Cruentus might just be the first band I've ever reviewed from Nepal, so it's a little bittersweet that it must be done posthumously, the band having separated some time ago. Still, Asantusta Aatma is worthwhile enough that the band deserves a mention, despite the obvious setbacks involved with the release: the geographic obscurity, and the lack of true cover art due to an issue between the designer and original artist. As one who is fascinated by Asian culture in general, I'll admit that I was hoping for a bit of an ethnic, aesthetic spin to Cruentus' music, perhaps in the vein of Singapore's Rudra, but that is not quite what manifests here. Having said that, this is a versatile act which enjoys pushing and pulling the listener through a number of dynamic shifts, sort of a melodic black and death metal hybrid who aren't afraid to snarl their fucking lungs out over cleaner guitar passages.
I admire the band's conviction to not repeat themselves through the various tracks. It's clear they spent a good deal of time writing and practicing for this, rattling riffs off with precision while straddling the death, black and thrash metal genres. The drums are a bit loud in the mix, yet they're constantly rolling out the fills and solid beats to provide an excellent backbone through tracks like "Beneath the Bleeding Moon" or "The Shadows of Darkness". The vocals are largely wrought from the black rasping camp, but they'll also incorporate deep, guttural growls that manage not to distract from the more streamlined, melodic surges of the guitars. I can't say that I actually love the axe-tone here, it feels a bit subdued next to the drums and snarling, but that doesn't necessarily detract from the riffs, which are carefully composed like a bastard stepson of Mayhem and Morbid Angel. Bright, devastating, and dissonant in equal measures, and what's surprising is that you'll even hear a strong undercurrent of good old epic heavy metal in tunes like the closer "Unknown Warrior".
With an underground band, you don't always expect the highest standards of production, and Asantusta Aatma does suffer slightly in this department. It's essentially a demo level recording. I already mentioned the volume of the drums, but the guitars also often vary enough in tone that it feels as if it were mixed down in various modular chunks. The clean guitars flow like rivers of remorse, note-wise, but they feel a bit too stripped down. Some extra effects applied to the tone might have bred better results ("In the Circle of Fear", "Bless Me With Thy Pain"). But these few gripes aside, Cruentus certainly proved they had the competence to go a lot further. The performances are tightly executed, the vocals ghastly and the writing not entirely dependent on any one influence. In short, something bordering on unique might have developed from the project had it endured, and Asantusta Aatma, while not always the most memorable experience, proves yet again that extreme metal can thrive from even the most unexpected corners of the world. If you're interested in such South or Southeastern Asian bands as Impiety, Rudra and Surrender of Divinity, this might not be a hard sell.
Verdict: Win [7/10]