Welcome to the final installment of Death’s Door in the Year of Our Nefarious Overlord 2017! Wipe your feet on the mat, remove that stupid holiday-induced smile from your face, and prepare yourself for ultimate year-end audio brutalization. Because, quite frankly, 2017 was one of the best years for death metal in decades. A bold statement indeed, and thankfully one with plenty of data in the form of amazing records to back it up. The overwhelming number of releases in this dirtiest of metal subgenres, coupled with the breadth of quality releases in each of the branches of the death metal tree, all accumulate to create one of the most impressive lists of death metal albums in a given year since the early 1990s. 2017 presented us with exceptional records at such an alarming clip that it was often a full-time task to keep track of them. Death metal this year was in equal measure mind-numbingly technical, socially forward-thinking, compositionally adventurous, and reverent of the past, generating albums that displayed with full clarity all that makes this music the metal behemoth that it is. What a time to be alive. In our final segment of Death’s Door for the year, we will be highlighting the trends and movements within death metal that we found to be the most significant, as well as our own personal top 15 death metal records on the year. Prepare yourself. Madness awaits.
Before diving into our analysis of death metal this cycle ‘round the sun, it’s worth noting that 2017 wasn’t without its hang-ups. With a reinvigorated popularity for death metal of all stripes burgeoning within the metal community, leading to greater exposure and recognition of death metal records on the whole, major publications began writing lengthy articles featuring bands from the 90s scene that were releasing new records while almost completely ignoring young talent. This flabbergasted us to such a great degree that we wrote a far-too-long screed on why that was stupid. It was great, and we stand by it (with additional thoughts by Scott below). While such a lack of emphasis on the young blood in death metal was disappointing, such complaints seem trivial when placed alongside one particular death metal band’s most horrific display of human ugliness. Decapitated’s alleged rape and extradition for trial was and remains a black eye on the subgenre as a whole, and an utterly disgraceful display of abject cruelty. Also troubling was fan response from all over the internet, which attempted to immediately discredit and delegitimize the accusations of the victims by smearing the accusers in every way imaginable. Death metal has never existed outside of controversy, but this year in particular presented some evil realities and disappointments that tainted an otherwise exceptional year for the music itself. While we celebrate death metal’s present, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of Decapitated and those who would seek to demonize victims. May 2018 bring justice for victims and a fervent resolve within the death metal community to eradicate such evil from its collective ranks and discourse.
Writing this column has been a pure joy for me. The sheer amount of good music that has traipsed through my ears has often been overwhelming, and this column could not have presented you with the incredible bounty of death metal this year provided without the tireless support and incredible taste of Scott Murphy. The man is a machine, a brilliant writer, an inexplicably diehard Pats fan, and a stalwart friend. Collaborating on this column with him has without question been the highlight of my time so far here at Heavy Blog, and I cannot wait to see what madness 2018 has in store. Special thanks to Matt and Simon for their excellent contributions to Death’s Door this year as well. Finally, I want to thank you for reading. Death metal is incredible, and I am honored to have shared, debated, and geeked out over this music with you.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Follow-up on the Metal Industry’s Toxic Nostalgia
In all honesty, we hadn’t originally planned on including this section. Jonathan and I already penned an exhaustive critique of metal journalists and fans venerating veteran death metal bands content with treading water, and there didn’t seem to be much more to cover. Our position is simple and continuously reinforced by our monthly picks for Death’s Door: there are so many new, exciting bands and trends pushing death metal forward, which makes it bizarre to celebrate veteran bands who aren’t keeping pace. But while I certainly didn’t anticipate this trend would dissipate anytime soon, Morbid Angel delivered yet another illustration of this point this month with their “comeback album” Kingdoms Disdained. I wrote yet another lengthy piece with my review of the album, so I’ll summarize my argument quickly: veteran death metal bands are often forgiven for complacent, mediocre songwriting, at the expense of younger bands more deserving of the attention. And after seeing umpteen glowing reviews for Kingdoms Disdained and other old guard albums of this ilk earning his rankings on year end lists, I’m further incensed by the metal establishment’s apparent obsession with rewarding stagnation.
