Welcome to Death’s Door. Wipe your feet on the mat and sorry for the general disarray, the world made a mess on its way through here. That’s right. THE WORLD. Dark Lord, that place is nuts. I genuinely don’t understand it. Kanye loves Trump (re: himself), people are getting shot left and right, and North and South Korea are acting like they won’t be sending more souls our way by signing arbitrary pieces of paper. What’s even happening up there?! I keep telling Satan it’s time to initiate Armageddon, but his hesitation to interact with the people of earth grows by the day. “It’s… weird up there,” he tells me. I swear, one of these days that idiot’s going to be deposed. Anyway, death metal is still good. So that’s something.
April was a good month. Lots of old school, filthy stuff to sink our teeth into. Australia continues to be ridiculous, which is a very good thing for death metal, and thrash and grind-influenced death metal made a comeback. There was something for just about everyone this past month, so let’s not delay any further and dive right in. Scott and Simon join me once again to write up some of our favorite records from the month, and we are moderately excited to share them with you. As usual, give us your picks and tell us why we’re wrong in the comments.
Cream of the Crop
Superstition – Surging Throng of Evil’s Might
Okay, here’s my elevator pitch on Superstition: these guys sound like if a group of Lovecraft-style cosmic entities decided they wanted to start a death metal band and knew literally everything there was to know about death metal, but had never actually heard any actual music from the genre except for Blood Incantation. As much as I love that Denver four-piece, this trio from Santa Fe, New Mexico channels everything they do just as well and even goes a little bit beyond what those folks have shown themselves capable of (so far, anyway – we’re about due for a followup to Starspawn, I’d say). Then, to follow this up, a confession: Surging Throng of Evil’s Might actually came out in January. However, the band was picked up this past month by stellar underground/breakthrough label 20 Buck Spin for a vinyl run of this EP, so we’ve decided it counts. Trust us, it’s definitely good enough to warrant a little-belated attention.
Surging Throng, across its roughly 20-minute runtime, is at its absolute best when it’s pelting you with leads that are reminiscent of icy comets flung through outer space; the squealing, reverberating guitar sits in the mix behind the rhythm section and perfectly accentuates the Twilight Zone-esque atmosphere of unease and impending cosmic doom. It’s an intoxicating combination when deployed in tandem with the pulverizing death-doom riffs that make up the more straightforward side of the music here.
One of the best things that death metal does as a genre, I think, is give highly creative minds exactly what they need to make good music – not only are there a wealth of creative tools at the disposal of every musician in the genre, but there’s a set of clear, defined parameters that give people a foundation to work within. Surging Throng illustrates exactly what I mean by this. Nobody in their right mind would hear this and think it’s anything other than death metal, but between the tape manipulation, production choices, and overall songwriting techniques on display, there’s really not anybody else in the genre who sounds exactly like these guys do. The musical pyrotechnics and inherent heaviness of the genre mingle beautifully with the inventive and novel invocations of cosmic dread that Superstition creates.
I’ve found myself, many times now since January, finishing this EP only to immediately start playing it over from the beginning. This isn’t an exaggeration at all; I really do find it hard to believe that another death metal release will come along this year and wrest the 2018 crown from Surging Throng. I will be watching this band’s next moves like a hawk to see what else winds up delivering itself forth from their font of creative energy. I’m deeply apologetic for ending on a space pun, but what Superstition has on their hands here is an absolutely stellar debut.
Best of the Rest
Aseitas – Aseitas
As is often the case with my more experimental music recommendations, I have to give a shout out to my friend Dave at Can This Eve Be Called Music? for introducing me to Aseitas and their crushing take on what we here at Heavy Blog affectionately call “skronk.” One thing I find myself missing with modern dissonant tech death is the underlying groove and hefty riffing that’s so central to death metal’s appeal for me. While I love the latest offerings from bands like Gorguts, Artifical Brain and the like, I often find myself wanting a solid, heavy passage amid the dense compositions and atonal assaults. From the opening, percussive thump of “Morning Star,” it was instantly clear that Aseitas were unknowingly filling this void in my personal voyage with skronk. The band’s self-titled full-length debut is an instant classic for the subgenre that excels at what makes the style distinct while adding a unique flair that adds a much-needed voice to the conversation.
