Lions of Tsavo – it’s a good name isn’t it? It sounds like an ancient order of knights or maybe a South African football team. Actually they are named after a notorious pride of man-eating lions, and this Austin, Texas three-piece do sound suitably vicious. The band is often described as playing blackened death metal but on new album “Traverser” show they have several other claws to their paw.
Diversity is evident right from the off on ‘Circuitous’, an atmospheric instrumental that happily reminds me of Adrift For Days before heading into a black metal maelstrom of furious drums and superfast picked guitars, and then the relief (!) of a big, dirty riff. ‘Tunnel Giant’ again impresses with its Whitechapel-meets-early-Mastodon progressive, but brutal, blackened death metal. There’s lots of twists and turns but the band return to its central motifs enough to keep the identity of the song.
By ‘Bestial Heavens’, with its gnarly, unpleasant Kreator vibe, you begin to notice the songs are all propelled by the absolutely thunderous drumming of Josh Dawkins. He’s not especially flashy but everything is done with utter, brutal conviction. He doesn’t rely on blast beats or tinny-sounding blurred repetition, but a rattling, rolling restlessness which I find more more interesting.
The Adrift For Days comparisons return on the epic ‘Sea of Crises’ and ‘Betlahars’ – a progressive but trippy and slightly slower number to begin with, with a nice head-nodding quality, but which does inevitably descend back into vicious death metal territory and launches another big fat buzzing riff.
Speaking of riffs, ‘Chemotrophs’ may be the best one here and the ragged death metal tear-up reminds me of the more extreme moments on American Heritage‘s last album, bringing a little sludgecore to the mix. Vocalist and guitarist Ryan Chamberlain handles all the various style changes, from mournful, moody, hardcore howling to whacked-out, crazy, satanic growling with utter mastery – good job Ryan.
This tendency to start out weird and then get blacker is common across most of the songs on this album. Title track (sort of) ‘Traverser of Guriin’ begins as a Wolves In The Throne Room-esque muso black metal workout but then gets more thuggish and direct, and once again you’re dragged into the pit by the maniacal drumming of Dawkins.
It has to be said than none of these songs are that strong on individual hooks, but they do have the knack of keeping the listener engaged with changes in style and tempo, and none of it sounds formulaic or tired. The sheer malevolent spirit and utter wild-eyed conviction forces you to keep listening. It is car-crash fascinating and sickly addictive. Having said that, I personally need the occassional melody in my music, and this is hard going over the course of an entire album. It is possible to lose yourself in its soothing din and let the horror wash over you but when it’s over it leaves you strangely unmoved. It’s like the memory of a roller coaster ride, abstract and unreal, the adrenalin rush no longer accessible.