Welcome to our latest edition of Death’s Door. Wipe your feet on the mat, etc. There’s a lot to discuss this month, though frankly, I had my doubts at certain points about whether or not there would be. You see, July tends to be a musical doldrums for yours truly, with lots of leftover releases that didn’t make it into the prime Spring and early Summer release calendar clogging streaming services with mundane/barely serviceable drivel. Obviously, this makes for some not-so-great listening experiences. Thankfully, July pulled through regardless, delivering unto us another fantastic batch of death metal releases that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of 2017. So much so, in fact, that we are foregoing our new tracks section to focus exclusively on the great records released this month. So prepare yourself for some good stuff and thank your lucky stars, because hell hath no fury like a month without good death metal.
You may also have noticed the “our” in the first sentence of this column. That’s because my infernal friend and fellow overlord of death and destruction Scott Murphy has joined us to bring some recommendations of his own! You’d be shocked how hard it is to get into hell willingly, what with customs, visa regulations, etc. Thankfully, Scott’s angelic voice didn’t keep him out, because his picks are primo. But enough talking about how great this month was—let’s give you some listening suggestions instead.
Cream of the Crop:
Tchornobog – Tchornobog
Ambition is often a two-edged sword. Anyone familiar with metal at all knows this to be true. A grand vision does not equate to fantastic music, and many a well-intentioned band have been crushed by the weight of their own conceptual bravado. Releases by Markov Saroka tend not to fall prey to this malady, as the one-man band has released forward-thinking yet razor sharp records under the Aureole and Slow monikers to some level of critical and general acclaim. With a fairly sterling career already established before unleashing his newest batch of fresh hell upon us under the guise of Tchornobog (yes, that deity from Slavic mythology and Disney’s Fantasia fame), expectations for this project were understandably high. While there are plenty of one-man projects out there vying for attention in the furthest recesses of Bandcamp, Tchornobog rises directly to the top. Mainly because Tchornobog is exceptional in every metric, and one of the most lethal metal albums to be released this year.
Describing the sonic template of this album is genuinely challenging, mostly because it is pretty difficult to classify what subgenres this album primarily exists in. At its core, this is fierce and loathsome death metal, coupled with fiery black metal overtones, drenched in an atmospheric doom metal haze with a smattering of avant-garde ambiance and horns on the side. This is one of the more genuinely epic and unique albums I have listened to in this subgenre for some time. It’s a special record that is completely unafraid to isolate, frustrate, and challenge the listener until he or she is bent completely to its will. This is a record to get utterly and hopelessly lost in, and it shows from the opening seconds of the record to its wild and bludgeoning finale.
Aside from the ferocity of the album on an aesthetic level, it’s impossible to pull of without some level of technical acuity. Saroka’s instrumental prowess on this record (along with incredible guest appearances from members of Svartidaudi and Esoteric) is sensational, bringing unique style and verve to each of his performances. Vocally, he excels in creating a frightening and altogether unpleasant atmosphere that sounds like a soul wailing from the caves of hell. His mastery of his craft is most keenly evident in the albums opening track “The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods of Cognitive Dissonance)”, where Saroka peels back the layers of our subconscious by unleashing a death metal fury unmatched by the vast majority of modern death metal records released this year. The maelstrom only intensifies in “Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)”, which has an unrelentingly harsh and ferocious opening few minutes. Horns, atmospherics, and other more experimental elements populate the record as well, creating a suffocating yet at times oddly gentle listening experience. This is death metal imagined with the complexity and vision of high art. In almost every conceivable way, it succeeds brilliantly.
I honestly don’t know how else to describe this thing. It is all-encompassing, soul-destroying, mind-melting music that needs to be experienced to be understood. So stop reading about it and listen to it. Prepare to be destroyed.
Best of the Rest:
Abhorrent Decimation – The Pardoner
Death metal album’s that start with strings and piano always get me going. I don’t know why, but the mix of classical elements in death metal compositions are often so opposed in tone that their confluence is like a splash of cold water to the face after a stint in Guantanamo. Abhorrent Decimation have this exact type of introduction in The Pardoner, and if you like your death metal technical it’s hard to imagining coming to a better place. While the band’s surprising and thrilling debut record Miasmic Mutation brought the hurt in a real way, its cohesion in both concept and execution was underdeveloped compared to the band’s sophomore record, making this premium tech death that almost any fan of the subgenre will enjoy.