Unfortunately, our annual metal industry aggregate wasn’t available in time for this post to help me illustrate this point. But anecdotally, the lists I’ve seen have listed familiar faces as their death metal picks for the year: Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, etc. Granted, there have been some veteran acts whom I agree deserve the recognition for remaining consistently on point (namely Incantation and Immolation), and younger acts like Necrot have received some well-deserved attention. But while I obviously concede opinions are opinions, it genuinely shocks me that I’ve barely seen any recognition for the countless new death metal albums we’ve recommended this year, whether through reviews, HLTs or Death’s Door. If Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation are worth celebrating for producing essentially the same formula they’ve settled into for years with only a few minor tweaks, shouldn’t truly innovative bands like Succumb and Ingurgitating Oblivion be blowing critics’ minds? How could their threshold for quality possibly allow for complacency to earn higher marks than death metal that’s more compositionally rich and boundary-pushing? The metal establishment certainly covers smaller bands, but there’s truly no match for the visibility and weight end of year lists still contain.
Ultimately, I feel like we’ve reached an impasse here when it comes to this issue of toxic nostalgia. While certain publications in the meal establishment feel he old guard continue to release their “best albums in years,” all I hear are mostly solid albums with an increasing number of duds, with albums in both categories often paling in comparison to veteran bands’ classic albums and especially when put side by side with any number of new, exciting death metal. That said, Jonathan and I are going to simply keep doing what we’re doing in spite of this general atmosphere. Jonathan outlines the noteworthy and exciting trends of skronk and revivalist death metal, movements that build on genre norms in innovative ways that ultimately make for a wider sonic palette for newer bands down the line to draw from when it’s their turn to take up the torch and trek onward. After that, we list the bands we feel are truly leading the pack when i comes to modern death metal, nearly all of which are in the early stages of their career and poised to accomplish better things in the future. We hope you take some great recommendations from this, and more importantly, appreciate how diverse death metal is an how it only grows more inclusive and expansive.
The Year of Skronk
While the old guard may have failed to deliver that one game-changing album we were hoping for, the same cannot be said for the bands occupying the most technical corners of death metal. While technical and brutal death have always held a niche fanbase in the death metal world, 2017 served as a watershed moment for the development of the subgenre’s skronkiest sounds. While it is tempting to chalk this unholy confluence of delicious noise up to timing (“all the good bands release good albums at once, what a coninkidink!”), that would only partially explain the intricacy and effectiveness of technical death metal this year. Great bands release records in the same year as other great bands all the time, but very rarely does one see each of these bands release the best work of their career in the same cycle. This is undoubtedly the case for Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, Ingurgitating Oblivion, Archspire, Gigan, and NYN. This year, we were treated to one of the absolute best line-ups of records this style of death metal has ever produced. Yes, I mean ever. Credit this branch of the death metal tree the prime mover in revealing to us where death metal is going sonically and thematically. My god is the future bright. Here’s how they did it:
A Taste of an Insane Future
Listen to NYN’s excellent new album Entropy: Of Chaos and Salt and tell me what other album it sounds like. C’mon. Take a guess. What’s that? Impossible, you say? You would be correct, because this particular record sounds like literally nothing we’ve ever heard. The mixture of lightning fast, surgically precise guitar work and more riffs than one could count with Eastern-inflected music stylings and oddly liturgical/processed/manic vocal work is nothing short of recorded audio whiplash. This sounds like an insult. It absolutely isn’t. What makes Entropy incredibly special cannot be quantified only to its expert execution of style tropes. It’s also the freshness and skill of composition on display, which are unlike anything the subgenre has ever witnessed. No technical death metal record that I have heard takes as many sonic risks as this one, and the metal world as a whole is all the better for it. “The Apory of Existence” takes what we understand about technical death metal and deconstructs it in such an absurdly wonderful way that you will be hard pressed to think about death metal in the same way again.
Entropy represents but a microcosm of a much grander whole of risky songwriting within death metal in 2017. There is no progress without some level of risk, and NYN embodies this concept to a T. Following suit on this concept is Archspire’s impeccable new record Relentless Mutation. While Archspire spent years building a reputation for technical mastery, this latest record elevates everything they do well to an even more insane extent. The rap-like vocal barks, the unbelievably intricate layers of the guitar and drum work, all roll into a package that is brash, varied, and masterfully performed. While metal has a perpetual reverence for the old, Archspire and NYN provide us with sterling examples of what this music can be. This is the future of death metal.
