Northern Spain is home to a wide variety of legends and folklore tales. One of them is “La Santa Compaña”, a myth that revolves around a procession. The procession is leaded at midnight by a living person carrying a cross and holy water. This is not the bizarre part. The person is then followed by a flock of grieving souls in white robes with candles. While very few people are capable of seeing the dead, they leave behind the scent of wax in the air. Those who claim to have seen or felt their presence say they hear prayers or funerary songs. While no one knows precisely the meaning of their march, many suspect it is a way of announcing an impending death – another soul to join the ghastly congregation.
Galicia is not the first region that comes to mind for many when thinking of Spain. This part of the country is full of green pastures; cold weather and a generous dose of rain that would make one feel they’re somewhere else apart from a place renowned for its warm weather and sunny beaches. Yet Galicia is home to some of the most impressive sights Spain has to offer, from Finisterre (where the world ended according to the Romans) to Santiago de Compostela – a world famous pilgrimage site frequented by thousands of people a year. It is also home to stories like the one above, a region where anecdotes of mystical beings and strange spirits wander and can be found in the depths of the forest or at nighttime.
If there were a band that sonically represents these beautiful yet enigmatic landscapes, it would be Sartegos (roughly translated as sarcophagus in Galician). The band has been around a number of years, leaded by one man under the name “Rou” and producing a trail of demos, EPs and splits. This year marks the release of their debut, O Sangue Da Noite (The Blood of Night) and it continues their brand of off-kilter extreme metal.
Pigeonholing Sartegos’s sound is not easy to do, but it would be a cauldron of different sounds drawing from all over the spectrum. If one were to draw a comparison, it would be Mortuary Drape laced with an array of influences drawing from classic heavy metal, doom and early death metal. While Mortuary Drape’s occult sounds conjure images of underground tombs, Sartegos craft an expansive atmosphere that is nocturnal in feeling.
Sartegos draw from a wide pool of influences, which makes their sound very dynamic. Even the vocal department, sometimes the weakest point in extreme metal, is on point here. Some of the tracks, in addition to the low grunts of frontman Rou, are accompanied by sudden sporadic choral singing that catches you by surprise. Yet the real highlight of the album is the excellent guitar work. Sartegos do a good job of balancing the mid-tempo rhythm passages with the more rapid blast beating before the swift transition to the beautifully played guitar solos that could just as easily be in any classic heavy metal album. Another way to view it is that one moment it feels you’re listening to a standard black metal album in the vein of the early Norwegian scene and the next you’re knee deep in melodies that wouldn’t be far removed from the 90s Czech or Greek Black Metal scene.
One tracks that highlights all these attributes is the longest one clocking in at 7 minutes, “As Devesas som dos Lobos” (the forest belongs to the wolves). After an eerie synth intro, the song launches into a repetitive yet hypnotic mid-tempo rhythm that suddenly bursts into a section with of furious blast beats. Before you know it, the song reaches a crescendo with a majestic and wild guitar solo accompanied by the aforementioned choral singing. The song fades away with a calm and tranquil melody, almost sounding like the night giving way to the day.
This melting pot is ultimately what makes O Sangue Da Noite such an excellent debut and one that distinguishes itself significantly. While some bands may be content rehashing riffs from the past, Sartegos take the sounds of the early 90s Black Metal sound and re-imagine them to create an album that is an open celebration of the mystical and bizarre tales that inhabit Galicia. In the liner notes, Rou talks about how many of the songs in album deal with the connection of the region’s local tales to more broad occult subjects.
Sartegos may be a bit off kilter for those seeking a straightforward experience with their extreme metal. But for those looking to push their comfort zone and try out truly bizarre and unique Black/Death, Sartegos offer a great initial offering and hopefully the desire for many to get acquainted with this unique and beautiful region of Spain.
Album rating: 90/100
Favorite track: As Devesas som dos Lobos