Artist: Upon a Red Sky
Album: Aegis – EP
Some moments in history create stories that are worth repeating—instances in the earth’s past that showcase the human race rising to the occasion, answering extreme moments with extreme courage, bravery and moral fortitude. These moments are the things of legends, and as such, live on through the history classes, albums, books and movies that capture their greatness in a record for all to experience. In this instance, Austrian deathcore act Upon a Red Sky contribute to the history books and cultural compendium of knowledge with their recounting of the all-too-well know tale of the Spartan stand at Thermopylae; the same event exaggerated in the infamous 300 movies, as well as done-to-death in European History classrooms across the country. What makes Aegis a different account of the acclaimed Spartan battleground is the manner in which it is done. Rather than copious amounts of slow motion and CGI, there are machine-gun blast beats and immense, intimidating bass tones. Instead of a boring, droning history professor, there is a diverse vocal onslaught as fierce as all of Sparta uniting in a single war cry. Aegis is an EP that uses Upon a Red Sky’s fierce, metallic breed of deathcore to tell a story in a way the listener probably hasn’t experienced yet, and will certainly never experience again.
Aegis is home to instrumentation that ranges from as sharp and piercing as a Spartan spear, to as looming and daunting as Xerxes’ war drums. “Arcadian Grounds” is a brilliant example of this: opening with lacerating, intense fretwork and speedy, technically marvelous drumming, the track quickly swaps momentum for murderous, mammoth-like heaviness, plunging into dissonance with plodding, deep kick drum and rumbling, intense bass guitar. Meanwhile, “Exiled” keeps the pace at a constant, fleet-footed candor, making brilliant use of two guitars—Michael “Con Carne” and Michael Lindorfer—to trade on-and-off duties of chug-heavy rhythm and pace-setting with furiously-fretted riffs and tremolo-picked leads that oscillate so feverishly, they melt the gyri and sulci of the listeners brain into an indistinguishable lump. Throughout the entirety of Aegis, Upon a Red Sky beautifully balance metallic, riff-heavy song structure with down-tuned, deathcore-influenced dissonance to create a musically well-rounded release. While tracks like “Exiled” and “Path of a King” favor grooves and riffs over breakdowns and brutality, “Bloodrush” and “Allegiance” are just the opposite—opting for intense, hammering chugs and skin-ripping, splashy cymbal work to beat the listener into submission and slice their skin wide open; providing an excellent entry point for the beautifully bitter, destructively diverse vocals to pour in like salt.
The icing to the poison-laced cake that is Upon a Red Sky’s beautiful but brutalizing instrumental attack is made up of the vocal efforts of Chris Breetzi. Capable of reaching everything from a rasping, squealing inward to a low-down-and-dirty growl, the vocal range throughout Aegis is nothing short of marvelous. While some tracks—“Path of a King” especially—find themselves bordering on vocal monotony, making an abundant use of a harsh, mid-range yell, others hardly use the same pitch and pace twice. “Bloodrush” and “Allegiance,” the EP’s two longest tracks, are especially guilty of this; with roar after roar of pure, primal vocal brilliance, Breetzi tells the story of the Spartan struggle against the God-King Xerxes, and the annals of the war that surrounded it. Every syllable is spit with such intense, acrid venom that it feels as if it is going to melt through the listener’s headphones and into their ear canals, singing their eardrums. In this respect, the vocal onslaught on Aegis—while sluggish at first—perfectly mimics the ferocity of the soldiers whose story it tells.
Together, the visceral, skin-to-a-cheese-grater effects of the vocals and the immersive, intense instrumentation on Aegis give the listener a feeling as if they, themselves, are steeped in the battle at Thermopylae. Sharp, cutting riffs shred through the listener’s armor, while fierce, hammering breakdowns and thundering bass guitar hammers away at their shield. On top of it all, Breetzi’s bitter, aggressive and brooding vocal assault roars in their ears, so loud they can’t hear the pounding of their own heart. Aegis is the very sound of an ancient battlefield, and Upon a Red Sky serve as its architect. However, even in spite of dynamic, intriguing song structure, subtle touches of serenity (found almost entirely in “Interlude”) and diverse vocals, there is still a feeling that some tracks don’t fully witness the band leaving their comfort zone. While “Bloodrush” and “Exiled” are lessons in extreme, punishing heaviness and intense, jarring technicality unlike those written by the band’s peers, “Path of a King” seems almost…tame, as if it is holding back from unleashing itself completely at the listener. While this doesn’t hinder the EPs resounding success, it still serves as a slight distraction from the overall immense nature of the release.
If all history classes were taught with Upon a Red Sky’s fervor for ancient Spartan folklore, there would never be a drowsy head or drooping eyelid in the class. Crushing, immense breakdowns clash swords with stunning technicality and diverse vocals to craft a comprehsive, immersive and promising EP, with few faults other than an initial addiction to the band’s “comfort zone”—which is still heavy and intense enough to make the listener very uncomfortable, in the very best way.
For Fans Of: Salt the Wound, As Blood Runs Black, The Science of Sleep
By: Connor Welsh