Beyond just the technical mastery, sci-fi had its day in technical metal as well, with insane concept albums like Artificial Brain’s Infrared Horizon and Gigan’s manic and utterly bananas Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence, which served to further heighten theme not only as a lyrical concept, but one embedded deeply into the music. These albums churn, pulse, and shock their way through stories of robotic sentience (Horizon’s “Vacant Explorer”) or philosophical treatise on time and matter (Waves’ “Wade Forward Through Matter and Backwards Through Time”), all wrapped in some of the most eerie and utterly intense music you are likely to hear. This is music that coils itself around a narrative so steadfastly that one feels the themes through the sonic obliteration before picking up a lyric sheet. These two albums represent musical storytelling at its finest and most adventurous.
But technical death metal stretched far beyond the instrumentally muscular new and conceptually rigorous this year. In Pyrrhon’s What Passes for Survival, listeners are introduced not to a fantastical world that mirrors our own, but instead the dark place that is our home. Touching on issues as diverse as social depravity, poverty, societal hopelessness, hypocrisy, and a rage against the fundamental injustices of a system rigged in favor of the powerful, What Passes for Survival is the type of brilliant statement that a talented band makes perhaps only once in their career. For our sake, let’s hope there’s plenty left in their tank. Compositionally, this album is an atom bomb of manic energy and sonic devastation. But digging into the album’s lyrics is a trip in and of itself. Nearly every song on this record drips with meaning and portent, and one would be foolish to traverse its terrain without a lyric sheet. In What Passes for Survival, Pyrrhon not only wrote the single best metal record of 2017, but boldly forged a space in technical death metal to speak to the issues of the day with all the universal ferocity and anger of the rejected and forgotten.
Technical death metal evolved, progressed, and matured in new and exciting ways in 2017. The prescient lyrical content, compositional risk-taking, and technical mastery of this style’s best albums not only made for one helluva year, but one of the best of all time. After years of evolution, the subgenre has unshackled itself into the wild, untamed and unpredictable beast we always knew it could be. Lord knows what 2018 holds for us, but if it’s anything moderately close to what this year provided, we are in for an absolute treat. All hail the skronk.
The Old School Revival
Unlike the surge of technical death metal genius that imbued 2017 with a distinct sense of the new and exciting, the year also excelled in creating music that looked firmly into the past for inspiration. Delving deeply into the caverncore of Incantation, bands like Ascended Dead, Father Befouled, Desecrecy, Gorephilia, Undergang, Necrot, and a host of others delivered the old school pain in ways that honored the legacy of death metal’s founding fathers while expanding upon their sonic template in even darker and more profane ways, leaving the year as one of the best for throwback death metal in ages.
The very concept of an old school death metal revival may seem trite, but its existence and success in 2017 is indicative of a larger trend in metal as a whole. One that has been a constant since the music’s inception. Put plainly, it’s the notion that old metal is inherently good metal, and new bands that don’t adhere to the “old ways” are somehow less valuable in the eyes true fans. While this frame of mind is, in my estimation, backwards and counterproductive as all hell, there is an argument to be made about not breaking what is already utterly fantastic. Most of us here can think of dozens of death metal bands from the 90s that changed our lives, and that is in no way a bad thing. After recent forays into the world of modern deathcore, who can blame death metal aficionados for not wanting their sacred sounds tampered with? But, like the ascension of technical death metal elucidates clearly, there is little progress without risk. But the question could be asked: Do old school death metal acts value progress? I think the answer to that question is a definitive yes, but with a twist. Take Succumb for example, who utilized old school death metal sounds (particularly in their production and riff-building) while incorporating a punk vocal aesthetic and sexual lyrical themes that are almost unheard of in the realms of the unwashed Cannibal Corpse diehards. The devotion to a sonic aesthetic doesn’t always indicate that other elements of the music will follow suit, and that’s in part what makes old school death metal in 2017 so grand and unpredictable.
