic tinge, especially on “An Ode to the Conqueror”, but while the pitch itself is decent it’s just far too soft and gets washed out by the instrumentals. As a result, the songs that favor singing lack the impact they could have with just a bit more power, and this does hold Echoes of Light back.
Echoes of Light is an album I’ve gone back and forth on, as the instrumentation is fantastic and showcases a blend of metal and rock in ways that manages to feel unique. But the vocals are a bit too subdued and are missing that wow factor to tie everything together. I appreciate the ambition and desire to continue evolving, but at times it comes off like Chapel of Disease hasn’t completed the metamorphosis and still has a few more tweaks to make for it to reach peak effectiveness. Since the album was recorded the other two members left the band, leaving Laurent to continue on his own, so it’ll be interesting to hear where he takes it from here. It may not be my favorite from Chapel of Disease, but it’s still worth checking out if you want something a little different that blurs the lines between metal, progressive rock, and everything psychedelic. Echoes of Light is available from Ván Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg