rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Degenerate Era
02. Prism Black
03. Threads
04. Conflagrations
05. Daguerrotype
06. EarthRecycle
07. Threnody to a Dying Star

There is a lot to admire in bands that only emerge from the shadow when they have something to say. One of the most inventive and characterful bands to operate under the progressive death metal banner (whether they like it or not),  RANNOCH have only released two albums and one EP in the last decade, but from 2013's "Between Two Worlds" to 2020's "Reflections Upon Darkness", the Brits' music has been uniformly exceptional.

Arriving a relatively brief three years on from their last record, "Conflagrations" is the kind of epic, layered and immersive record that truly warrants the progressive tag. Meanwhile, their death metal credentials remain fully intact, which may strike a chord with anyone still upset about OPETH's evolution over the last 20 years. Not that it matters, bit RANNOCH are much darker, heavier and more vicious than Stockholm's finest ever were, and from the scattershot sprawl of "Prism Black" onwards, the blastbeat and brutality quotient on offer here is extremely generous.

Interspersed with moments of morbid elegance, traditional prog metal detours and barbed, brittle riffing redolent of (if you can imagine such a thing) an evil GOJIRA, these songs are stridently forward-thinking and close enough musically to your favorite NOVEMBERS DOOM albums to satisfy more straight-ahead tastes.

Above all, "Conflagrations" is a fascinating and deeply heavy voyage to progressive death metal's outer limits. RANNOCH are masters of the epic: both "Prism Black" and the lumbering eight-minute colossus of the title track are stunning and encompass everything from hammer-attack death metal to shimmering post-rock with spectral strings. Shorter but no less expansive, "Daguerrotype" is a blizzard of twisted tech-death, dense with virtuoso pyrotechnics and moments of gleeful deviance. "EarthRecycle" is a welcome moment of respite, as disembodied, mutant voices drift through clouds of spaced-out ambience and digital scree. Meanwhile, the brutish "Threads" confirms that RANNOCH are equally adept at succinct, punishing metal songs as they are at dark, meandering prog.

Speaking of which, the closing "Threnody to a Dying Star" may be the band's most outrageous composition of all. 17 minutes long and richly melodic, it begins, unapologetically, in old-school OPETH territory, before taking a hard left turn toward heavier, darker and less familiar pastures. Some of the riffs are as warped and menacing as MORBID ANGEL's Trey Azagthoth at his best, while others are fiendish in their cutting edge, machine-gun intricacy. Later, jazzy chords and a frisson of gentle euphoria give way to more gloriously nimble tech-death, replete with dexterous, opulent guitar solos and a brief, tense oasis of solo piano. The song's final four minutes are simply stunning, as a huge melodic vocal payoff mutates into a thunderous, groove-driven epilogue. If this isn't what people want, there really is no hope for humanity. RANNOCH are on magnificent form once again, and "Conflagrations" should be mandatory listening for inquisitive metalheads.

Author: Dom Lawson
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