As I continue to sift through the stack of releases the good folks at Sygil Records sent me a while back, I continue to be thoroughly impressed. After tackling the excellent Avakr cassette, I decided to turn my attention to the lone CD format release the label sent my way, Charnel House’s Contagion. I’m not sure when this album was originally released, and information about the Indiana(?) duo is pretty scarce, but given that they seem to have successfully tapped into a sound that takes elements of the familiar and twists them into something stunningly unique, I can’t imagine them staying a secret for much longer.
Charnel House juxtaposes ethereal female vocals that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a British shoegaze album circa 1992 with a mix of doom, drone and black metal at their most minimal. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well, and though the description might have you ready to lump them in with the current crop of female-fronted occult rock/doom/whatever that the metal community has been blowing load after load over for the past few years, just one listen to Contagion tells us that Charnel House are a very different animal, blacker, grimmer and uglier than the hordes of Coven clones.
To these ears, Contagion sounds like a musical storm brewing over a vast ocean in the middle of the night; thick, ominous clouds of distortion congregating over waves of submerged percussion while those beautiful vocals haunt the skies from somewhere deep within the noise. The album ebbs and flows, speeds up and slows down, adding to the impression that you’re floating atop a roiling sea, while thunder and lightning rain down from above, and a lilting, siren voice that you thought might guide you to safety only serves to take you ever further into the eye of the maelstrom.
It should come as no surprise that Contagion is a lo-fi affair; a common thread amongst Sygil’s releases is an extremely raw, live feel to the recordings that infuses them with an immersive “you-are-there” quality. The production scheme works well for Charnel House, allowing the listener to lose themselves in the volatile dynamics of the band’s approach to composition and emphasizing the spaces between notes as much as the notes themselves. You feel the music as much as listen to it, swallowed whole by that aforementioned storm at sea.
Overall, Contagion is a damn near perfect introduction to a young band that has a frightening level of potential. One can easily see Charnel House expanding upon and evolving the minimalist approach they already seem to have perfected here, which will no doubt lead to attracting the wider audience they so obviously deserve. Expect big things.