Scarab – Serpents of the Nile

I do love a bit of Egyptian-themed death metal. This is Scarab’s second-full length album following 2010’s ’Blinding the Masses’, their sound is what you might  get if Italy’s Hour of Penance had the same Egyptian/middle-eastern influences as technical death metal heavyweights Nile, or perhaps a slightly slower, more nuanced Demigod-era Behemoth. While this is not the most original  death metal album of 2015, and this Egyptian band clearly wear their  influences (both musical and cultural) Scarab have a lot to offer  here for fans of death metal.

Heavy, catchy, death metal riffage  can be found on every song on this album, as well as ferocious  Nile-esque guitar solos and a healthy dash of blastbeats and downtuned  chugging; tracks like ‘Pyramid of Illusions’ wouldn’t sound out of place  on Nile’s opus Annihilation of the Wicked.  The atmospheric flourishes layered on these tracks as well as the  interesting Egyptian subject matter help Scarab somewhat stand out from  many of the other young death metal bands vying for your attention right  now. And the vocals are brutal, like if Paolo from Hour of Penance had a bit more variety as well as some throat-shredding screams. They’re also surprisingly intelligible if you concentrate a little.

The lengthier compositions on this album (with tracks generally averaging  at about 8 minutes long) give Scarab room to experiment with more than  just an exercise in straight-forward brutality, with tracks like  ‘Funeral Pharaoh’ building up lumpering momentum before the spiralling  guitars and double-bass drumming build up to a pummeling assault with  thrashy, technical riffs, and blastbeats. Songs shift very naturally from fast and thrashy passages to a slower, more lumbering and sludgier pace. Traditional instruments, acoustic passages, haunting backing vocals and tormented cries give this album that extra push it needs to move beyond just ‘pretty good’ to ‘really enjoyable.’ Part of the talent of this band that others seem not to be recognising is that they actually do a good job of building a middle-eastern sound even without the additional instrumentation; for example the riff at about 5:00 in ‘Funeral Pharaoh’ has this fantastic middle-eastern vibe.

This is far from the most original death metal album of 2015 but it does a lot of things right. Strong songwriting skills, catchy, memorable riffs, brutal guttural vocals, an interesting thematic focus, as well as a surprising amount of variety all come together to make a very strong record which I can definitely see myself returning to throughout the rest of this year. If you like death metal I recommend at least giving this album a listen.