Belgian black metal band Saqra’s Cult has returned nearly two years after their debut full-length with a sophomore effort titled The 9th King, bringing more powerful riffing and swirling atmosphere with them. Coming in slightly shorter than its predecessor, this album takes a similar approach to its songwriting while still pushing the band forward in a logical direction. While some elements of its attack may have an air of familiarity to them, the dense sounds and eerie melodies will get under your skin and provide plenty of reasons to dive deeper into everything The 9th King has to offer.
Given the emphasis of the lyrics and artwork on Incan culture and tradition, it makes sense that the songwriting takes on a methodical, ritualistic feel. Each of the four tracks let atmosphere build slowly through dense layers of guitar and bass work until they reach intense climaxes that surround you with violent and chaotic elements. Where Saqra’s Cult stands out compared to some of the others that play similar black metal is in their ability to let the melodies breathe. Rather than going full throttle for the entire thirty minutes, the instrumentals back off at just the right moments and allow the melodies to draw out their dark, mysterious atmosphere to levels that prove to be just as powerful as the blasting sections. This is also helped by the production values, which boast the right amount of polish without taking away from the intensity. The 9th King does admittedly stand out more as a complete album than on a song by song basis though, and while the second half branches out I did find on repeat listens that the first two tracks blurred together a bit.
Destroyer G’s vocals throughout the album are one of the main reasons that it makes such a strong impact, as his utilizes a higher, raspier scream that cuts through your speakers with the force of a dagger. The title track starts off with a powerful chant that immediately grabs you by the throat and opens things up into a wide range of harsher pitches. With the lyrical content once again focused on Incan culture and traditions (though unfortunately the lyrics weren’t included with the promo to fully grasp everything), it makes sense that the vocal performance has an unhinged and chaotic feel that comes off feeling dangerous in an intriguing way. Where some vocalists have screams or growls in black metal that almost sound phoned in, Destroyer G’s approach is fluid and only adds to the mystique of the music.
Although Saqra’s Cult may come across as more of an incremental push forward rather than a true evolution, it’s a refinement of a sound that was already compelling to begin with. It’s a brief affair, but the whirlwind of harsh riffs and truly powerful vocals will keep listeners returning for another assault on the senses. The 9th King is out now on Amor Fati Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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