Welcome to Death’s Door. Wipe your feet on the mat, because I can’t even with this month. So busy. So damn tired. It feels like an eternity I’ve spent trying to focus up on my musings for this past month’s death metal offerings. So no flowery introduction this month. Just unadorned death metal awesomeness.
As you will see below, May was a very good month for the ol’ slash and burn. Death metal bands of all shapes and sizes made quality appearances, generating a diverse smorgasbord of delights for all to enjoy. So kick back in a bone chair and relax, because we’re about to talk some premium death. Joining me once again is my friend and colleague in all things heinous, Simon. Enjoy the madness.
Cream of the Crop:
Alkaloid – Liquid Anatomy
There are a few of us here at Heavy Blog who thought that topping The Malkuth Grimoire would be impossible. That album had just about everything a fan of progressive, technical death metal could want and then some. Granted, it was a bit scattered in its presentation of its most insane elements, but that’s somewhat understandable when digesting the titanic feat that was Alkaloid’s debut. Last month saw the release of Liquid Anatomy, and we who cawed to the eternal ascendency of the band’s auspicious debut had to eat a whole lot of crow. Liquid Anatomy is better, and potentially the best death metal release of the year.
Let’s cut to the chase, here. Every fan of death metal comes to the subgenre for different things. Some of us like our riffs as straightforward, fast, and brutal as possible. Others like the more technical side of the equation. Others still are into the more experimental, disjointed and jegged highs that this music is capable of. Liquid Anatomy offers a little bit of everything a death metal fan could want, while never focusing too intently on any one particular style. The plucky opening of “Kernal Panic” and its prog-related delights melts into “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten”, which in its latter half includes some relentless, old school chugging that should delight anyone who enjoys death metal’s most primal gut punches. ”Azagthoth bends straight toward technical wankery, while the title track presents a haunting, mid-tempo masterclass in death metal gone experimental (albeit without the jagged edges). The frequently clean vocals are also a welcome change of pace throughout the album, allowing the album’s concept to unfold intelligibly and with great power. Won’t get into that here. You need to discover the wonders this album contains lyrically on your own.
It’s hard to imagine another death metal record matching the highs contained here this year. It’s a truly fantastic example of how to do this music right, and will undoubtedly stand the test of time as a seminal achievement for the “Other Obscura”. A fantastic release on every measureable metric.
Best of the Rest:
At the Gates – To Drink from the Night Itself
I’ll be honest, it’s been a good while since I’ve cared about this band. Slaughter of the Soul is without question one of the best death metal records of all-time. As the progenitor of the Gothenburg Style, few can match its unrelenting speed and technical precision. But the band’s history on the whole has not been nearly as successful in regards to quality as, say, Immolation, Incantation, Death, or a host of other long-standing death metal acts. At War With Reality was, in my mind, a close to complete dud, failing to ignite any interest or passion in the continuation of the band. Needless to say I was quite skeptical of how their latest record, To Drink from the Night Itself, would turn out. After several thorough listens, color me pleasantly surprised. This record is a worthy addition to the bands catalog, heralding back to the tracks that made the band the institution that it is, and giving me hope for potential future releases.
To Drink from the Night Itself succeeds where At War with Reality failed by presenting a cohesive vision that feels in-line with and justified by the band’s previous work. Pulling the intensity of The Red in the Sky is Ours and coupling it with the speed and precision of Slaughter, this record stays on track throughout, delivering familiar yet welcome blow after death metal blow. The title track is fantastic, mixing manic speed with ear-worm riffs that I can guarantee you will be thinking about for hours after your listening session is over. “A Stare Bound in Stone”, “Palace of Lepers”, and “Daggers of Black Haze” slow down the pace only slightly, presenting more quality riff work that shows plainly that the band took their time to create an album that refuses to ride on the coattails of their previous success by instead creating something worthwhile in its own right. This is a memorable record that is worth the time investment.
I don’t know if I’d call it a true comeback yet, but At the Gates have released their first legitimately good record since their reformation. Here’s hoping they produce a whole lot more like this in the near future.
The Beast of Nod – Vampira: Disciple of Chaos
Holy hell, this album came out of nowhere. Every so often I get one of those albums that I put on due to a friendly recommendation because I’m bored or have worked through my to-listen list. This was one such album, and I’ve been kicking myself incessantly for not knowing about this band sooner. The Beast of Nod provide a twisting, winding, progressive death metal album with a cool concept to boot. This is death metal for people who dig Vektor, and you’d be remiss to skip this one.
As far as debut albums go, this is about as assured and focused as you’re going to find in today’s death metal landscape. The riffs are distinct and memorable (particularly in opener “A Prison of Ice” and “Potroast the Rhinoman”), and the synth work adds a delightful flare to the proceedings in “The Vanishing Commutator” and “The Phoenix Nebula”. The band exhibits masterful control over their instruments as well, with “Vampira Infernalis” offering some of the most impressive metal musicianship I’ve heard this year. It’s an ambitious package that works incredibly well 90% of the time. Sure, there’s room for growth here. Creating a better sense of sonic and thematic cohesion will serve the band well in the future, but damn if this isn’t a ridiculously fun record filled to the brim with potential. If you like your death metal spacey, proggy, techy, and sci-fi-infused, give this thing a listen.