In an odd way, Aseitas feels like the band See You Next Tuesday wishes they could have been, with elements of Ion Dissonance and Beneath the Massacre thrown into the mix as well. I used to love SYNT in high school, but after revisiting them not too long ago, I found myself wanting them to drop the goofy bullshit and focus on the underlying sparks of quality death metal in their sound. Aseitas fills that role and then some, with plenty of well-placed breakdowns and grooves amid throttling skronk. More importantly, the band knows exactly when and how to incorporate melody into their compositions, accenting churning riffs and grooves with atmospheric chords and vaguely industrial soundscapes. It’s an eclectic mixture that leans toward a myriad of tangential genres while still remaining a wholly crushing death metal album.
Depravity – Evil Upheaval
Australia has become a death metal haven over the past decade, with an insane amount of bands blasting through some of the most disgusting, sinister, and effective death metal riffage out there. Depravity joins the proud ranks of bands like Portal, Grave Upheaval, and various others in the pantheon of Australian death metal dominance.
Though the above comparisons are essentially geographic only. Depravity is much more brutal than the heady/murky vibe of those aforementioned acts. In fact, if we were to draw an accurate picture of the sounds present here, one could mention Morbid Angel’s latest (and slowly growing in stature for yours truly) record Kingdoms Disdained. Imagine that record with clearer production, and even more brutal low-end and even more speed and you’ll come close to the sonic onslaught Depravity present here. “Manic Onslaught” introduces us to the band’s immense, oddly catchy musical bent with immediate power and effectiveness. All of the instrumental performances here are fantastic, lending the music an air of absolute competence. But the band grow beyond being merely competent as the album unfolds. “Repugnant” and “The Great Divide” deliver on the promise of the album’s first few tracks by creating more expansive soundscapes that add texture and flavor that transcends the serviceable, culminating in the album’s best and most musically diverse track, “Vile Defloration”, which portends to many great things to come from this group.
If you like your death metal brutal and excessively heavy, you’ve come to the right place. If you like a little sonic adventure sprinkled on your bowl of crushed bones and blood, you may find that Evil Upheaval scratches that itch as well. An incredibly solid and enjoyable debut.
Garroted – Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors
Look at the cover art for Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors. Okay, cool, you know exactly what it sounds like now. This is one of the weirder death metal releases to grace 2018 so far, sounding as much like Rush played in a minor key with a heaping helping of distortion as it does like mid-period Morbid Angel. Continuing in the vein of weirdo old-school death metal greats like Timeghoul, Garrotted seems as intent on pushing the genre as far as it’ll go without losing structural integrity completely. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely sounds like death metal of a not-atypical breed, but everything is moving away from the traditional notions of what constitutes writing death metal just far enough that comparisons from outside the genre come just as easily as those within the genre.
What really brings Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors to the front line of the ongoing death metal upswing – which, for anybody keeping track at home, is absolutely chugging along this year still – is their ability to sound like a cohesive musical unit even as every member is firing on all cylinders across the entire release. Seriously, it’s hard to find death metal that’s this level of speedy and uncompromisingly technical within the old-school world that doesn’t have one member that outshines the rest. At times, the guitar work even calls to mind the neoclassical tech death virtuosity of Spawn of Possession, with counterpoint lead and rhythm guitars playing off each other in a dizzying, labyrinthine fashion. The songwriting spirals and stretches around itself, creating these weird, unorganized, occasionally messy bits of composition that always resolve in the strangest ways possible.
The key word to describe Garroted, I suppose, is “amorphous.” Everything stays within a recognizable death metal sound, but this is death metal as you’ve never quite heard it before, stretching and breaking itself before realigning itself into sinuous, angular forms that re-fragment as soon as you’ve figured out exactly what’s going on. It’s unconventional, it’s interesting beyond belief, and above all, it’s fucking impressive. Don’t miss this one.
