Welcome to Death’s Door! Please wipe your feet on the mat. This portion of hell is particularly bloody, and I will NOT mop the floor again today. Grab a stiff drink, pull up a chair of bones, and let’s sit around the roiling fires of eternal damnation whilst we discuss one of my favorite things: death metal. 2016 was a great year for the stuff. Blood Incantation. Ulcerate. Gorguts. Mithras. Yeah, it was a good time. Death metal as a whole has been experiencing a creative resurgence as of late, praise be to our loathsome and infernal overlords of metal. A quick glance at Bandcamp’s metal page or Spotify’s myriad of death metal playlists will provide a clear indication of just how widespread the resurgence of death metal has become, with dozens upon dozens of bands vying for your rage-filled attention. Our bloody cup runneth over, and there is much rejoicing.
The only major caveat to this influx of new bands is that, quite frankly, some of them aren’t any good. While “good” is obviously a very subjective term that will depend on the preferences of the listener, I think most of us could agree that we’ve heard some straight garbage albums in the world of death metal. Rushed, poorly produced and performed, lacking in historical grounding, and overall just… bad. Thankfully, we’re not here to talk about what is wrong with death metal, but instead where it excels. Thus, a brief explanation of this column and its intent.
Death’s Door is intended to cover three to five new death metal releases each month from across the wide, diverse spectrum of the death metal world (OSDM, tech death, deathgrind, death doom, the list goes on) that I believe are worthy of recognition. I also plan on throwing a few singles into the mix as well. It is not intended to be a definitive list of the most amazing albums on the planet (I don’t have the time to listen to everything, dammit!), but instead a collection of albums and songs in the death metal subgenre that I found enjoyable and valuable that did not receive full reviews or extended coverage by the blog that month. This column is also meant to spark discussion. What albums did you enjoy? Why do you think they are worthy of recognition? The comments section is open for you to discuss your favorites with fellow death metal lovers (and to yell at me for neglecting to hear or refusing to enjoy your favorite band’s new release, which, I mean… fight me). I look forward to reading about albums you love. It’s metal, it’s awesome, and I’m glad you’re here. Without further delay, let’s dive in!
Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
You are going to notice a pattern in some of these releases. That common thread is Dark Descent records. Good god are they dropping death metal gems this year. One of those gems comes from a band hailing from San Diego, California, that plays the most thoroughly ferocious and nasty death metal I have heard in a very good while. Abhorrent Manifestation, the band’s debut album following a flurry of demos and EPs over the past few years, is a petulant, ferocious spray of bloody death metal goodness.
Ascended Dead deal primarily in atmosphere, which becomes apparent within the first ten seconds of the opening track, “The Promised Time”. These songs sound like a fleet of ice demons self-immolating in a very large cave. This is some absolutely gnarly stuff, and the dread-drenched fog the band envelopes their music in does not lift throughout the album’s duration, creating a specter of outright terror and mania that makes this album one of the more visceral listening experiences I have had this year. “Blood Thirst”, “Perdition”, and “Last Ritual” highlight a very cool melding of atmosphere and technical dexterity, as the guitars swirl, churn, and bludgeon the listener through the atmospheric haze. This album means to beat you senseless. It is not intended to excite your mind with overtly technical flair or songwriting prowess, and it accomplishes its mission of destruction brilliantly.
Venenum – Trance of Death
You might not have heard of Germany’s death metal maestros Venenum before now. That would be nothing to be ashamed of. I only stumbled upon their existence this past month, and I am so glad that I did. Germany isn’t particularly well known for its death metal scene, but Venenum intend to change that. With Trance of Death, they have created an album that is worthy of every drop of praise it has thus far received. Founded several years back as a trio, then growing into a quartet with the release of Trance of Death, Venenum had only released an EP (self-titled and well-received back in 2011) up to this year. Six years in the making, this album is worth every moment they spent on it, and every second you invest in it.
