Burial: Christian Metal Fights Back
Posted November 19, 2010
“Christian death metal” might sound like an oxymoron, but the Norwegian metal-heads of the band Extol smash that preconception more fiercely than they smash their instruments on their debut album, Burial. Like the Australian band Mortification a decade earlier, Extol proves that Christians can produce visceral, tear-your-face-off metal that is just as good if not better than their non-Christian contemporaries.
Burial is filled with the distinctive death metal sound: heavy, down-tuned guitars, crushing bass work, drums that sound like cardboard boxes, and lots of low, guttural screams. And in what is a fairly daring move, the album also includes the raw, sickly guitar warbles and shrieked, screeching vocals of black metal, a genre usually associated with Satanism, neo-Nazis, and Scandinavian church burnings. But what makes Extol’s debut impressive is the way that they venture beyond the typical blackened death metal fare. The album is spiced up with a deliciously complex concoction of “melodic” death metal, thrash metal, hardcore punk breakdowns, grinding doom metal rumblings, and fancy progressive rock riffs.
Other, more innovative elements are also mixed in among the punishing, virtuosic guitar work and intense, screaming vocals. Short acoustic passages are crafted into songs like “Burial” and “Renhetens Elv,” while “Superior” displays some catchy jazz trappings. Eerie industrial textures are sprinkled throughout many songs and are featured most prominently on “Justified,” where the music gives way into fingernails-on-chalkboard-type metallic screeches and rattles. Even more diverse ingredients include the flute solo on the second track, “Celestial Completion,” and the synthesized sitar in the Middle-Eastern style opening on “Reflections of a Broken Soul.” Ole Børud works in some clean vocals on a few songs, ranging from the crystal-clear power metal flavorings on “Reflections of a Broken Soul” and “Innbydelse,” to grand, operatic invocations on “Jesus Kom Til Jorden For Å Dø” that are nearly as good as those found on a classical recording. It only goes to show of Ole’s musical diversity that ten years later he would go on to be a successful funk and soul performer.
But one of the best treats on the album is guest musician Maria Riddervold, who beautifully showcases her talent with the violin. On the song “Embraced,” she manages to capture on shrieking strings the tortured desperation of a soul being swallowed up by evil, and on another track, “Tears of Bitterness,” her haunting violin solo is joined by a down-tuned guitar in a slow, passionate duet.
However, the album does have a few faults. The band cites the progressive and avant-garde metal group Believer as an influence, but this influence is obvious anyway, as Extol’s technically precise riffs and classical experiments sound just a little too much like the Christian metal giants the band members are trying to emulate. The other main influence that can be heard is that of Swedish progressive death metal musicians Opeth, an influence which stands out most prominently in Extol’s use of folk and acoustic passages. But it is a bit unfair to criticize the band for using elements from an entire genre that Opeth helped create, so this is more of a small weakness than a major flaw.
Lyrically, the band has mostly ups, but there are a few downs as well. Three of the album’s eleven “sung” songs are in the band’s native language, but whether in English or Norwegian, the band manages, for the most part, to craft lyrics that fit the harsh, aggressive, and often frightening music that blares out the speakers. The track “Celestial Completion” is about death and the afterlife, “Superior” is about the coming Judgement, and the final song, “Jesus Kom Til Jorden For Å Dø,” is a nice breather after all the crushing extreme metal and is about the love and sacrifice of Christ. Other songs like “Embraced,” “Innbydelse,” “Reflections of a Broken Soul,” and the title track “Burial” are more sinister and portray the misery, depression, and insanity of soul without God, but also remind the listener of the peace that comes with being in the Light. The only song that I feel does not fit lyrically is the otherwise brilliant “Work of Art.” Singing about the beauty of God’s creation is to be admired, but in my opinion, it just does not work when it sounds like you are puking your intestines out. Based off the opening atmospherics and grand, melodic guitar lines, the band was going for a mystical quality, but I feel that the band fails on this point.
As pointed out by a review by ThePhantomTollbooth.com, another flaw in the lyrics is that those that are written in English have the occasional grammatical slip. Personally, I do not really care, since the band is Norwegian after all, but I guess you could find fault with their occasional slips.
Overall, Extol more than successfully delivers some fantastic and meaty metal that according to Mike DaRonco of allmusic.com brought “a breath of fresh air among a genre that relies on Satanic gimmicks”. I, for one, happen to agree. Clocking in at just over an hour, Burial is an almost perfect blend music, lyrics, and faith, and proves that Extol is deserving of its reputation as a Christian metal legend.
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