Calligram – ‘Askesis’

By James Lee

In late 2016, London-based noise-mongers Calligram unleashed their debut EP, ‘Demimonde’, on the UK hardcore scene. An assault of punishing D-beat and charred, blackened riffing, it was a terrifying and glorious introduction for the band, and one that threw down the gauntlet pretty hard. Like, too hard. That gauntlet is currently somewhere near the Earth’s core. So how do you follow up a debut that left such an impression without dropping the proverbial ball? It’s no easy task but on ‘Askesis’, the band’s first full length album (albeit one that’s technically only one song longer than ‘Demimonde’), Calligram have not only kept a firm grip on that ball, they’ve crushed the ball into dust with their mighty vice-like hands.

As soon as ‘Della Mancanza’ bolts out of the gate it’s clear that something has shifted in Calligram’s master plan in the last year. Though the song jolts into life with a raging crust-punk riff, it very quickly takes the left hand path into straight-up, honest-to-Satan Black Metal, and never really comes back. Though the band made their name on the hardcore circuit and managed to mix the two genres with plenty of dexterity on their EP, the interim has clearly seen them grow in confidence to be able to shed their more punk leanings and fully embrace the darkness. As such, this is a far more intimidating and claustrophobic listen than ‘Demimonde’, which given the context, is absolutely a good thing.

That first song evolves through multiple stages, each more terrifying than the last, until it hits a passage of murky dread towards the end, unsettling the listener just enough for them to be caught completely off-guard as the frenzied wall of blasts and riffs that open ‘Sinking Into Existence’ blow through like a gale force snow storm. Though there’s nothing even remotely ‘shoegaze’ about Calligram, there’s definitely a Deafheaven vibe as this song drops into half-time, the razor-tipped riffs giving way to haunting arpeggios and tremolo picking. It’s a rollercoaster of a track, that veers wildly from an almost Swedish Death Metal passage into an ending that brings to mind Behemoth at their most majestic.

Lead single ‘Scourge’ rips the speakers to shreds with its relentless drumming and vicious guitars, alternating between searing minor chords and malevolent chugs. The song’s back-half is a masterclass in creeping intensity, proving that everyone doesn’t need to be playing at light speed to be throttlingly heavy. The brittle interlude ‘Murderess’ calms the boiling blood, just in time for the thrilling penultimate cut ‘Entwined’ to send it bubbling over again. It’s an invigorating exercise in blackened extremity, and is by far the fastest song on the album, which works well to create some jarring juxtaposition, as it segues pretty seamlessly into the grand finale, ‘Lament’. Incorporating more of a doom and drone vibe in parts, the track is a brooding monolith compared to the direct assault found elsewhere on the album, however the dark atmosphere that clings to it feels perfectly in-line with everything that came before. It’s one hell of a send-off for a brief but bone-rattling album.

Now signed to UK heavyweights Basick Records, and with production by Lewis Johns (Svalbard, Rolo Tomassi, Employed To Serve), Calligram are likely to be even more visible than ever before in the heavy music world. Thankfully, with ‘Askesis’ they’ve created a statement of intent that is more than worthy of the extra attention that is about to be heaped upon their collective shoulders. It’s a brutal and emotionally draining experience, and it’s up there with the year’s best black metal releases. Jump on Calligram’s bandwagon now, because it’s about to get awfully full very soon.

JAMES LEE

Three more album reviews for you

LIVE: Northlane / ERRA @ Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

LIVE: Stick To Your Guns / Being As An Ocean @ O2 Academy, Islington

LIVE: PVRIS @ O2 Academy, Birmingham