De Profundis – The Blinding Light of Faith
De Profundis really dislike organized religion. They’ve been playing music centered around its ills and the suffering it has caused for nearly a decade now, and they do it really well. Every mark of a seasoned, confident veteran band doing what they do best can be found in The Blinding Light of Faith, which may be their most diverse (and best) album yet.
Damn, this album just does it for me. The blistering, thick, clear guitar work of “War Be Upon Him” is catchy as all hell, and the riffs in “Bastard Sons of Abraham” are just great. That particular track has an almost traditional heavy metal approach to its song structure, which is unexpected and welcome. The production work on this album is also incredibly solid, highlighting the best bits of the material here constantly. While some may be turned off by the clear, chunky tones on this record, I can’t get enough of them. This album zips, cracks, and rumbles in all the right ways, and just flat-out sounds great. If you’re looking for some quality death metal with a laser-focus on the ills of modern religion, you’ve found a new trusty companion.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more solid album in the band’s discography. The Blinding Light of Faith is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining release with memorable riffs and some expert playing thrown into the mix. With this record Transcending Obscurity continues their ferocious foray into the death metal spotlight. A fine piece of work.
Ritual Necromancy – Disinterred Horror
One of my consistent talking points when it comes to American death-doom is the way that Immolation doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Sure, Incantation deserves their time to shine, but really, we all need to collectively admit to ourselves that Robert Vigna really should be talked about more as one of the best riff-writers that death metal has ever seen. His method of using some of the gnarliest pinch harmonics ever recorded to perfectly accentuate riffs has been deployed far and wide across death metal and although it’d be wrong to say he invented the tactic, it’s certainly not a stretch to say he absolutely perfected it.
Ritual Necromancy, though, certainly do not trail far behind Immolation in terms of their use of this technique. Across Disinterred Terror, the group’s second full-length outing, there are enough pinch harmonic-driven punches to the gut to satisfy even the most Immolation-starved of metal fans. Fear not, that’s certainly not the only thing this album has going for it: Disinterred Horror is a twisting, non-Euclidean mass of death metal that roils and churns with riffs that are both unbelievably heavy and undeniably ugly. Sonically, it’s stuck somewhere at the halfway point between Immolation and other American greats Incantation, but it’s certainly not limited to either of those camps. Disinterred Horror isn’t afraid to slough off whatever doesn’t work for them from any of their influences, and it’s an extremely streamlined album with a lot of personal character for this reason. All in all, Ritual Necromancy have hit it out of the park with Disinterred Horror, and any American death metal fan worth their salt should be loath to skip this one.
Sadistik Forest – Morbid Majesties
Speaking of Transcending Obscurity, Finnish demons Sadistik Forest released their latest assault, Morbid Majesties, on we unsuspecting mortals last month as well. At a fairly brief thirty-four minutes, there’s little but meat on these bloody bones. This is the audio equivalent of a very forceful punch to the face, and I’m loving it.
As a unit, Sadistik Forest channel the sheer brutality of Cannibal Corpse into their own unique template, generating a fully engaged death metal menace. The riffs on this record are ferocious and frequent, not to mention well-constructed and dynamic when they choose to be. But let’s be clear that this isn’t a record that’s trying too hard to impress you with its technical wizardry. This group knows what it’s good at, and does just that throughout the album’s duration. Whether it’s the aptly named “Decades of Torment Then Death” obliterating all life with its menacing speed and hammering drum work or “The Hour of Dread”’s fundamentally sound chug-a-thon, Sadistik Forest consistently highlight their deep understanding and mastery of what makes death metal tic. It’s a virtuosic display of straightforward brutality that is utterly enjoyable on repeat listens.
Skinless – Savagery
I already wrote a full-length review of this bad boy, so I’ll keep my thoughts brief and begin by stating the obvious: Skinless aren’t even trying to be mysterious. Their new record is exactly what it says it is: raw, unmitigated Savagery. From its disgusting album art to the music contained beneath it, this album is an absolutely punishing outing from the New York death metal staples. I’ve heard quite a bit of death metal this year, and there are few records that so directly and effectively deliver their titanic slabs of audio violence. This is vicious stuff.
Returning from a decade-long hiatus in 2015 and after a three-year gap between records, one could realistically expect a little rust from the dudes of Skinless. Those, like myself, who were looking for some notches in the armor won’t find them here. From the first notes of the opening and title track, Skinless burst out the gate with all cylinders pumping. The riffs here aren’t particularly new or innovative, but they are so damn relentless that it’s hard to even notice. This band isn’t attempting to create something new, instead opting to further perfect the sound that they are already known for. “Siege Engine” takes all of the elements that have made the band famous in this community and doubled down on them in epic fashion, creating what is perhaps the best song of their career. The guitar work on this track and throughout is thoroughly impressive, bouncing between intense chugs and mind-warping solos that push all of my OSDM buttons. It’s a record for people who were hoping Skinless would be Skinless, and that’s just fine by me.
Comebacks are a tricky thing. Just ask (insert dozens of metal bands here). But Skinless are doing this right. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. They never were. Instead, they have latched onto the things that make them Skinless, and doubled-down on the pure aggression that makes them such an enjoyable band to listen to. Savagery is a worthy addition to their catalog, and a fine album of death metal destruction.