Reviewed: September, 2018
Released: 2018, Agonia Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Something of a death metal supergroup that has been kicking around for more than a decade, Cast The Stone makes its debut with a six-song EP that certainly has its share of thrills, just not as many as perhaps one might expect from such a pedigree.
The band features ex-Cattle Decapitation bassist Derek Engemann, Misery Index guitarist Mark Kloeppel and Legend drummer Jesse Schobel – all of whom also play or played in Phil Anselmo’s extreme/black metal side project Scour – along with vocalist Andrew Huskey. But despite the band members’ freewheeling roots, Cast The Stone curiously opt for more of an old school Swedish death metal sound – cemented by their choice of producer, Dan Swanö, who has been associated with countless bands of that ilk. This sort of stuff has been done to, umm, death already, and the fact that this is an American band makes their stylistic choice even more of a head scratcher. But whatever.
Empyrean Atrophy kicks off with the burly “As the Dead Lie” that recalls early Amon Amarth – minus the Viking majesty – with its crashing riffs, determined chug and Huskey’s, well, husky, guttural roar. The guy’s voice can peel paint right off the wall. “The Burning Horizon” delivers more of a Dissection-like sweep, despite Kloeppel’s buzz-sawing guitar, but its lumbering pace makes its 7:26 length a bit of an endurance test.
Things don’t really get interesting until the fourth song in with “A Plague of Light,” which follows the rather pointless acoustic instrumental “Standing in the Shadows.” Its propulsive tempo, time changes and hulking riffs give the EP the boot up the ass it was clamoring for up to this point and offers some of the craftiness I think most people would probably expect from these guys. The title track delivers more of the same, though with more full-frontal aggression and a bit less dexterity. It’s a crusher for sure.
“Jesusatan” brings things to a fiery end with just a hint of black metal and some nifty, discordant soloing from Kloeppel that was largely absent on the other tracks. And that is indicative of the album’s major flaw. These guys really don’t show anywhere near the sense of daring or dexterity that they’ve proven they were capable of with their other bands. There very little of the elasticity and sheer intensity of Cattle Decapitation or the raw fury of Scour or Misery Index (who Swanö has also produced) here. And that’s a bummer.
Though the music is certainly more vibrant and vital over its back half, the fact remains that Empyrean Atrophy still sounds too much like warmed over, vintage Swedish death metal for its own good. It might have been more pertinent when the band was getting off the ground in 2002, but now it just seems tired and kinda lazy. Hopefully the last three songs here are an indication of where Cast The Stone may be heading, otherwise there really doesn’t seem to be much point.