On the whole, it seems to me that modern old school death metal intends to defy the rules established by their forbearers by adopting the traditionally much more incremental and conservative approach to songwriting and spiking it with subversive elements that feel true to the spirit of death metal without falling prey to sounding too much like the 90s. Keeping the principle structure of the music close to what has already been verified as awesome by death metal fans the world over, while sprinkling in some elements from other genres or death metal styles, is the name of the game. And the game is good. Also necessary. Metal as a genre, more than perhaps any other, has a fixation on the past that borders on the ridiculous. We clamour for new and fresh sounds, but as soon as it doesn’t sound like Immolation circa Here In After we lose our minds. While a reverence and understanding of a genre’s past is almost always necessary to carry it into the future, there are plenty of examples where old days worship has lead to piss poor musical results. Our foray into the mindset of Decibel’s piece on death metal earlier in the year should be enough of an indication of why this religious devotion to the founding aesthetic of a style of music can be fundamentally bad in so many ways. But an examination of previous sounds and aesthetics, coupled with clever musicianship and excellent songwriting, elevates the worship of past influences into an art that is valuable on its face. That’s the sweet spot we find ourselves in this year, and boy oh boy is the music great.
A prime example of old school mimicry done right is Father Befouled’s latest record Desolate Gods, which takes the cavernous, doom-laden and depraved musical stylings of Incantation and subverts them in ways that are exciting and recognizable. While in many ways aping the open, hellish sound made famous by Incantation, Father Befouled pull an audible by incorporating elements from other classic bands like Morbid Angel to create a sound that is, shockingly, more aggressive than its initial influence ever was. This mixing and matching of stylistic tropes of multiple old school bands creates a sound that feels immediately familiar, yet oddly fresh and inviting. Other bands listed above pull together many similar combinations of sounds that revere the past while incorporating songwriting choices that give each of these bands a unique voice.
You’ve reached a unique place in music history when new bands playing old music sound better than the bands that invented those sounds do. That’s 2017 for you. While the year included more than a few disappointments from the old guard, we can take comfort in knowing that hungry young bands are more than happy to steal their dirty crowns form them. It may sound dated, but old school death metal has been injected with enough youthful energy and vitality to start the whole movement over again. May it ever be so.
Jonathan’s Top 15 Death Metal Albums of 2017
15. Tchornobog – Tchornobog
I eagerly anticipated this record all the way up until its release. I was not disappointed. Tchornobog delivers. There are so many different and disparate elements that it’s honestly difficult to categorize. Is it black metal with a major death metal influence? Is it death metal with an avant-garde, blackened flair? I tend toward the latter, but it really doesn’t matter. This is enthralling, entrancing music to get absolutely lost in. This isn’t a driving album. Or a workout album. This is a stare-at-the-dark-ceiling-blankly-and-contemplate-death album. Dim the lights, grab some whiskey, and prepare yourself. It’s a wild ride.
14. Vitriol – Pain Will Define Their Death
The only reason this EP isn’t higher on this list is solely because it’s an EP. When this band unleashes a full length, I think the Earth itself may split asunder. Vitriol’s Pain Will Define Their Death is a freight train of otherworldly aggression. The instrumentation and songwriting here is raw and razor sharp, featuring some of the gnarliest riffs of the year. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better way to spend under fifteen minutes. A classic band in the making.
13. Horrified – Allure of the Fallen
There are only a handful of death metal records that I have listened to more times than Horrified’s impeccable melodeath record Allure of the Fallen. The sheer beauty of the melodies, the entrancing nature of the Horrendous-influenced vocals, and the fantastic lyrics all combine to create a truly exceptional melodic death metal record. Just go listen. It’s worth every second you spend on it.
12. Temple of Void – Lords of Death
If I were to describe Temple of Void’s new record in one word, it would be ohmyholygodthisshitissoheavy. Lords of Death is a monster. It wants to kidnap and eat your children. It will bury your loved ones in an unrelenting wave of bile and blood. It’s just the most freakin’ UNHOLY thing you will hear this year. It’s the audio equivalent of having one’s head ripped off and punted with force. It’s magical.
11. Desolate Shrine – Deliverance from the Godless Void
Finland’s Desolate Shrine have been slaying listeners for over half-a-decade now, and their insane clip of releases has shown that the band has a symbiotic relationship with quality and quantity. The more albums they release, the better they get, and Deliverance from the Godless Void is their very best. The expert songwriting, blackened textures, and epic song lengths all combine to create a record that feels completely part of the band’s back catalog, but offers new elements that will keep longtime and new listeners alike engaged and enthralled. It’s a fantastic record from one of my favorite death metal bands. Long may they reign.
10. Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
Speaking of filthy, good lord. This record. San Diego death dealers Ascended Dead know exactly what they’re doing, and their debut Abhorrent Manifestation is an utterly successful exercise in sonic brutalism of the highest order. Every track on this record bleeds together in an audio assault that is so utterly punishing that it can be difficult to discern between tracks. Don’t worry, this is mostly due to the migraine this album induced from sheer blunt force trauma. There are gems of riffs buried in the wall of constant sound, and patient listeners will find plenty to love. An incredible debut record.
9. Father Befouled – Desolate Gods
Incantationcore at its most fundamentally evil, Father Befouled delivered to us the definitive statement of reveling in the old while reinventing it for yourself in Desolate Gods. The songs on this record are absolutely filthy, both in production value and songwriting. This is all intentional, of course, because how could it be a true old school death metal record if it wasn’t? The guitars feel pulled directly from the deepest swamps of hell, while the drums clang and clamor like the chains of Legion itself. This is old school death metal exactly as it should be, and is one of the best offerings from that branch of the death metal tree in a good while.
8. Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension
Suffering Hour hit me like a brick to the face earlier this year. I had not heard of them until I decided to give them a shot on my ride into work, and good lord am I glad I did. Pulling elements from technical and black metal into a head-spinning death metal whole, In Passing Ascension is without question one of the best death metal debuts I have heard in years. The level of confidence on display here is so heartening. The band comes out swinging from second one and doesn’t relent in the slightest until the album is over. It’s a unified, soul-crushing affair that left me wanting more material immediately. Here’s hoping for a follow-up in 2018!
7. NYN – Entropy: Of Chaos and Salt
Whoa boy. Words have been spilled about this record. Debates have been had. As stated earlier in the column, this is one of the riskiest death metal records I have heard in a very long time. Perhaps ever. It’s like The Last Jedi of death metal albums (DOWNVOTE ME, BOTS!). With Entropy: Of Chaos and Salt, NYN has created a polarizing and truly special record. Nearly every risk here pays off. There will be things you like. There will be things you don’t. But give this record the time and attention it deserves and I guarantee that you will find yourself transported. Amazing stuff.
6. Gigan – Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence
I shared chunks of this album with my wife while trying to explain the differences between technical and old school death metal. It was an interesting experience. Which is essentially exactly what this album is on the whole. Gigan have always been a favorite of mine, and with Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence have dropped their most interesting and astounding work to date. If one took a trip into deep space while on acid, it would probably feel something like this. The music bounces, careens even, from theme to theme with reckless abandon, yet never loses its sense of cohesion. It’s a difficult balancing act to make music this original and unhinged that sounds like a whole rather than a smattering of independent components. Gigan pull it off, and the results are fantastic throughout.
5. Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Death metal records don’t rip much harder and faster than Archspire’s Relentless Mutation. With an enormous amount of hype surrounding its release, the band did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, they exceeded expectations by releasing what is in my mind their best album by a good margin. The music is faster than anything they have yet released and just as flabbergasting in its precision. But this time around the band incorporate a rich and diverse palate of sounds that gives listeners reprieve from the general maelstrom, finding hooky and memorable stanzas to latch onto. This is the band’s best songwriting, and the amount of variety here points to a band not only mastering their craft, but evolving in the process. A fantastic album from a fantastic band.
4. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
Robots. Artificial intelligence overtaking the planet after gaining sentience. What it means to be alive. Pretty heavy topics for a technical death metal record, but Artificial Brain pull these concepts off with ease in their sophomore record Infrared Horizon. The songwriting here is highly technical, even more so than that found on their debut. This is music to get utterly lost in. But the technically amazing aspects never detract from the story the band is trying to tell, but instead mirror the album’s concepts with metallic, rigid precision. This is a perfect marriage of theme and sound, and a giant leap for the band into a bold and bright future.
3. Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
Ah. Spectral Voice. What else is there left to say? The Denver dynamos released Eroded Corridors of Unbeing to widespread acclaim earlier this year, and the record hasn’t left my regular death metal rotation since. A seamless, perfect iteration of the death-doom style, Eroded Corridors of Unbeing blends the monolithic with the ferocious, creating a pitch perfect blend of atmosphere, heaviness, and aggression that is as complete an album as you will hear this year. If you love your death metal infused with the methodical heaviness of a space freighter, this album is made for you.
