Last year Qrixkuor unleashed their debut full-length Poison Palinopsia and took their variant of death metal to an entirely new level with two monstrous tracks that both clocked in at twenty plus minutes. Where others had attempted to create lengthy, sprawling arrangements and succumbed to repetition, the way that Qrixkuor handled its layers of muscular riffing and chaotic, noisier soundscapes avoided this and naturally broke up the components of each song like a suite of classical music. The group has followed this up quickly with a new EP titled Zoetrope, which finds the lineup once again shifting and founder S. further incorporating the orchestral elements showcased on Poison Palinopsia. It’s again a hefty listen as its single-track spans twenty-six minutes, but the songwriting is once again up to par and showcases that Qrixkuor’s ambition to push death and black metal into even more grandiose and nightmarish territory pays off.
Like its predecessor, Zoetrope starts off with haunting and foreboding instrumentation that leads into pounding drums and layers of twisted guitar and bass. There have been additional lineup changes since Poison Palinopsia, with new drummer D. taking the reins from Grave Miasma’s DBH and founder S now handling the bass parts himself. This hasn’t made the resulting material any less potent, as the layers of guitar and bass twist and turn over the two tracks in ways that create truly nightmarish soundscapes, sometimes working in tandem to weave an almost hypnotic atmosphere and other times crashing into each other in violent and chaotic ways. S. has once again broken up this singular song like a suite, allowing for natural pauses and defined sections that stand out upon repeat listens. It’s effective and helps the instrumentals to build to intense climaxes multiple times over the twenty-six-minute span, avoiding the repetitive and overstretched approach that sometimes plagues this type of death metal. The biggest change on Zoetrope is the expansion of the orchestral elements from before, as rather than being used as an interlude between tracks this time they are woven into the fabric of the songs themselves. As you get bludgeoned by faster riffs and blasting drums, you’ll often notice haunting string melodies and other elements that make the sound even more twisted and nightmarish. Qrixkuor has once again utilized a crew of musicians to add these elements rather than relying on programming or keyboards, and the results make for a far more organic integration of the orchestration into the death and black metal. It’s an effective merging of styles that remains haunting from beginning to end, and while other groups have gone for grandiose orchestral elements the way that Qrixkuor bends and distorts it results in a sound all its own. Greg Chandler has once again handled the production for Zoetrope and he’s allowed for a dense record that still lets the individual elements breathe, which helps the group’s distinctive traits shine even further.
Zoetrope opens with what sounds like haunting chorales, as though ghosts are flowing directly out of your speakers, but it transitions quickly over to much harsher and lower pitched growls that seem to just barely break free of the layers of sound. While the growls do sometimes seem at risk of getting completely swallowed up, there’s just enough space in the mix for them to remain discernable at each point and if you focus on them over repeat listens you’ll notice that they are layered in a similar way to the instrumentation. The way that the vocals reverberate and are layered makes them sound immense and inhuman at points, and while they sometimes feel more like an extension of the instrumentation rather than a separate focal point the performance suits what Qrixkuoris going for throughout the EP.
Zoetrope has materialized fairly quickly after last year’s full-length but considering that album’s extended incubation period that shouldn’t be that surprising. I was hoping that Qrixkuor would expand upon the orchestral elements as it gave them a sound quite unlike other death and black metal bands out there, but they’ve fully integrated it into the harsher and nightmarish material in ways that were pleasantly unexpected. It’s still a daunting listen and requires the listener to put some time in to discover all the nuances, but the writing remains top notch and not a minute is wasted, making this some of the more exciting and twisted death metal to finish off the year with. It’s exciting to see an artist like this continue to push themselves and explore new territory, and I’ll be following very closely to see where they go next. Zoetrope is available from Invictus Productions and Dark Descent Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg