HAUNTER – Sacramental Death Qualia

HAUNTER – Sacramental Death Qualia

Ever since Opeth abdicated their progressive death metal throne with the 2011 "Heritage" the likes of In Mourning and Barren Earth sought to reseat it. With their 2nd opus this Texan trio merges the 1995-1998 period with Gorguts, Deathspell Omega and Immolation, as a challenge to all concerned, for one of the most complex, difficult yet rewarding albums this year.

Haunter emerged in 2015 as a screamo metal band on the independently released demo. A split with Moths (2015) followed before they finally independently released their debut album, "Thronodia" (2016) to great acclaim. More splits with Black Vice (2017), Sovereign (2017) and Crawl (2018) precipitated the record deal with I, Voidhanger Records for the release of the 5 track subject of this review. The Texan band today consists of three members: Bradley Tiffin (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards), Enrique Bonilla (guitars) and Mark Cruz (drums).

I don’t think anyone could have anticipated an album of the "Sacrificial Death Qualia" magnitude, given the Americans’ humble beginnings. That they were able to take the essence of early Opeth from their first three albums (Orchid, Morningrise, My Arms Your Hearse), the period when Opeth’s sound could not yet be easily categorized as either death or black (compare "April Ethereal" to Emperor’s "With Strength I Burn") while already insanely progressive, and craft incredible compositions with that alone is already incredible enough, but they also incorporated early Immolation, Deathspell Omega and Gorguts with the melodicism of 1998 Katatonia and early Daylight Dies as well as taking several pages from In Mourning (most notably on the title track).

Two of the five tracks, the aforementioned title track, and "Spoils Vultured Upon Sole Deletion" (most like the early Opeth), are perfect concoctions of light and dark, beauty and ugliness, melody and brute force, while the Death/Extol-ic opener, "Dispossessed Phrenic Antiquity" (to a lesser degree) and Gorguts-y/Obituary-ish "Subversion Of A Heathen Tongue" are excercises of gradual brutality with more pronounced death metal while still with plenty of acoustic noodling here and there, showing that these compositions are still a little too rough around the edges and two chaotic, especially with respect to Bradley’s vicious drips of utter hatred also known as vocals on that latter track. The remaining, almost all acoustic "Abdication" sticks out as a barrier and a transition between the two aspects, the track over 8 minutes long of mostly, admittedly gorgeous, acoustics, which some will find to their advantage while others may see it as a flaw.

I tend to swing with the latter crowd. While "Abdication" is, again, doubtless, a work of beauty and skill, it is such a switch in the middle of chaos it should have been satisfied at under 4 minutes as an interlude. Sure, approximately halfway it recalls melodic atmospherics of Anathema’s "The Silent Enigma" but, man, do you wish for a growl even more than you did on the aforementioned Opeth’s "Heritage"!

Who could have seen Haunter as a threat to In Mourning or Barren Earth I must calm them down for Haunter, while already incredibly advanced and well on their way, are not quite at that level yet, more like a half-transformed catterpillar than a full blown butterfly, at this stage. But did not Art Berg rightly quip "while the difficult takes time, the impossible just takes a little longer"?