2. Ingurgitating Oblivion – Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light
Outside of having one of the best and most ridiculous names in the death metal game, Ingurgitating Oblivion’s opus Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light is one of the best examples of how to blend avant-garde and bizarre sounds with the more traditional elements of a metal subgenre. This album is absolutely bananas. Song titles are far from short, just like the songs themselves, only one of which clocks in under 10-minutes. The album’s centerpiece, the 22-minute “A Mote”, is a surefire contender for best metal track of the year, and contains more ingenuity, expert craftsmanship, and variety than most albums do as a whole. If you’ve been sleeping on this band, stop doing that. Pyrrhon’s genius is the only reason this album isn’t my favorite on the year.
1. Pyrrhon – What Passes for Survival
Having written about this album a multitude of times here and elsewhere, I still feel like I haven’t done it justice. This is to be expected, because an album of this stature defies easy explanation or comparison. What Pyrrhon has done with their absolutely stunning album What Passes for Survival is raise the bar on what is expected from technical and experimental death metal, creating in the wake of many risky decisions an absolute masterpiece of modern metal. From the erratic, rhythmic, utterly captivating and unpredictable songwriting to the socially and politically incisive lyrics, you will be hard pressed to find a better album in this style of music. Period. The best metal album of 2017.
Scott’s Top 15 Death Metal Albums of 2017
15. Incantation – Profane Nexus
I certainly recognize the irony of including a veteran band on my top albums list right after critiquing the praise received by veteran bands. But other than Gorguts, it’s difficult to find another death metal band that’s continued to further their sound and influence quite like Incantation. Not only has their sound become a subgenre all its own, Incantation have carefully and effectively adapted better production techniques from album to album while simultaneously refining their approach to songwriting. While this hasn’t always resulted in records on par with Onward to Golgotha or Diabolical Conquest, their dedication to self-improvement definitely paved the way for a late career triumph like Profane Nexus, easily their best record of the decade thus far. Expect top-tier murky death metal courtesy of the style’s competent-as-ever pioneers.
14. The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers
As much as I loved The Black Dahlia Murder back in high school, their post-Ritual output hasn’t grabbed me in quite the same way as their back catalog. While I’d argue against those who say Everblack and Abysmal were disappointing, both records lacked the unique voice and apparent evolution that I’d come to expect from the band. But before I could write them off as my generation’s Cannibal Corpse, the band returned with the Nightbringers, a savage installment in their discography that feels invigorated on every level. Nightbringers is a textbook example of a “reboot” album—while they certainly haven’t jumped subgenres or changed their approach to songcraft, TBDM more than capably remind fans why they fell in love with the band’s energetic brand of melodeath in the first place. Just like when your hometown bar adds a new craft beer to the lineup, Nightbringers is a re-invitation to the type of fun death metal romp that only TBDM can pull off quite this well.
13. Father Befouled – Desolate Gods
Like anything in life, fresh talent will eventually take the place of the old guard. This goal has been just out of reach of Father Befouled over the past decade; their brand of Incantation-worship has always been solid from album to album, but never offering enough impact to earn a spot above the pack. With Desolate Gods, that moment has finally arrived for the band in an explosive fashion. This is about as distinct an album as you’ll hear within the sphere of murky, Incantation-inspired death metal, with more than enough personality and songwriting bravado to cement Father Befouled as one of modern death metal’s premier bands.
12. Order ov Riven Cathedrals – The Discontinuity’s Interlude
If you look above and below this entry on my and Jonathan’s lists, you’ll primarily see albums from up-and-coming or well-known bands signed to established labels, ranging from small independent operations to some of the biggest names in underground metal. And then there’s Order ov Riven Cathedrals, an anonymous duo from Italy who self-released The Discontinuity’s Interlude in July without any apparent promotional efforts. It’s a textbook reminder of the power of the internet as a curatorial tool, and I’m extremely thankful I happened to stumble upon the album while perusing new death metal on Bandcamp. As I described them in our July installment of Death’s Door, ORC’s airtight technicality and blistering speed feels like Nile paired with the most astrophilic elements of Origin, supported by a newly refurbished George Kollias reborn as a tireless percussion cyborg. Fans of blast beat-heavy tech death have no reason to let this hidden gem slip by.
11. Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
One of the best parts of death metal is that each subgenre’s presentation provides a clear window into what you can expect. With a gruesome black and white cover and a thesaurus-friendly title, Abhorrent Manifestation is “as advertised” death metal at its finest. In fact, it’s more accurate to say Ascended Dead exceed expectations on their full-length debut; there are few albums that have come out modern war metal landscape that achieve this brutal of an approach to the genre’s typically violent, erratic tendencies. Well-crafted without ever losing its ferocious edge, Abhorrent Manifestation is a clear indicator that Ascended Dead is a band that needs to constantly be on your death metal radar from here on out.
10. Contrarian – To Perceive is to Suffer
Though I love Death as much as the next guy, I’ve expressed concerns in the past about bands doing little more than retreading nearly the exact same blueprint laid out by Chuck and his crew (specifically Gruesome). Every moment on To Perceive is to Suffer outlines precisely how to avoid this dilemma, with performances that orient late-career Death in a forward-thinking direction with phenomenal songwriting. With a roster that includes the endlessly creative George Kollias on drums, Contrarian have crafted one of the greatest revivalist records of the this decade, delivered in a run time that feels concise and complete at the same time. I’m often skeptical of self-proclaimed taglines, but there’s no denying that To Perceive is to Suffer truly is the “new school of old school death metal.”
9. Contaminated – Final Man
Now we’ve arrived at my pick for the best iteration of Incantation-worship this year. I’m particularly fond of my initial write-up for Final Man (also from July’s Death’s Door), so I’ll pull from there for this blurb. Contaminated continue Portal and Incantation’s tradition of churning out viscous, suffocating death metal, albeit with a notably heightened sense of speed and aggression. 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 top tier; prepare to be beaten senseless without a moment of respite.
8. Sutrah – Dunes
First of all, major shout out to Dave from Can This Even Be Called Music? for introducing me to Dunes, an incredible example of modern tech death done with a signature flair. Incorporating elements of Eastern religions into death metal is hardly a new concept, and it could certainly result in nothing more than a gimmick if delivered by the wrong hands. But Sutrah are a gifted group of musicians that produce masterful compositions, which take the crucial approach of writing strong tech death first and adding outside textures after. The progressive, mystic elements Sutrah use are supplements that enhance inherently impressive death metal, making for some of the best tech death of the year.
7. Heresiarch – Death Ordinance
Man, July was truly a killer month for both death metal and me writing about death metal. Heresiarch were a big contributor to the month’s spectacular offerings; as I wrote for Death’s Door, Heresiarch share my affinity for war metal with quality production, and they manage to retain every bit of pummeling brutality in the process on Death Ordinance. 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. 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.
6. Desolate Shrine – Deliverance From the Godless Void
Demilich may still hold the honors of being my favorite Finnish death metal band, but Desolate Shrine come in as a close second. Whereas The Heart of the Netherworld merely piqued my interest a couple years ago, Deliverance from the Godless Void blew me away on first listen and continues to do so each time I return. It’s truly a beautiful thing to hear a band hit their stride, and while Desolate Shrine already had a firm grasp on the genre and their place within it, Deliverance from the Godless Void exudes confidence and maturity to an impressive degree. Fans of atmospheric yet grounded death metal that personifies the void will feel right at home.
5. Bufihimat – I
Our resident grinder-in-chief Matt usually focuses more on the grimier alleyways of the extreme metal village, particularly the most savage forms of grindcore and powerviolence. So when he brings a death metal album to the table, you know it’s bound to be a bit out of step with the norm and hellbent on being as destructive and brutal as possible. Not only does Bufihimat outperform on all accounts with I, they’ve also crafted one of the most underrated death metal albums of the year. Perhaps most aptly described as “Dying Fetus and The Red Chord playing mathcore,” Bufihimat produces never ending helpings of lean, chaotic tech death chock full of unique ideas and thrilling performances. Similar to Order ov Riven Cathedrals, this is one of the most slept on death metal releases of the year, and you’d have to be a downright fool to skip over such a monster of an album.
