Welcome to Death’s Door, nerds. We’re freshly past Our Lord and Infernal Master’s designated holiday, and I’m so hopped up on candy and the blood of the non-believers that I can’t even function. Despite my shot adrenal glands and ever-expanding waistline, there’s a whole lot of premium death metal to cover, as has been the custom in this most nefarious year of 2017. Praise be.
October is typically a fantastic month for premier releases, especially in the world of metal. In that regard, this October did not disappoint. Melodic death metal in particular saw a glut of fantastic releases, while death-doom and progressive death metal both unleashed releases that are poised to transform the way we think about death metal as a whole. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2017 is one of the finest years for death metal of nearly every shape and type in recent memory. This is legitimately the second golden age of death metal, and I hope and pray it continues in perpetuity. Regardless, let’s celebrate the health of the music we love while it continues to fester and rot in new and unexpected ways. Our picks this month pull from many different sectors of the death metal world. Post your picks in the comments and let us know what you loved/what we missed. Let’s do this.
Cream of the Crop:
Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
When I was a kid, I would listen to film soundtracks and re-enact my favorite scenes from the movies. Swordfights, lightsaber battles, daring escapes from Star Destroyers or the clutches of evil wizards. Music provided my childhood imagination with the fodder for adventures that I could be part of either in my own mind or in the shared imaginings of my friends, and I loved every second of it. Now I’m a married man with a mortgage, car payments, student debt, and a whole load of anger regarding the current state of the world. I don’t take off on my bike with friends anymore to simulate intergalactic space wars. The places my imagination goes when contemplating the world are much more bleak than when I was young, and Spectral Voice have provided the ultimate soundtrack to my very adult state of frustration and dread in their absolutely fantastic debut Eroded Corridors of Unbeing. Death-doom has never sounded this good.
Consisting of three-out-of-four members of Blood Incantation with the inclusion of a new drummer, Spectral Voice mesh grimiest and most ethereal sounds in death and doom metal, drawing influence from metal stalwarts like diSEMBOWELMENT, Inverloch, Incantation, and Timeghoul. But far from being the mere sum of their collective influences, Spectral Voice bring an atmospheric bent to their music that makes each of these tracks an elongated journey into the sonic extremities of both subgenres. “Thresholds Beyond” provides a churning, meticulously paced introduction to the band’s acid-bath-in-space aesthetic, with production that keeps the music grounded in the grimy and cavernous underbelly of early old school death metal, while not in any way diminishing the power of the album’s doomier elements. Subsequent track “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment” creates a nearly fourteen-minute exhibition that serves to highlight the band’s songwriting creativity while allowing them to explore their more atmospheric tendencies. This sonic direction continues throughout the record, which does not lose steam once through its final, soul-crushing notes.
With Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, Spectral Voice have unleashed one of the best death metal albums of the year. Every individual part of this record, from the musicianship and songwriting to the production and atmosphere, shines in its own right, but even more so when joined with each other component of the record. A truly masterful debut that will go down as one of the best death-doom releases of the decade.
Best of the Rest:
The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers
Metal in many ways has a built-in aversion to popularity. Bands that find themselves in the throws of the popular zeitgeist find an almost immediate group of haters who suddenly cannot stand them because popular attention apparently automatically equates to selling out. Bands like Deafheaven and Trivium have encountered similar disdain from metal elitists, which typically has very little to do with the music itself, but rather seems directly related to the exposure the band has received. That isn’t to say that anyone who dislikes a popular metal band is inherently an elitist neckbeard. There are plenty of valid arguments to be made regarding the validity or lack thereof of a band’s output that exist completely outside of their album sales and public exposure. With their latest album Nightbringers, The Black Dahlia Murder have found themselves sharing in the popular spotlight, seeing their album chart in the Top 10 in multiple Billboard categories. Let’s get this out of the way: I am thoroughly and passionately in favor of metal bands receiving every ounce of success and acclaim that the music industry can give them, especially when the music is as good as what TBDM bring on Nightbringers. This is a fantastic, utterly engaging melodic death metal record that is not only one of the best records of the year, but also one of the very best the band has released in their entire career.
