Azoic's debut dropped out of nowhere. Icelandic metallers sharing members with brutal band-brothers Beneath, these guys have one thing in common with that band: brutality. Not in the same vein, but the pure abrasiveness of Gateways is something to be marveled at.
This is largely due to the black metal influence on the record. The drumming is militant, the guitars are buried in a sea of distortion, and the howling vocals create a dense, bleak atmosphere not unlike traveling in a desert amidst a sandstorm. If your skull was a stone, the battering winds of that storm would likely erode your head. As I said before, Gateways is punishing, and no amount of metaphor will describe the feel of the album.
The beauty of Gateways however is that it remains melodic, interesting, and contains odd musical elements which pique my interest on each listen. "Wisdoms Prayer" features some surprisingly addictive three-note melodies that evolve into a much longer melodic passage, and opener "Apeiron" coalesces into a hammering blastbeat dominated by a subtle melody that harmonizes with the cacophonous noise underneath created by the heavily distorted guitar. The interplay here is what keeps what could be just another dull black metal release feeling fresh and interesting.
This musicality makes Gateways impressive for a black-metal-dominated release, and it shows that these guys really know their instruments. The material here isn't impossible to play, but they're not afraid to abuse odd time signatures or chords to get their point across. "A Portal" is a colossal track that really embodies that aforementioned atmosphere. From a slow-paced hammerblast Azoic climbs into a much more sinister riff before ascending to a colossal closing riff which gets stuck in your head. Luckily they don't abuse the riff either, letting it only repeat twice before it collapses in on itself like a black hole. The track ends with disturbing gasps and cries, and what almost sounds like a gag. It's a creepy end to the best track on the album. Later track "Monasterium" has a tinge of doom-influence and "Spirituphysics" has the whole monk-chanting black metal feel to it. Honestly "Spirituphysics" is probably the most predictable, and black metal, track on the album with its seemingly standard beat and timing, and it leads into the droning two-minute outro "Eldlina."
Clocking in at just over 29 minutes, it's a shame Gateways isn't longer. The atmosphere this album creates for the short time that it plays is worthy of mention alone. The dense distortion and surprisingly prominent basslines will repulse a few, but I feel like they're not an issue here at all. They work to Azoic's advantage, helping to create that powerful atmosphere. A very, very strong debut overall. I'm absolutely stoked to see what these guys come up with in the future.
9.0 out of 10
3. A Portal
4. Hold bindur tómið
5. Wisdoms Prayer
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