Review of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

Band: Sickdeer
Album: The Wretched of the Earth
Release Date: 20 March 2017
Buy on CD ($10) or as digital files ($7) from: Bandcamp

Cover of The Wretched of the Earth by Sickdeer

You may have seen locals Sickdeer as they play out a lot! They seem to be one of the openers on many DIY metal shows in DC. In case you haven’t seen them yet, they’re playing a show at Slash Run tomorrow night (details here). Today we’re running a review of their debut album The Wretched of the Earth that they released this spring. As you might expect, DCHM writer Tal has a lot to say about this album. Be sure to stream it at the bottom of this post while you read.

I was truly surprised to hear of a band like Sickdeer in the DMV area. Usually, haunting black metal seeping with atmosphere seems to come from some far-off, mysterious place, like Eastern Europe or Russia, or at least Washington state or Utah. How could the urbanized and urbane (and sludge-choked) DC metropolitan area spawn something so atmospheric?

However it happened, I’m not complaining. Well, not a lot, anyway. I do have to say that the band’s name didn’t exactly scream “atmospheric black metal,” so it may not be the most effective marketing tool. Same for the album cover – with the black and white design and the medieval font, it channels Venom’s Black Metal pretty hard.

Once they got me in the door, though, I was quickly won over. “Retracting Accusations,” the first song on The Wretched of the Earth, starts off with an acoustic bit at the beginning, which sounds like it could have some Middle Eastern or Spanish influence. It seduces the listener into the album before the black metal barrage kicks in. Sickdeer is a bit more uptempo than your typical ABM band (which tend to have a more doomy tempo) but I’m going to stick with the atmospheric tag because of the sorrowful, cascading riffs that underpin every song.

They also have a strong groove to their music, especially in the second song, “Pitiful Ego.” It starts out slow but relentlessly driving, impossible to resist bobbing your head along to – at a nice measured pace. And then it picks up from time to time, including a little jackhammer death metal interlude in the middle.

That’s not the only death metal-ish thing about this album. The vocals are mostly a guttural roar, more like death metal vocals, only sometimes going into a raspy scream more typical of black metal. The vocals do get just a tad monotonous, but they do provide a nice contrast to the moodier, prettier atmospheric riffage.

Despite its dispirited title, “The Wretched of the Earth” might actually be the most beautiful song on the album, with a drawn-out, doomy melody. It also has the only annoying vocals. It’s pretty hard to annoy me with black metal vocals — I’m a sucker for the dirtiest, snarliest, gargliest black metal vocals out there — but there’s a part in the middle which sounds like a yowling cat which I don’t enjoy. That may be the point, of course, since some metal bands make a point to be unpleasant to the ears. And it may be that I’ll get used to it, as I have to countless other types of, ahem, unusual metal vocals.

Based on the song titles (I can’t make out most of the lyrics) the lyrical themes of the album seem to be typical black/death metal subject matter – how despicable we all are (“Pitiful Ego,” “The Wretched of the Earth”), how fleeting and doomed our existence (“Sand to Dust,” “Awaiting the Trench”). No nature or fantasy themes here. No clean vocals or choirs either.

I wonder if the band set out to create an “atmospheric black metal” album, or that’s just what The Wretched of the Earth ended up sounding like. Either way, it’s still a great gift to our local metal scene – a mysterious far-away place to lose ourselves in when the DC traffic and politics get to be too much.

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