Ghastly – Death Velour
Of all the noteworthy metal labels on the market, 20 Buck Spin has to be the most criminally underrated. While most of the other major players tend to release at least a couple duds each year, 20BS produces a consistent crop of excellent releases year after year. When it comes to the “quality over quantity” debate, barely anyone compares to their relatively small but entirely exceptional output. Case in point: this month’s edition of Death’s Door contains two slabs of 20BS-endorsed death metal that are both must-listen highlights for the genre this year. Simon certainly made a great case of why Superstition deserves the top spot this month, but for my money, Ghastly‘s Death Velour earns my vote as the can’t miss DM release for April. The duo continues the proud tradition of excellent Finnish death metal (Adramelech, Convulse, Demigod, Demilich, Funebre, Gorephilia, Hooded Menace, Lantern, etc.) with an album of off-kilter, blackened old school death metal that offers an impressively fresh, inventive take on the genre’s roots.
Not to sound like a TOTAL dick, but to me, Death Velour sounds like what people think Tribulation has been trying to do with their last couple albums (read my conflicted thoughts on Down Below here). With a blend of good ol’ fashioned Death with proto-black goodness à la Bathory and Venom, Ghastly takes this old-school foundation and adds in a youthful, experimental edge. This is due as much to Gassy Sam’s unhinged vocals as Ian J.’s eclectic instrumentation, which pulls obvious influence from the avant-garde tendencies of the aforementioned Finnish veterans. And with a succinct 37-minute, 7-track runtime, Death Velour strikes that sweet spot between “when will this end” and “I wish there was more.” There’s something here for death metal fans old and new, and listeners of both mindsets would be wise to follow what Ghastly has to offer. As much as we here at Heavy Blog love well-crafted OSDM, it often flirts a bit too close to mimicry rather than reinvention. It’s refreshing to see a band like Ghastly grease the old, trusty DM wheel in an invigorating direction.
Oxygen Destroyer – Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence and Death
When viewing metal in a historical context, it’s fairly obvious that thrash and death metal are inseparable. The death metal scene of Florida doesn’t develop as rapidly or powerfully without the foundation of the Bay, and all who worship the raging sounds of the modern death machine should have a shrine to Slayer or Kreator somewhere in their basement. That said, it’s really nice when bands find that sweet spot of thrashy death: speed and instrumental dexterity mixed with the relentless heaviness and general menace of early death metal. Oxygen Destroyer finds that balance on their debut record, and it’s a glorious thing to behold.
The band refers to their sound as “brutal thrashing kaiju metal”, and they aren’t wrong. In case the absolutely magnificent cover artwork didn’t give it away, fans of Gojira and Pacific Rim can and should rejoice! They’ve found your metal soundtrack to all the kaiju mayhem and destruction their heart desires. And mayhem and destruction Oxygen Destroyer bring, along with raging tsunamis of premium riffs. If the riff game doesn’t suit your fancy, avoid this release like the plague. If you’ve come for riffs, sit, listen, and be trampled to death. From the opening seconds of “Cleansing the Earth of Humanity’s Existence” (good god what a title) to the closing salvo of “Atomic Breath”, this record is utterly relentless in the riff department. It’s a blisteringly paced, filthy, ridiculously heavy album that is as good as one will hear with these two metal subgenres in tow. If you appreciate thrash or death metal of the old school variety, and especially if you like seeing them mashed together, don’t skip this one.
Unravel – Eras of Forfeit
Australia. Back at it again with the dank death. Will the wonders of this country/continent never cease? Not if Unravel have anything to do with it. Mixing the sounds of old school death metal and grind, Unravel bring the pain with their debut record Eras of Forfeit. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t feel like we, the consumer, get nearly enough deathgrind. It’s flat-out depressing, and I for one will not stand for it. Thankfully, Unravel unleash a beastly enough mixture of the two to partially alleviate my seething rage. This is good stuff throughout. If you like Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, and other acts in this space you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.
While most certainly a deathgrind record, to my ears Unravel tinker far more with the OSDM side of the equation, which is just fine by me. Grind elements rear their ugly heads in “Reign of Wasps”, “Perpetual Servitude”, and “Fostering the Festering Spawn” to great effect, but the band is at their most aggressive when they let the death metal elements of their sound dominate. “Sycophant” is a gem of death metal madness, allowing its riffs to ride to their logical extreme. Closer “Vermankind” offers a similar sacrifice to the death metal gods, mixing speed and low-end brutality with skill. It’s as excellent a hybrid of these two sounds as I’ve heard so far this year, and I can’t wait for more of it.