The album kicks off with “Widowmaker”, which is about as good an opening track as a TBDM fan could want from the band. Immediately recalling the band’s best work in albums like Nocturnal, the track blasts through its melodic riffs with an aplomb that most bands can only dream about. A great majority of this gleeful madness stems from the legendary vocal work of Trevor Strnad, who attacks these songs with a viciousness that is admirable and downright intimidating. TBDM have always displayed incredible instrumental talent as well, and that dexterity is on full display here. But the band separate themselves from other melodic death metal acts like Be’lakor and Dark Tranquility in Nightbringers due to some excellent songwriting decisions which allow melody to seep into the marrow of each song without once sacrificing heft or ferocity. The next two tracks on the record, “Of God and Serpent, Of Spectre and Snake” and “Matriarch”, flow together in a nearly seamless assault of bracing death metal that packs itself full of just the right amount of melodic lines encased in vicious blasts and heavy riff patterns that feel both evil and extremely catchy. The remainder of the album is equally relentless, showing off the band’s talents on track after brutalizing track until the album’s 33-minute runtime expires all too soon. It’s a death metal tour de force that is worth every second of the wait.
Popularity may be coming increasingly for these death metallers, but I say let it come. The music-loving public could use a little demolition, and TBDM are the perfect band to give it to them. A fantastic record from start to finish.
Blood Freak – Total Destruction of the Human Form
“Polished” can carry a negative connotation in some metal circles, particularly when discussing genres that have traditionally leaned toward the more raw, unhinged end of the musical spectrum. Needless to say, this fear of more advanced production techniques is largely unwarranted, particularly when it comes to the debate over modern deathgrind. Sure, bands like Cattle Decapitation and Aborted have ditched the lo-fi filth in favor of savage clarity, and frankly, their output has only improved as a result. This isn’t to say critics of cleaner production are entirely wrong; sometimes you need an unhealthy dose of putrid deathgrind marinated in vats of rancid blood. And that’s where the aptly named Blood Freak come into the fold, whose latest album truly is a Total Destruction of the Human Form.
A hellish intro filled with tortured shrieks acts as a proper primer for the album’s fourteen testaments to violent auditory mayhem. If early Carcass and Repulsion aren’t vicious enough for you, then Blood Freak will likely be able to finally scratch your nagging, masochistic itch. Total Destruction of the Human Form is everything deathgrind fans have come expect from the gruesome wing of the genre—fast, unrelenting and obsessed with the most violent songwriting imaginable. Bunker busters like “Necrotic Pleasures,” “Cartilage” and “Gnawgasms” make good use of short runtimes, barreling through wave upon wave of blasts and riffs. The bulk of the remaining tracks take the Napalm Death route of extended brutality, packaging bonus helpings of savagery into extended tracks. This one-two combo of grizzly goodness makes for a tantalizing slab of deathgrind that still offers plenty to gnaw on during repeat listens.
Exhumed – Death Revenge
Legendary grindcore/melodic death metal titans Exhumed know their way around a gruesome story. From the onset of their career with renowned early releases like Gore Metal and Slaughtercult, Matt Harvey and his group of misfits have been conjuring tales of blood and gore for nearly two decades in a vein similar to Carcass and Cannibal Corpse. With their latest album, Death Revenge, the band turn their focus to the factual tale of the Burke and Hare murders and grave robberies of early nineteenth-century Scotland. With such a vile backdrop, the band unleash some of the best music of their recent career while injecting an unusual and welcome dose of melody to the proceedings.
The most striking component of Death Revenge is its prominent and consistent use of synths and piano to build some highly melodic musical textures. The album’s introduction (“Death Revenge Overture”), it’s mid-point interlude (“Grave-makers of Edinburgh”) and late track “The Anatomy Act of 1832” all highlight this emphasis on dramatic, swelling arrangements that add to the theatricality of the album’s themes. But all of this is encased in the band’s signature death/grind mayhem, which Harvey and co. deliver in spades. “Defenders of the Grave” kicks the album into high gear with some impressive heavy lifting, bringing speed and plenty of riffs to the butcher’s block. “Night Work”, “The Harrowing”, “A Funeral Party”, and finale “Death Revenge” all bring to mind all of the elements that have made Exhumed’s sound so successful over the past few decades, highlighting the blistering instrumental work that made the band so famous and influential in the first place. It’s a record of ominous, delightfully cheesy melodies meshed with absolutely crushing death metal, creating a unique and altogether enjoyable sonic juxtaposition.
Fans of Exhumed’s back catalog will not be disappointed with Death Revenge. The songwriting is excellent, the performances are stellar, the themes are gruesome and the variety is rich. A very solid album from one of death metal’s premier acts.