4. Ingurgitating Oblivion – Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light
Death metal has been a breeding ground for innovation throughout its existence. What began as young thrash metal bands attempting to out-brutal one another has grown into a source of some genre-bending releases that dip into the realms of avant-garde and progressive metal. There were a myriad of examples of experimental death metal this year, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more ambitious album in this vein than Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light. While only a few members of our staff were familiar with Ingurgitating Oblivion before this year, Vision clasped onto our collective interest immediately and earned well-deserved, high-praise for its bold approach to the Gospel of Gorguts. With four tracks ranging from about 8 to 23 minutes, Vision is a stunning display of avant-garde death metal grandeur; the logical and fulfilling extension of both Obscura and Colored Sands. With an equal measure of finesse and oddity, IO’s songwriting is replete with striking concepts flawlessly developed into death metal of epic proportions.
3. Pyrrhon – What Passes for Survival
Relapse may be one of the most respected labels in metal, but boy did they make a HUGE mistake when they dropped Pyrrhon from their roster. It’s truly baffling to think Relapse axed the band after having heard The Mother of Virtues, one of the most phenomenal, landmark avant-garde death metal albums of the decade thus far. While it didn’t seem like many bands would surpass Pyrrhon’s singular brand of unhinged chaos, What Passes for Survival proves that capable bands can continue to improve on a seemingly flawless formula. In the entire history of death metal, there’s never been a band quite abrasive and unflinchingly adventurous as Pyrrhon, traits that are on full display on What Passes for Survival. Though there are a couple death metal albums I personally enjoyed more this year, I’m completely unsurprised this is Jonathan’s death metal AOTY; to say the praise we’ve given it over the year is well-deserved would be an understatement.
2. Archspire – Relentless Mutation
If The Lucid Collective was everything I love about tech death dialed up to 11, then Relentless Mutation is Archspire ripping that dial off and demolishing expectations. As much as I loved The Lucid Collective and All Shall Align, I felt like Archspire were just barely on the cusp of an even greater realization of their signature brand of air-tight, rapidfire technicality. They often felt locked in a comfortable pocket that, while immensely enjoyable, still left the band feeling somewhat limited in terms of achieving an organic, mature sound. I’d be lying if I said Relentless Mutation encapsulated this vision, because there’s no way I could have anticipated how much the band would excel at producing a fluid, diverse version of a style they’ve already executed so well. Everything I loved about Archspire’s music is amplified on Relentless Mutation—the technicality is enhanced, the songwriting is more memorable and eclectic, and the pacing of the album feels more structured to develop in a continuously engaging way. If they’re planning a similarly intense leap forward for their next album, there’s no question it’ll handily secure a spot among the most essential tech death albums of the decade, though Relentless Mutation will certainly give it some stiff competition.
1. Succumb – Succumb
Often times, the greatest musical offerings of the year are those that arrive without pretense. As important as context can be for analyzing the quality of an album, it can also just as easily muddy the discourse, drawing he focus more toward what a band “should” be doing or how they’re hitting/missing a specific listener’s criteria. Given all death metal’s controversies and movements we’ve discussed in this post, it’s releases like Succumb‘s self-titled debut that remind me of the simple reason I fell in love with genre: great music. With only a demo in their back catalog and a new gig with esteemed dark music label The Flenser, the mystery of what Succumb could be was immediately alluring. Seeing as The Flenser had never signed a death metal band before, one could only assume Succumb would eschew genre norms, as is the typical M.O. of Flenser bands. Yet, even with all this expected unexpectedness, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was coming to the realization that a rowdy, punk-at-heart quartet would create my favorite death metal album of the year. From the band’s youthful energy to Cheri Musrasrik’s distinct, chilling vocals, every moment on Succumb feel exploratory and invigorating. Never before have black metal, death metal and punk intersected so seamlessly and effectively, resulting in an entirely new beast all its own with a voracious, insatiable bloodlust. Compiling these annual album roundups is always a challenge, but records like Succumb make the task a bit more surmountable. When it came time to pick who would top this list, Succumb was the first and only name that came to mind.
Altarage – Endinghent
Begerith – A.D.A.M.
Blood Freak – Total Destruction of the Human Form
Decrepit Birth – Axis Mundi
Degial – Predator Reign
Faceless Burial – Grotesque Miscreation
Necrovorous – Plains of Decay
Origin – Unparalleled Universe
Tomb Mold – Primordial Malignity