Empyrean - Quietus (Prime Cuts/Riot)

The forefront of blackened death metal stood only a handful of innovators - this once exclusive clique may be welcoming Australian newcomers Empyrean to their ranks with their explosive debut, Quietus.

Australian black metal seems to be an oddity in the greater metal community - it strives to be as underground and "traditional" as possible so as not to upset the "kvlt" of personalities and musical purity cloistered around a select few. Those who dare, win, as the adage goes, and Empyrean have done exactly that on their debut Quietus, a mature and expertly produced effort from this Brisbane quintet.

Taking mid-era Dimmu Borgir and Emperor influences and fusing it with breakneck death metal is hardly new, as any fan of the American blackened death metal quartet Martriden can attest to. Fortunately for a nascent sub-genre, the output has largely been inspiring and Quietus is no exception.

Ignoring the "mood-creating" piano opening, From Whence The Mourning Came evokes the demure classicalist pomp of the now dearly departed Arcturus before letting fly with furious double-kick driven riffs and lashings of synth and piano scales, invoking a wall of diabolical sound. They go for straightforward crunch on Pleasure of Another's Pain, slogging away as guitars march relentlessly, imbuing the album with a sense of dread, while the Old Man's Child-inspired Shackled Within picks up the tempo with a hammering of drums before seguing back into an acoustic break. However, as the confluence between rhythm, melody and percussion grows, so does the quality, as evidenced in the second half of the disc.

Waves of Tomorrow floats synth strings over the top of heinously crunchy riffs - the vicious snarl of vocalist James Hill confidently devolves into a throaty growl and climbs back again, sending a chill throughout the entire cut. Through Death and Beyond takes the listener into space with borderline psychedelic synth before slamming you with granite-edged, muscular chugging and dextrous guitar fireworks. The eponymous closer takes the band's musicianship to a resplendent zenith: oblique songwriting and dense layers of instrumentation, that would normally be associated with progressive metal, walks hand in hand with strident, majestic and, for the want of a better word, epic riffs.

What wins it for Empyrean are, despite the dearth of ideas, their ability to consolidate them into flowing and tightly-bound songs. They avoid the obvious pitfall of staying "true" or "kvlt", to which many of their contemporaries so passionately to cling (even the production sounds especially crisp - bass pounds prominently, which seems unusual for black metal, yet works rather well on this record). Quietus crackles with hatred and malevolence while keeping its ideas fresh and forward-thinking. This album is a blackened death metal release that will surely excite Australian and international metalheads alike.

Quietus is out now through Prime Cuts/Riot.