Kardashev – The Almanac
Arizona’s Kardashev took me completely by surprise this month. I hadn’t heard any of their music until then, with The Almanac coming highly recommended by various elements of my musical circle. I listened to it out of sheer curiosity, and that curiosity was rewarded in a big way. Hot damn is this band fantastic. With this latest EP, the band balance serene, blissful atmosphere and melody with bone-crushing and infinitely grandiose progressive death metal. This is death metal in cinemascope. Sit back, close your eyes, and prepare to be transported.
The Almanac begins with “Prologue”, an ethereal palate cleanser that consists of gently played, reverb-filled guitar notes and an audio track that plays soothingly in the background. This languid opening bleeds directly and seamlessly into the album’s opening salvo “Between Sea and Sky”, which opens with all the grandeur of an Explosions In the Sky track. Clean vocals weave through and intersect with gargantuan black metal shrieks and death metal roars. The music vacillates between titanic post-metal sequences and blasting, ridiculously heavy death metal riffage. Not a single note feels out of place, but instead like a tapestry of many colors and shapes, creating a glorious collage of sounds and textures. These elements only build upon themselves in the album’s subsequent tracks. “Beside Cliffs and Chasms” offers the listener instrumental and melodic fantasies in its opening moments before descending into a death metal madness, only to resurface with a progressive section that changes the dynamic of the entire track without causing it to lose its propulsive bent. Much like the music, the vocals bounce around between harsh ferocity and a lush pastoral sound. The record’s clean vocals in particular are exceptional, and nowhere more so than in the truly epic penultimate track “Beyond Sun and Moon”, which features several fantastic sequences of layered vocal work that is truly mesmerizing. Every individual element of this record works together to make a whole that is rich, diverse, powerful, and utterly captivating.
I don’t know what else to tell you. Go listen to The Almanac right now. This is a young band that deserves your attention, and will without a doubt continue to ascend the ranks of progressive death metal as one of the subgenre’s most unique and consistently dazzling acts. Don’t miss out on this record.
Krallice with Dave Edwardson – Loüm
Pigeonholing Krallice’s music has been a persistent challenge that’s only become more complicated as the band’s aged. While much of their recent output has maintained a black metal template underneath a continuously progressing technical veneer, this experimental overcoat has become increasingly entrenched in the group’s identity and pushed their sound further toward the complex death metal web of reformation era Gorguts with strong shades of Dysrhythmia (unsurprising developments considering the bands’ shared lineups). And while Krallice may not have historically fit in a column like Death’s Door, their first of two(!) 2017 releases is easily the band’s most apparent embrace of their avant-garde tech death proclivities and arguably their strongest outing since the progressive black metal opus of Years Past Matter.
Besides the unsurprisingly intricate and airtight performances of the core Krallice quartet, the driving force in establishing this Gorgutsian death metal sound are the vocals of Dave Edwardson, whom most of you probably know as the bassist and backing vocalist for Neurosis. Not only does Edwardson’s delivery resemble Luc Lemay’s gritty growl, his presence hones the group’s collective sound and propels it into a heavier direction. While Krallice’s vocals have always been a solid addition to their sound, they’ve never acted as defining stylistic force. Having a consistently dark vocal presence on the album enhances the invigorated trajectory found on Loüm
Of course, the album’s true strength is the band’s reinvigorated approach to the angular technicality that’s established them as one of the most revered acts in modern prog metal. Each track unfolds as a tapestry woven with the cloth of avant-garde death metal and patterns of brutal prog, math rock and black metal. Each track is meticulously crafted and necessitates a collective listen; attempting to pull out a single song will only draw the listener into the band’s vortex of awing musical inventiveness. That’s not to say there aren’t highlights on the album— “Retrogenesis” is a blistering three-minute firestorm with one of Krallice’s catchiest riffs to date, and the title track delivers a viscous dirge that sounds like Gnaw Their Tongues hopping on a more linear Deathspell Omega track.
Other than these newfound spins on their classic formula, what’s also unique about Loüm is Edwardson’s subtle synth arrangements. He takes cues from his longtime bandmate Noah Landis, who knows exactly how to accent Neurosis’ sludgy atmospheres without muddying the waters. The result on Loüm are moments that bolster the whirlwind of his bandmates and add some intriguing compositional depth. These additions, along with his vocal offerings, bolster an already exceptional album, one which goes beyond satiating fans and solidifies itself as one of the strongest technical metal offerings of the year.