Back in '89, a band called Believer dropped an absolutely molten work of skull-crushing thrash melded with mind-numbing progressive trappings that blew previous notions of what a band composed of Christians could accomplish right out of the water. Over the next few years, they stretched their prog metal genius to greater and greater lengths. Their second release offered one of the first symphonic metal pieces ever created, and their third release further developed these symphonic leanings while simultaneously hurtling the band into the ever-weird realm of avant-garde metal. And then they broke up, leaving a void which few, if any, bands, faith-based or otherwise, could fill. Into this void stepped Extol. Freely admitting the influence of their predecessor, this group of young lads from Norway took up Believer's prog metal mantel, but melded it with an even more extreme sound.
The distinctive hallmarks of death metal - heavy, down-tuned guitars, crushing bass work, cardboard box-sounding drum work, and low, guttural screams which conjure up images of regurgitated entrails - permeate Extol's 1998 debut release, Burial. In an even more daring move, Burial also works in the raw, sickly guitar warbles and shrieked, screeching vocals of black metal, a genre typically 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 young Norwegians spice up their churning, chaotic mix of extreme metal with a deliciously complex concoction of mind-blowing prog. Thrash metal, hardcore punk, and grinding doom metal all show up throughout the record. Oppressively brutal, utterly terrifying, and overloaded with jaw-dropping, completely baffling complexity, this is music for the strong of stomach, stern of heart, and broad of mind.
Just like their forefathers in Believer, the members of Extol insert increasingly innovative elements into the mix of punishing, virtuosic guitar work and intense, screaming vocals. They craft short acoustic passages into songs like "Burial" and "Renhetens Elv," while "Superior" displays catchy jazz trappings. Eerie industrial textures lie sprinkled throughout many songs, by far the most prominent being "Justified," where the music gives way into fingernail-on-chalkboard-type metallic screeches and frightening rattles. Pushing the envelope even further are the flute solo on the second track, "Celestial Completion," and the synthesized sitar in the opening for "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, classically-inspired invocations on "Jesus Kom Til Jorden For Å Dø." I do wish that the band featured more of Ole's clean singing, but the only sparing use of his beautiful voice does not detract from the record in any way. Other than Ole's singing, 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 down-tuned guitar in a slow, passionate duet.
However, a few faults do present themselves. Extol's influence from Believer reveals itself a bit too prominently, most notably with the use of short acoustic passages and classical leaning. The other main influence which appears is that of Swedish progressive death metal musicians Opeth, particularly on the folk passages. But it is a bit unfair to criticize the band for taking cues from legends as great as Opeth, so this is more of a small weakness than a major flaw. Finally, I personally find that the lyrics to the otherwise brilliant "Work of Art" do not quite fit. Death growls work perfectly when detailing death, despair, judgement, and general ugliness, but not quite as effectively when praising God for the beauty of creation. Nevertheless, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise nearly perfect album.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Burial is an almost perfect blend of music, lyrics, and faith, and proves that Extol is deserving of its reputation as a legend within Christian metal, or any metal for that matter.JFH Reader Review: Review date: 6/27/03, written by Kenneth Mick III for Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Tooth & Nail / Solid State / Endtime
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