Sonically, you can perhaps imagine some fusion of First Fragment, Virvum, and Unfathomable Ruination as a frame of reference. This music has a brutality to it that does not overwhelm quite like a band like Wormed, but maintains a level of hyper-aggression throughout that remains dexterous and fluid while continuing to bludgeon the listener with primordial heaviness. This balance is present in tracks like “Heretic Sacrifice” and “Votive Offerings”, which lay out fairly complex compositional strategies that do not sacrifice heaviness in the midst of tempo changes and interesting beat mixtures. This is on almost every count an exceptionally well-crafted technical death metal record that is enjoyable regardless of which metal subgenres you dig.
Advorsa – Advorsa
One of my favorite parts of sifting through Bandcamp is finding bands who make music I never knew I needed. Case in point, Chicago’s Advorsa—who knew a bunch of weed toking, beer chugging thrash metal fans from Chi-Town would decide to make death metal this refreshing and crushing? I certainly didn’t, and if it wasn’t for the boisterous, sludge metal-esque art they chose for their latest, self-titled album, I’d still be none the wiser. But that’s the beauty of Bandcamp—you come looking for angry bands in satanic garb and leave with goofballs with beer bellies and riffs for days.
So what kind of death metal do these Windy City boys make? Well, ironically, the base of their style actually sounds like the slow, chugging passages on Pig Destroyer’s most recent output, particularly Book Burner. Top that off with some ’00s era deathcore à la Animosity and you have a formula for some pit fodder of the highest order. That’s not the end of the story, of course—here and there the band will throw in a thrashy riff that showcases their affinity for Goatwhore and Skeletonwitch, and other moments sounds like a young Eyehategod leaning more towards death metal than sludge. It’s a unique experience that’s constantly bringing enough heaviness to share with the whole party, as long as the speakers are turned loud enough to shake the house and topple someone’s pyramid of empty beer cans.
Beyond Grace – Seekers
This one was a surprise for me. You know, one of those times that you find yourself scouring Bandcamp out of sheer boredom and come across a bona fide gem? This is one of those times. Beyond Grace hit me broadside with their whopper of a debut Seekers, and if the music on this record tells us anything about the future plans of these Englishmen, I would say their plan includes world domination.
Maybe I’m so in love with thing because they also start of their record with a damn key section that melts my heart and gets me jazzed af every time. But I don’t think that’s it. This album is chock full of some great songwriting and instrumental variation that makes for a somewhat unpredictable yet uniform vision. The emphasis on the bass work in the album’s opening track is incredibly refreshing for a death metal record, while the insane solos that populate that track and “Altars (of Avarice)”, the manic displays of expert kit work in “The Etherealist”, and guitar work ranging from gentle and serene in “Demiurge” to apocalyptic in “Oracle” make Seekers a diverse and thoroughly engaging listen. Fans of bands like Replacire, Hadal Maw, or even thrashier outfits like Trials should find tons to enjoy here.
Contaminated – Final Man
I know, I know—I’m breaking the rules by sneaking a June release into our July column. But in my defense, Blood Harvest Records didn’t “officially” drop Final Man in North America until July 7, and more importantly, I refuse to pass up the opportunity to talk about Contaminated’s phenomenal auditory contagion. There’s nothing quite like a full-length debut that feels like the polished work of a veteran band delivered with the unhinged, youthful brutality of a young group thirsty for blood. This isn’t the kind of death metal you’d expect to come out of Australia nowadays, what with the Land Down Under boasting scene favorites like Disentomb and Thy Art is Murder. But while Portal continue brewing their next off-kilter concoction, Contaminated continue the Aussie oddballs’ tradition of churning out viscous, suffocating death metal, albeit with a notably heightened sense of speed and aggression.
Any comparison with Portal is typically followed or preceded by a likening to Incantation, whom countless modern death metal acts have immortalized while furthering their murky, death doom-ish stylings. But where Contaminated stray onto the Left Hand Path is with their clobbering, intense guitar tone and delivery. If Incantation took a wild Swedish vacation and had a one night stand with Dismember, we’d be graced with the explosive birth of Contaminated nine months later. Of the Incantation-worship that’s dropped in recent years, Final Man is easily among the most insatiably bloodthirsty, with former one man band Lachlan McPherson (and now guitarist) leading the quintet through nine slabs of unbridled violence. Prepare to be beaten senseless without a moment of respite, which is just the way Jonathan and I prefer to consume our daily doses of death.
Contrarian – To Perceive Is to Suffer
There are plenty of Atheist, Death, and Cynic wannabes out there. Their particular melding of jazz and progressive elements with the old school death metal formula brought metal some of its finest releases in its existence. But to pull off a modern rendition of these sounds without sounding clichéd and tired is a feat that few who attempt accomplish. Regardless, we can count Contrarian among those select few who have done so with consistent vision and excellence both in their first record Polemic, and most notably and successfully with their sophomore record, To Perceive Is To Suffer.
