A Hill to Die Upon – Via Artis Via Mortis Review

Band: A Hill to Die Upon
Album: Via Artis Via Mortis
Label:  Luxor Records
Genre: Blackened Death Metal
Country: United States
Release Date: 29th September, 2017

Illinois is famous for being the birthplace of Lincoln, and boasts modern attractions like the Sears Tower and a Six Flags amusement park.  The state isn’t exactly a hotbed of subversive metal activity.  However, sonic juggernauts A Hill to Die Upon are talking the Land of Lincoln by storm with their fourth full-length album Via Artis Via Mortis. With musical underpinnings that recall bands like Behemoth and Belphegor, A Hill to Die Upon spin their own take on blackened death metal by infusing decadent atmosphere, crushing riffs, and winsome melody into their art.  Also of note is the band’s esoteric and penetrating lyrical content. Drummer and backup vocalist Michael Cook serves up a hefty helping of theology and philosophy, with allusions to everything from Greek mythology to C.S. Lewis.

Not to be outdone, Michael’s brother Adam Cook, the main composer of A Hill to Die Upon, sacrifices his vocal chords on the altar of the metal gods to produce a deep, invigorating roar.  Nolan Osmond takes reign of the lead guitar duties, churning out riff after riff of calculated dissonance.  Finally, Brent Dossett holds down the low end with bass guitar.  While band membership has been a revolving door over the years, the core and vision of the band has been kept fresh by the Cook brothers, who have been partners in crime from the outset.

Via Artis Via Mortis is 9 tracks of blackened death metal with enough force to bruise the head of the serpent.  Clocking in at just over 37 minutes, the record is a strong outing of black metal with fewer death metal influences than previous efforts.  One other major difference is that Via Artis Via Mortis is more dissonant and less melodic than previous albums.  Song crafting doesn’t revolve as much around atmosphere as on previous efforts, but rather seizes hold of a guitar riff and molds it into the centerpiece for each song.  While this has strengthened the core sound of the band, this reviewer also misses the nuances in melody and fantastic guest female vocalists that appeared on previous albums.

It’s a mild critique, to be sure.  Via Artis Via Mortis opens with the short instrumental “Melpomene and Thalia.”  A crescendo builds to peak sonic output and then fades into atmospheric guitar.  It helps set the mood of the record.  “Jubal and Syrinx” fades in to a classic A Hill to Die Upon introduction.  The drums and bass buoy up entwining guitar riffs, much like coiling serpents.  In relation to previous albums, “Jubal and Syrinx” is probably the closest in sound and scope, and could have fit well within the track list of Holy Despair.

“Artificial Intelligence” makes use of syncopation to create variation between notes.  The lead guitar on this track dominates, giving the listener a healthy dose of solo material.  “Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance” doesn’t really bring anything new to the table until around the 1:50 mark, when heavy distortion is introduced in the vocals.  The second half of the song is much better than the first, with tight drumming and memorable lyrics.

At a point when many bands begin to slack off, A Hill to Die Upon delivers one of the strongest tracks on Via Artis Via Mortis.  “I Was There When You Went Under the Water” is a mouthful to say, and it’s also an earful to take in.  One of the things that A Hill to Die Upon does best is provide a natural impetus in their songs, and it is in full display on this track.  “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” builds around a relentless guitar riff.  The jarring foreplay is entrancing as other elements build around this refrain to create a vista of breathtaking ferocity.

“The Garden” dials things back for a moment.  The drumming and atmosphere give a nod to Antestor.  “Mosin Nagant” charges through obstacles like a tank, crushing debris and chaff beneath its treads.  The guitars and drums are weapons of considerable power, spitting out wave after wave of churning metal.

Via Artis Via Mortis closes with “St. Cocaine.”  Lyrically, it’s an introspective number exploring death and life after death.  Musically, it’s a melodic piece in which the vocals fade a bit into the background.  Repetition is used to excellent effect, and in a matter of moments the listener is drawn in.  A violin fades out to end the song, and the narrator of the song succumbs to his inner struggle.

It’s not an easy task to determine if Via Artis Via Mortis is A Hill to Die Upon’s greatest album, but it is not lacking in performance or delivery.  Via Artis Via Mortis is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant musical scene, and never fails to disappoint.  Black metal fans will do well not to write this band off, and death metal fans will also want to sample A Hill to Die Upon’s fourth full-length album.  It’s difficult to find a more dedicated and visionary group of musicians, and I hope that the Cook brothers put their minds together to craft more masterpieces in the future.

Rating: 9/10

1. Melpomene and Thalia
2. Jubal and Syrinx
3. Artifice Intelligence
4. Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance
5. I Was There When You Went Under the Water
6. Great is Artemis of the Ephesians
7. The Garden
8. Mosin Nagant
9. St. Cocaine

Total Playing Time: 37:04

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