I’m not really sure how to fully describe this record. It’s death metal, with black and progressive metal elements. It begins with a full string passage that is gorgeous and highly unusual for a record in any of these subgenres. To me, all of this diversity isn’t a knock on the record, but rather a ringing endorsement of this band’s ability to blend unique and unusual sounds into a cohesive, well-constructed and highly aggressive whole. Guitarists P.T. and D.P. work marvelously together, creating sound structures that feel oddly intricate and punishing in equal measure. The “Trance of Death” trilogy of tracks that end the album are an absolute masterclass of how to make death metal that is simultaneously pleasing and deadly. Let it be known that this record rips, and this band will be popping up on many year-end lists come December.
Gorephilia – Severed Monolith
Again with the Dark Descent love. Like label-mates Lantern (whose album II: Morphosis is excellent. Check our review here!), Gorephilia hail from the far northern paradise of Finland. Actually, I cannot verify its utopian stature. I’ve never been there. But if I were to judge Finland by Gorephilia’s music it would be a nasty, brutish, especially lethal place. Because that’s how Gorephilia rolls. With their second album, Severed Monolith, the band has brought forth into the world a space horror epic of grand proportion. Akin in many ways to Blood Incantation’s brilliant Starspawn, Gorephilia plums the lyrical and conceptual depths of the void that is space. It’s a punishing ride that fans of old school death metal will relish.
Stylistically, Severed Monolith doesn’t provide listeners with many frills. This is straight-up OSDM, executed to near perfection. “Interplanar”, “Return to Dark Space”, and the gargantuan “Crushed Under the Weight of God” are all pristine instances of traditional death metal done right, though examples can be found in nearly every track on this record. The guitar work by Pauli Gurko and Jukka Aho is classic without feeling derivative, Tami Luukkonen and Kauko Kuusisalo’s rhythm section provides ample headbang-ready moments, and Nemesis’ vocals sputter and roar with the force of a true villain. It’s a quintet that is very comfortable in its own skin, plays to its strengths, and brings us on one of the more hellishly fun rides of 2017. Tons of fun to be had here.
TRACKS OF NOTE:
Succumb – “Survival”
Succumb is based in San Francisco, and to most of the metal world was relatively unknown until they dropped the first single from their self-titled debut, “Survival”. Needless to say, they are now on my radar. This track is absolutely world destroying. Imagine if Gorguts got just a little tired of the constant noodling, decided to meet up with Krallice for a drink, got absolutely hammered and started a fight with Altarage and Portal. That’s kind of what this sounds like, and you need to listen to it right now.
Necrowretch – “Curse of Blasphemy”
It’s pretty hard to get more metal than Necrowretch. Approaching a decade in age, these French death dealers are throwing some serious punches in preparation for their third album, Satanic Slavery. Necrowretch have always mixed the worlds of death and black metal impeccably well, and that trait is very evident in this track. The pummeling opening blasts and tremelo picking herald the wretched intensity to come, and the remainder of “Curse of Blasphemy” does not disappoint. The track is relentless, smashing faces as the death metal legends of old intended. Eagerly anticipating this release.
Full of Hell – “Deluminate”
Yeah, I know. This one is tricky. Full of Hell aren’t death metal, you say. Well, it’s pretty hard to hear this track and not feel the raw, palpable influence of the absolutely filthiest side of death metal permeating it. One of my favorites for a good while, this band has been melding death metal influences into their compositions for a minute now, but never as effectively as they do here. The eerie, perfectly fitting Werner Herzog sample from Burden of Dreams sets the tone to a barely over a minute deluge of death and mayhem. It’s savage. It’s vile. It’s everything you want the most extreme music to be. Track is gold. Trumpeting Ecstasy should be a banger.
What are your picks for the month in death metal? Which bands would you include in or exclude from this list? What death metal tracks and albums did you enjoy? Fire away in the comments. Until next month!