Rather than creating a simple re-creation of the progressive/technical death metal formula perfected by the above mentioned metal titans, Contrarian opt for a more modern approach, upping the production value unashamedly. While this clean, smooth production style is often the bane of death metal bands’ existences, here it instead serves as a unique contributing factor to the album’s success. The guitars are crisp and clear, the drums persist in just the right register, and vocalist George Kollias’ mix of vile wretches and roars make for a sonically diverse record that is composed as impeccably as it is produced. The cleans, provided here by Cynic’s Paul Masvidal, almost reach Wayne Coyne-like levels during the track “At Fate’s Hand”, which is righteously beautiful in practically every way. Overall, this is one of the best technical/progressive death metal records to be released this year, and is well worth the time you put into it.
Heresiarch – Death Ordinance
Does war metal always have to sound like a lo-fi recording of an exorcism? I love Archgoat, Blasphemy and Revenge as much as the next guy, but it’d be nice if these purveyors of blackened-death-metal-on-steroids weren’t so averse to setting foot in a decent recording booth. Thankfully, Heresiarch share my affinity for quality production, and they manage to retain every bit of pummeling brutality in the process. If the Dark Descent seal of approval wasn’t enough to draw you into the band’s lair, each weapon of war of Death Ordinance should do the trick with ammo to spare, leaving your ears burning as the rest of your body sizzles in a pool of blood on the battlefield.
Seriously, the smoking tank on the cover isn’t just a great painting—it’s a warning that even several tons of fortified steel can’t withstand the searing carnage Heresiarch unleash on track after track. Whether the band is stomping through blast beat blitzkriegs or doomed death marches, there’s never a moment where their performance isn’t the heaviest death metal you’ve heard all day. As “Desert of Ash” leaves the listener in a state resembling its title, the post-listen reflection makes it difficult to believe this was the doing of just four musicians rather than the sound of a steamrolling military offensive. Latch onto Heresiarch while they’re still relatively new, because these lads are going places; dark, desolate places littered with death and reeking of war.
Order ov Riven Cathedrals – The Discontinuity’s Interlude
Though the Ancient Egyptians never reached space (as far as we know), it’s still entertaining to imagine the further progress we’d have made if they had. The scope of our space program would be expanded astronomically, and more importantly, Nile’s music would have benefited from the expanded lore informing their influences. Even though the former point is mere fantasy, the latter thought experiment has manifested itself in the form of a quietly released debut from an anonymous Italian tech death duo. My girlfriend often asks me why I spend so much time scoring through Bandcamp’s release pages, and when she does, I show her albums like The Discontinuity’s Interlude (much to her chagrin). You can be forgiven for having never heard the name Order ov Riven Cathedrals, but there’s no excuse for ignoring such essential tech death listening now that it’s been laid out for you on a silver, celestial platter.
ORC have a simple formula that reaps an endless bounty of tech death goodness. The duo’s airtight technicality feels like Nile paired with the most astrophilic elements of Origin, supported by a newly refurbished George Kollias reborn as a tireless percussion cyborg. Here’s a quick translation of this last point—The Discontinuity’s Interlude is FAST. Like, a rapidfire meteor shower crushing a field full of typewriters fast. This flurry of blast beats blends perfectly with sole instrumentalist 12’s shapeshifting chord progressions. Sprinkle in some tasteful symphonic choruses and sound samples straight from an Area 51 disaster and you have a tech death album that hits all the right notes more quickly than you can comprehend.
Temple of Void – Lords of Death
Some like their death metal blackened, others technical, progressive, or as old school as it gets. There are others still who dig their death with a heaping helping of doom. Temple of Void’s Lords of Death is for this latter group. If you like the work of Inverloch and dISEMBOWELMENT or perhaps even a little Bolt Thrower, you’re gonna dig this.
Where other death-doom bands tend to reach for heavy amounts of atmosphere, Temple of Void take an approach that is more akin to folk music, with songs like “The Charnel Unearthing” and “An Ominous Journey” providing respite from the unrelenting heaviness of monumentally heavy tracks like “A Watery Internment” and “The Gift”, which are both among the heaviest tracks I have heard on any metal record this year. That’s no exaggeration. These things are fucking nightmarishly heavy, and this is in part due to some excellent and restrained instrumental performances and some fantastically heavy production. The guitar work throughout the album is exceptional, and the production on the kit is particularly fantastic. The bass lines rumble and pop as the cymbals clang high and loud above the ruinous sonic landscape this band creates. This is a premium mix of old school death metal sensibility with sludgey doom vibes coupled with tasteful folk elements. It all works. It’s all devastating. A fantastic record.