After two demos and an EP, Ireland’s Vircolac have unleashed their debut full length Masqueand it’s worth the wait for anyone with an interest in atmospheric and morbid sounding death metal. While the group’s displayed influences from the 80s and 90s brand of the genre before they’ve never fallen into pure old-school worship like so many others, as their songwriting has branched off a bit more towards a slightly more adventurous direction. This holds true on Masque, which shifts gears frequently and delivers just as much haunting and murky atmosphere as it does destructive passages. The nature of the writing doesn’t make it quite as immediate of an album as some of the others in the genre, but once you’ve sunk your teeth into this one it’ll leave you with some lasting impressions.
The appropriately named “Titan” kicks things off with some of the more aggressive riffing Masque has to offer and makes it clear that the instrumentalists can blast with the best of them when they want to. One of the first things you’ll notice is the prominent basslines, which fill out the low end significantly and add to the overall murkiness of the sound. Vircolac has a noticeably old-school approach to their recording, touching upon just the right balance of grit and grime without trying to drown out the nuances in a constant wall of noise. There’s equal balance between harsh, destructive moments and ones where the writing incorporates a good deal of melody and a haunting atmosphere, and the writing often shifts between these two sides in a way that feels a bit unpredictable. Given the subject matter and the album cover it seems appropriate that the melodies often make it feel like this music was composed inside of a crypt, and the overall atmosphere pulls in some of mysterious vibes of older black metal bands like Mortuary Drape. The final song “End of a Beginning” is a great example of this, as it lets the melodies spread outwards in a calmer manner that reflects on the horrors that have come before it and leaves you wanting to hit the repeat spin to experience the album all over again.
Vircolac’s vocalist Laoghaire utilizes a raspier scream that gives the band a different style compared to the norm, and after listening to so many guttural ranges in recent weeks it comes through as a bit refreshing. What stands out about the performance here is the way that the intensity rises and falls along with the instrumentation, as when the riffs hit their peaks and strike at your bones Laoghaire towers over top of the recording but when they mellow out the vocals follow suit and come through as creepy and ghoulish. It’s also a plus that with the lyrics taking more of a story telling and narrative approach that the vocals are delivered in a way which makes it fairly easy to make out each word, which allows specific verses to get under your skin just as much as the eerier guitar leads.
Masque finds Vircolac channeling a little bit of everything that’s appealing about death metal, as it has that spooky and tense atmosphere alongside more destructive passages. There remains an air of familiarity to what the band is doing here, but it’s twisted around in a way that still gives the material a style all its own and I find certain riffs replaying in my head even after I’ve turned it off. It’s exciting to see how Vircolac has grown in this five-year span and hopefully it’s just the beginning as they continue to be one of the more intriguing metal acts Ireland has to offer. Masque is out now from Dark Descent Records and Sepulchral Voice Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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