It's never made sense that Santa Fe isn't more of a hub for excellent black metal music. The genre has its fans, sure, but even our dense, hyperactive metal scene generally churns out more death, thrash and technical metal than the grave-soiled corpse-painted icy riffs of the true evil you look for in a great serving of black metal.
Santa Fe's history of cultural and religious clashes lays the perfect foundation for bands to respond within the genre, which has always been set against the status quo and Christian society. The formative Brazilian thrashers of black metal had Christ the Redeemer looming over them to oppose, and the Scandinavians had the erasure of their pagan origins at the hands of Christian agents; these are the hotbeds from whence black metal came in the '80s and '90s.
It's not difficult to see the monoliths of Catholicism and the other complex cultural narratives of New Mexico and wonder who's willing to grease-paint their faces and take up guitars.
Heretical Sect is here to take up that weighty mantle. The group hails from Santa Fe, and that's all the personal information they're willing to release. In true cultish form, the band prefers to remain an anonymous (and hooded) collective in an intentional move to keep the focus on the music. Their debut EP
Rotting Cosmic Grief is currently
available digitally and on CD, cassette and vinyl thanks to Redefining Darkness Records, Caligari Records and Vendetta Records, respectively. So, let's set the fun, shadowy aesthetic aside and focus on the music.
Simply being "one of the few" black metal bands from Santa Fe isn't enough. What matters most is that it is excellent material and one of the most exciting releases to come out of Santa Fe in a long time. The EP was recorded mostly live at DIY venue The Cave by Kyle Morgan of Ash Borer, Vanum and Superstition fame, which already gives it a sheen of dungeon-like murkiness thanks to his ear for all things dark and loud. The songs have a sonic clarity with just the right amount of grit.
Rather than simply exist as another Emperor or Mayhem clone, Heretical Sect moves fluidly between ages of black metal, at times recalling the early days of the genre when Quorthon of Bathory was setting the tone and tempo at a war drum-esque mid-paced bludgeoning. This often gives Heretical Sect a doom metal quality while still keeping melodically to the strange phrasing of the guitars which, in turn, keep in step with the melancholia that persists throughout modern-day black metal.
EP highlight "Punish the Christ" shows off the band's range, trudging gloomily into a battery of
tremolo-chugged riffs and the harsh echoing rasp of vocals that float like a bitter mist over the proceedings. You can all but reach up to your forehead to sweep away the cobwebs sticking to it, and it remains energetic while funereal, as all good black metal should. The song sits alongside another great track, "Plateau of Stars," as a means of solidifying Heretical Sect's de facto mission statement: thematically
pairing the "physical and spiritual genocides of the Southwest" with evocations of the region's natural beauty.
According to the group's statement, the "expansive skies, deep canyons, painted red rocks" are all "witnesses to untold butchery and grief."
Such worship of the natural world is present in
"Plateau of Stars," making use of a palette no less intense than the other three tracks, but with melodies soaring a bit higher and reaching a pained, beautiful ecstasy in an otherwise harsh landscape.
It's the band's ear and appreciation for these types of juxtapositions, and their knowledge and respect of both their home and of the genres they're referencing that create a powerful, impactful statement that resonates on a scale beyond just Santa Fe. Rotting Cosmic Grief is simply a document of great black metal.
Heretical Sect with UADA, Wormwitch, Cloak and Dysphotic
7 pm Thursday April 18. $15-$18.
Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery,
2791 Agua Fría St.;