Review: Sarcasm – “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds”

Sweden’s Sarcasm have had a tumultuous history. Formed in Uppsala in 1990, the band released a string of melodic death metal demos, culminating in the 1994 EP  “A Touch of the Burning Red Sunset”. The fascinating fact about the band is that in 1994, before they broke up, they actually recorded a debut full-length album titled “Burial Dimensions”. But the album was never released, lying in a slumber until it finally saw the light of day as part of a vinyl compilation in 2011, and finally given a proper release in 2015 on Dark Descent Records, coinciding with the band’s reformation. Complicated stuff, but here we are in 2017, and Sarcasm have returned with their second full-length album “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds”. This is presumably the band’s first new material since 1994, and yet it feels like the band haven’t missed a beat. Their melodic but aggressive style of death metal is every bit as catchy and intense as ever, harking back to a time when melodic death metal meant something quite different to the kind of streamlined and accessible sound we’ve become accustomed to.

It really is easy to forget how different the early Swedish melodic death metal sound was to the very processed and radio-friendly pop nonsense we’ve been treated to over the last decade or so. In Flames‘ legendary album “The Jester Race” was death metal filtered through Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM, with classically-influenced song structures, acoustic guitar passages, and highly melodic, harmonised lead-guitar melodies. Melody was certainly central to the sound, but it was the particular filtration process of death metal interpreted through bands like Iron Maiden that made it work. Since then the genre has moved decisively away from this key influence, to the extent that it is often very difficult to tell the difference between modern melodic death metal and metalcore. Given Sarcasm‘s significant black metal influences, it is also perhaps worth recalling that Dissection were often considered part of the Gothenburg scene. Sarcasm are a glorious throwback to a better time, frequent optimistic and upbeat, but capable of transforming into a storm at the drop of a hi-hat.

This all builds a background picture against which Sarcasm are operating. At their heaviest, their sound could easily be compared to Dissection or At the Gates‘ early records; while at their most melodic they bring In Flames‘ legendary early albums such as “The Jester Race” and “Whoracle”. Tracks such as “Bloodsoaked Sunrise” and “Scars of a Land Forgotten” are aggressive and raw, but ultimately constructed upon a melodic foundation, while the closing track “The Drowning Light at the Edge of the Dawn” is a furious storm of incredibly fast, brutal guitarwork and old-school metal riffs. The melodic lead guitar on “In the Grip of Awakening Times” is a wonderfully nostalgic throwback to the style embodied in those earlier records. The band haven’t lost their edge a bit, and are capable of shredding with the best of them. The lead guitar-work on the mid-paced death metal stomper “Silent Waves Summoned Your Inner Being” shines through, memorable and great fun.

The album is well-paced: The album clocks in at a concise 37 minutes, but the time simply flies by and it ends up feeling much shorter. But none of the songs feel replaceable or indistinct, and reach the end of their natural lifespan without overstaying their welcome. Perhaps the most interesting track is the almost 9-minute long penultimate track “A Black Veil for Earth”, a dirge-like ballad built upon a beautifully nostalgic acoustic section. It brings to mind In Flames‘ famous “Moonshield” in the best way possible, but with guttural growls and doomy chugs backing the harmonised tremolo guitars. A tremolo-picked, blastbeat-backed guitar solo carries the central section of this song, bearing the song’s weight. And “From the Crimson Fog They Emerged” will prove to be an instant classic, with the furious guitar acrobatics and cries of “Manifested in flesh!”. The dynamic song structure and tight synchronisation between the drums and guitars remind me at times of the most aggressive moments of Dissection‘s “Storm of the Light’s Bane”.

The nostalgia factor certainly plays a key role here, but the album stands on its own two feet as a great melodic death metal record. The whole album is just an absolute blast to listen to: powerful, confident, and catchy without sacrificing great riffs and aggression. Metal like this doesn’t come along very often. It doesn’t exactly break new ground for the genre, but particularly for those of you bitter at the direction of modern In Flames and the untimely end of Dissection, look no further than “Within the Sphere of Ephereal Minds”. It’s a wake-up call for a genre that’s forgotten its roots, and a reminder of what it can be at its best. Long live Sarcasm.

“Within the Sphere of Ephereal Minds” will be released on April 28, 2017 through Dark Descent Records. The album can be pre-ordered on digital and physical formats through the Bandcamp or through the record label’s webstore.