Let’s just get it out of the way now; Inquisition is the best active US black metal band. Hell, they might very well be the best black metal band on the planet. Not only have the Seattle-based duo never released a bad album, they’ve somehow managed to fiercely adhere to the traditional black metal paradigm for over two decades while at the same time expanding the genre’s course and scope beyond what had been thought possible. Indeed, few bands have done as much to push traditional black metal forward, yet they still seem to remain somewhat under the radar.
Inquisition’s seventh album, Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (henceforth referred to as Bloodshed…), appears poised to change that. The duo’s second release for metal mega label Season of Mist isn’t quite the instant kick in the teeth that their two previous albums were; Bloodshed… unfurls slowly but surely, taking multiple listens to coil itself around the listener’s psyche before finally revealing a myriad of dark wonders.
Bloodshed… might not be as immediately impactful as other recent Inquisition albums, but by no means has the band gone soft; guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus have learned to temper their blackened assault with a degree of texture and nuance that not only speaks to their increasing maturity as a band but also to the fact that they’re so far ahead of the curve as musicians and songwriters in comparison to their USBM brethren that it isn’t even close. Between Dagon’s Voivod-in-corpsepaint approach to riffing and Incubus’ steeped in black metal tradition yet always interesting and innovative drumming, there simply isn’t another band in the game crafting such singular soundscapes.
The album’s production scheme is incredibly dense, making it the darkest, heaviest sounding release in Inquisition’s discography. Granted, Dagon and Incubus have always sounded far more burly than the average black metal band (with half as many members, no less), but on Bloodshed… they really manage to bring down the sonic hammer. In spite of this density, each instrument is audible and balanced, with no one element becoming dominant over the others; instead they weave together to form an impressively rich audial tapestry that reveals new aspects of itself with each and every listen.
After many deep listens to Bloodshed…, I stand by my earlier assertion that Inquisition is the best USBM band going today and one of the best black metal bands on the whole damn planet. Sure, this one might be something of a grower, but good luck being able to pull yourself away to listen to anything else once it gets its hooks in you. All in all it is an exemplary piece of dark art that both embraces and transcends black metal’s core traditions, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Inquisition belong perched atop the genre’s iron throne.