Review: Stratuz “Osculum Pacis” [Sliptrick Records]

Review: Stratuz “Osculum Pacis” [Sliptrick Records]

- in Reviews
Score 90%
so close, but shy of being great
90 %
User Rating : 4.4 (1 votes)

Stratuz’s Osculum Pacis can be summarized in one sentiment: almost. Their blend of symphonic death-doom with influences of melodic black metal is almost refined; their dynamic compositions and riffcraft almost sink their hooks all the way in; Franklin Berroterán’s vocal performance almost carries the rest of the bombast to an absolutely electric height; their production almost opens up widely and largely and powerfully enough. If I take all of the elements of their sound and pull them apart to look at them individually, all the pieces are there and executed extremely well— but it just comes short of clicking together all the way to make real magic, and the end result is a listen that’s good, but constantly teasing much, much greater potential, which ultimately leaves a frustrating aftertaste in the wake of what would otherwise be an excellent record.

It’s a feeling that comes immediately with the opening salvo of “Morning Star”, kicking off after two minutes of slowly-rising buildup and escalating strings, as where one would expect a blast-beating explosion of ferocity, or a truly gigantic riff to pay it all off, they settle into a mid-paced, marching chug, which becomes their default mode throughout the majority of the album, and one of its most persistent frustrations— they constantly return to a space not quite heavy (or mixed powerfully) enough to truly immerse me in the atmosphere, nor slow or restrained enough for marinating in the moody interludes and constant string presence, leaving me standing slightly outside of the. The rare occasions in which the tempo opens up and Stratuz lets loose, such as in the climax of “Father Amorth(e)” or the end of “In the Name of God” and to a lesser extent the end of “Dawn”, are some of the best moments of the album; the fact that they spend a large chunk of “Condemned” in that space just demonstrates that they’re capable of leveraging the force that sits dormant under the surface most of the time, and adds a really annoying sting to what would otherwise be an amazing closer. Geronimo Egea is so close to being a titan, here, in a way that almost flips the strong Septicflesh influence on its head and makes Christos Antoniou’s recent years of aimless chugging seem like a waste of time, but it always feels like he’s just short of finding the riff that’ll make me stop drifting back out of the music. It doesn’t help that they spend a significant chunk of the runtime on soft, atmospheric interludes, which, while enjoyable and immersive, and clearly meant to provide consistent contrast to the more aggressive material, especially with regards to pacing, also tend to excessively drag the momentum to a crawl, with an eyebrow-raising number of occasions on which the band would repeatedly dip back in and out without sufficient space for either mode to really breathe and fully express the idea. They’ve almost got the balance juuuust right, but if they could tip a little further back into their aggression it goes from “very good” to “absolutely killer”.

A similar sentiment strikes me with regards to Franklin, whose vocal performance is admirable throughout, but very reserved about using his impressive screams; it’s understandable from a perspective of maintaining their substance, but he holds back on more than a few dramatic moments in a way that robs them of greater impact. The compensation for this is that the rhythm section, both Leonardo and Diego, are excellent throughout, providing both standout moments (there are some incredible bass riffs and licks that play subtly but powerfully around Geronimo) and a steady foundation for the more complicated arrangements and symphonic accompaniment. Everything integrates well, and there’s generally very little crowding of the mix or losing one element in the chaos, except for the sparse occasions where the bass could arguably move further up into the mix and take a more prominent position— Leonardo has chops. Still, there’s some room for improvement, inasmuch as they have room to take things further and get heavier, and a fair bit more intense and up-front, as to lend greater weight and gravitas to the passages of plodding doom; it would do a fair bit to alleviate some of the less compelling sections of mid-tempo chugging that especially drag on the early half of the record.

Ultimately, though, these are all just nitpicks, improvements, refinements; what they already have is, not just in spite of but especially because of the potential thrumming within it, undeniably pretty damn great. A lot of symphonic death metal misses the balance, disintegrates into boring chugging coasting off the gimmick, or simply comes across as untenably goofy, but Stratuz make compelling metal music at the core that is then given a glow and some wings by the tasteful application of atmosphere; the only thing that frustrates me is that if they just pushed things that little bit further, they could absolutely soar.

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