American death metallers, Cast the Stone, return after 13 years with their second release, an EP called Empyrean Atrophy. Empyrean Atrophy was released on the 31st of August via Agonia Records.
Cast the Stone appear to be a bit of a side project, with members that are active in other bands too, as well as having been in many bands over their career. Mark Kloeppel is on guitars and backing vocals for Cast the Stone. He is also on guitars and vocals for Misery Index and the guitarist for one of Phil Anselmo’s bands, Scour. Jesse Schobel is on drums and was also the drummer in Scour until 2017 and is also the drummer in Oracle. On bass, and backing vocals, is Derek Engemann who is also the guitarist for Scour and bassist for China Girl, Conflux and Covenance. Engemann has also played with the likes of Cattle Decapitation and Christ Hate. Finally, lead the lead vocalist is Andrew Huskey who appears to be the only band member with any free time.
Photo by William Fields Photography
Cast the Stone released their debut album way back in 2005 with Dark Winds Descending after officially forming in 2002. I don’t really remember it, I don’t think but with a 13 year gap between releases, you can’t help wonder “what is the point?”. On the other hand, any new black/death metal release is welcome so let’s see how welcome a return it is for Cast the Stone.
Empyrean Atrophy is 6 tracks and around 27 minutes in length. Within the first few seconds of EP opener, As the Dead Lie, you get a sense of proper traditional blackened death metal. The guitars have a distorted edge to them, the drums crash with power and the bass is prominent and powerful. There is a slow and sinister groove to the start which disappears when the dark and guttural vocals join in. The vocals are very deep, dark and powerful and kick the track into gear. The drums explode in flurries of beats with a lot of cymbal use. the guitars play a quick and sodden riff. Different toned deathly roars add backing to some of the lead vocals conjuring forth images of screaming demons crawling out from a hell pit. Its heavy, a little retro and brilliant.
The title track, Empyrean Atrophy is another furious belter. It kicks straight in with fiery force but switches things up a little with a more modern and progressive riff in the verses. A slowed down breakdown again adds a little variety before the track ends with a pit destroying section.
A Plague of Light is similar in its forcefulness running at a speedy pace with quickly spat vocal lines. A little extra spice gets added with a slow down to a melodic and atmospheric centre. A gentle acoustic guitar plays over soft drum taps before a squealing lead comes in and plays a sweet little solo. This breather lasts for just a few seconds though before the instruments and vocals come in at their heaviest for a crescendo of terror. Jesusatan is a bit more of a standard, straight up mosh the hell out of it death metal track. It is the final song on the EP and maybe not the best one to close on.
There is also a 2 and a bit minute long instrumental which is purely acoustic and a bit bland. I guess it is meant to serve as respite, or atmosphere building but instead sticks out as really out of place amongst so much heaviness. That negative aside though, the second track on the EP is called The Burning Horizon. This is the song they should have closed with. It is brilliant.
It is the longest track on the EP at almost 7 and a half minutes and is a black/death metal masterpiece. A building acoustic intro is joined by blasting drums and drawn out guitar notes. The vocals come in, deathly and powerful, over a slow tempo, bass heavy riff that sounds majestic. There are progressive elements mixed in with the traditional sound in the stop/start guitar sections and drum timings. The whole song manages to create, and suck you in to, this thick dark atmosphere and weigh down on you. It is heavy, but slower and gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing with excitement.
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As a whole Empyrean Atrophy ticks a lot of boxes. They really smashed it out of the park with The Burning Horizon but it isn’t alone in being a good song. Intensely heavy, very traditional but with a few more progressive elements scattered throughout the songs to show they have variety and creativity aplenty. I think they would have left a bigger impression ending on something like The Burning Horizon and I don’t really get the point of the instrumental but otherwise, wow. A cracking release and lets hope they don’t leave it another 13 years before we get another one.
Empyrean Atrophy is out now on your preferred streaming service, like Apple Music, or Spotify. You can grab a copy from Agonia Records on Bandcamp here. Find out more on Cast the Stone by following them at their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.
Empyrean Atrophy by Cast the Stone (Agonia Records)
The Final Score - 9/10