Band: Moss Upon The Skull
Album: In Vengeful Reverence
Label: I, Voidhanger
Genre: Progressive Death Metal
Release Date: October 19th, 2018
Moss Upon The Skull is a progressive death metal band from Belgium with two EPs under their belt; debuting their full-length on I, Voidhanger, In Vengeful Reverance. Comprised of Mathijs Provoost on bass, Jef Van de Weghe on guitar and keys, Jense Philips on drums, and Jo Willems on vocals. Tristan van Dorsselaer is credited on Metal Archives as another guitar player that passed away in 2015. I don’t know what capacity he played in writing the music, but is he credited as the lyricist for five out of the ten songs, and is given a tribute in the lyric sheet as a founding member, guitarist and creator of the logo.
Jo Willems’ vocal style is an intelligible but brutish harsh growl. There isn’t much variation or range within the vocals, making the moments where he deviates stand out. However, the vocal style does fit the music perfectly, partly because it isn’t a distracting performance, but mostly due to how damn good Jo is. His harsh growl is consistent and at a story-teller’s pace; this allows the lyrics, an important part of this album, to reach the audience, and not get lost in the chaos. Backing and clean vocals are also provided by Mathijs and Jef presenting as creepy chorus vocals/vocalizations most often but also as spoken word. Initially I wasn’t on board for this inclusion, mostly because it was completely unexpected, but it weirdly fit and I came around on repeat listens.
Guitars, provided by Jef Van de Weghe, are really quite remarkable. In Vengeful Reverence has memorable riffs that vary from slow haunting strumming, to melodic solos, and prominently extending to fascinating rhythm sections. Each song features unique riffs, nothing is repeated across songs and no “standard” chugs recycled; there is a good balance struck on this album between fresh variation through a song, and repeating structural riffs that don’t become stale. Solos aren’t something handed out to every song on this album; one I enjoyed on Serving The Elite is only a few seconds long, whereas the solo on The Serpent Scepter is longer and grander in scale. There is a lot of care and thought put into the song structures, and the solos, though few and far between, are tasteful and not showy, instead finding their place within the whole picture.
Bass has a larger part in Moss Upon The Skull then other death metal bands, doing its job holding down the low end, but also accenting the songs with single notes and flourishes. In the closing of The Serpent Scepter there is bounciness to what Mathijs is doing that fades out, but leads in perfectly to the opening of Spheres Of Malevolence. I could list several moments from this album where the bass stands out; his skillful playing is an integral part of the sound the defines Moss Upon The Skull.
Drums in progressive death metal can make or break the band. If they are too bland, it becomes obvious; on the other hand if they are too flashy they will overpower the other instruments. It is a thin line Jense Philips has to tread, and he absolutely nails it. The fills are presented as tastefully as the guitar solos, and are equally as impressive. Every inch of the drum kit was utilized on In Vengeful Reverence, creating a varying and dynamic display. I also have to mention that I love the use of cymbal bells in death metal, and Jense adds them in at the perfect time but refrains from overuse.
The lyrics on In Vengeful Reverence were written by Tristan, Jef, and Jense; Tristan writing five, Jef had four, and Jense one. Themes vary from opposition, acceptance of evil, uprisings, cult rituals, to overcoming foes and more. Some songs feature a story structure to the lyrics, which melds with Moss Upon The Skull’s style of dissident progressive death metal effortlessly. In many death metal bands lyrics really just serve to give the vocalist something to do, but not here. These themes and stories, when presented within the context of the songs elevate the whole to something greater.
Though I ultimately came around on the clean vocals, vocals are the only area I have any critique on; specifically the sparse use of variation in the harsh vocals. Even that is just a very minor point because I still greatly enjoyed this album. In Vengeful Reverence is mature beyond the band’s relatively young pedigree, while maintaining enough venom and vigor to forecast a promising future for these talented musicians. Moss Upon The Skull have put together one hell of a debut full-length release.
1. Reverse Celebration
3. Impending Evil
4. Lair of the Hypocrite
5. Serving the Elite
7. In Vengeful Reverence
8. The Serpent Scepter
9. Spheres of Malevolence
10. Unseen, Yet Allseeing
Total Playing Time: 44:17