On no level is Sins of the Elders a minor undertaking. The debut full-length from Conclave arrives via PATAC Records and Lost Apparitions Records as a 63-minute-long slab of doomed punishment, telling much of the story of its sound with its cover: harsh, draconian, violent. Stoned to death. And so they are. Marked out by their lineup featuring members of unsung heroes Warhorse in bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne and Noreaster sludge bastards Grief in guitarist Terry Savastano, along with guitarist Jeremy Kibort and drummer Dan Blomquist, Conclave bring a pedigree of extremity into their debut that builds on the downward vibes of their 2014 debut EP, Breaking Ground (review here), while seeming to build an impenetrable wall with its heft of both tone and atmosphere. Easy listening it is not.
Recorded by Eric Braunschweiger at Raven’s Head Studio in MA, the majority of the nine tracks on Sins of the Elders — which I actually suspect is something of a gag title; the band being the elders, the songs being the sins — rests comfortably in the eight-to-nine-minute range, with the exception of the intro “Descend,” the quiet outro “Kaltas” and the more raging “Cold Comfort,” positioned before the pre-outro title-track, and its feel becomes as much about the entire forward slog than any individual piece’s bludgeonry. Standout moments like the second half of centerpiece “Mammut,” with its German samples and war sounds and landmark riff, and the chorus of “Cut it Off” prior, do much to anchor the proceedings, but taken as a whole, the cruel design of Sins of the Elders is encompassing in its darkness and unremittingly extreme.
That’s not to say it doesn’t groove, because it absolutely does, just that it has the absolute potential to overwhelm some listeners and that’s according to what sounds like the band’s obvious intent. Those averse to growling vocals will bristle at Orne‘s gruff, sometimes grunted, delivery, timed rhythmically to the riffs and almost universally miserable-sounding, but it’s an essential component in the atmosphere Conclave conjure. Credit to Blomquist for making a track like “Funeral Fyre” — which follows the quiet, spacious, raining, spoken-word-over-guitar intro “Descend” — have such a sense of march. While Kibort, Savastano and Orne are chugging away at the second verse, the drummer is subtly injecting a bit of swing and getting away with it admirably, double-kicking through a quick standout lead section and a late chorus before crashes complement the rumbling and sparse, mournful guitar ending, which leads right into “Black Lines.”
Slower at its start, “Black Lines” is among the album’s most aggressive cuts by the time it gets to the midpoint, and damn near uptempo in its last minute-plus, picking up a faster riff and riding it toward the eight-minute finish line. The aforementioned “Cut it Off” follows, finding some balance in terms of pacing but letting go of none of the severity for its relatively straightforward verse/chorus structure, breaking in the second half after its first guitar solo to bridge to a second, longer one before another faster ending takes complete hold, almost blindsiding the listener even though they did basically the same thing one song before. Easier to pull that kind of thing off when you have a varied songwriting process, it would seem.
Air raid sirens blare at the start of “Mammut” and the intro riff to the song itself serves as the bomb being dropped. Fair enough. Apart from the already-noted samples, “Mammut” is the only instrumental on Sins of the Elders apart from the opener and closer, and all the more interesting that they should make it the centerpiece, but it leads into the grueling and massive “Aethereum,” which echoes out its central guitar figure over a rolling beat that somewhat revives the march of “Funeral Fyre” but turns toward a guitar solo in its midsection and then back for another round through the verse and chorus before its fade. One might expect “Cold Comfort” as the only non-segue track under seven minutes long to be faster or more geared toward the death metal side of Conclave‘s sound, but it isn’t, really.
Like its surroundings, it lacks nothing for force, but doesn’t seem to be willfully readjusting the scales when it comes to one aspect of their personality over the other as it makes its way toward the title-track, which is the longest cut on Sins of the Elders at 9:31 and from which no light seems to escape. Between Orne‘s shouts and the push of guitars, bass and drums accompanying, its second half particularly is like a revelry of the damned, moving toward and through a chorus and solo that serve as the album’s apex before finishing noisy and turning over to the quiet guitar, bass and cymbal wash of “Kaltas” that bring the madness to an end. That Conclave would have an idea of what they wanted to accomplish going into their first full-length isn’t really a surprise given their experience and what they were able to bring to the prior EP, but Sins of the Elders excels in its pummel and its blend of heavy riffing and harder sentiments. It is brutal in concept and execution.