Greetings, mortals! That’s right – I’ve taken the keys to the pit from Jonathan this month. Wipe your feet on the mat and pull up a seat at the throne. Seeing as this is my first time kicking off our monthly ode to death metal, it must be a worthy occasion, right? Well, as the abundance of picks below should indicate, June was quite the month for metal’s filthiest subgenre. I mean, that’s been true for pretty much every month in 2018, but…I digress. Jonathan and I have congregated with a slew of picks from every corner of the genre for your listening pleasure/torment.
Which actually brings me to the main reason I accosted this space from Jonathan’s cold, decrepit hands (no seriously, he’s ok, I promise). I’ll be publishing a minor, well-deserved atonement further on in the post along with my recommendation for Wombbath’s great new album The Great Desolation (no spoilers – read on). Yet, I do have a point of contention with the way the album was marketed by Soulseller Records. The Bandcamp page for the album describes Wombbath’s style as “heavy and uncompromising death metal without any modern influences.” Two quick points – 1.) This is mostly accurate, in a good way. & 2.) This approach can work very well for bands who know how to pull off a straightforward sound.
But what really grinds my gears is the underlying insinuation at play here; the suggestion that a lack of modern influences is inherently a good thing. And before you write this off as an unwarranted overreaction, let me assure you that there’s a decent portion of the metal community Jonathan and I have encountered that are perfectly content with their subgenre of choice staying exactly the way it sounded when they were first brought into metal’s fold. And that’s exactly why I grimaced after reading that line.
Absolutely NO genre benefits from completely blocking of any modern influences. That might seem like a controversial statement, but it shouldn’t be. Every memorable album I’ve encountered has done at least something new, whether it’s true innovation or bringing new ideas to an established sound. We cover bands from both ends of the spectrum, ranging from avant-garde, mathy tech death from bands like The Aftermath to new bands adding new urgency to old-school sounds like Tomb Mold. Even Wombbath in all their “pure death metal” fury incorporate melodic elements from elsewhere in the genre.
This intro’s gone on a bit long, but I feel like my point’s been made. We pride ourselves on making Death’s Door a space for death metal that jocks the old, current and new, and that won’t change no matter what. Again, purism isn’t a virtue as much as experimentation isn’t a sin. Death metal done well is exactly that, and we’re glad we live in a time where the quality of the genre only continues to improve from year to year.
Cream of the Crop
Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
These days, it seems like the music press only cares about metal if it comes from an established act, a cheesy pope or a code orange kid. We’ve been tireless critics of modern metal journalism over here at Heavy Blog, so it’s refreshing when prominent outlets give some well-deserved props to younger bands putting out incredible albums. Case in point: the critical acclaim that’s been bestowed upon Tomb Mold, the Toronto-based quartet of OSDM hellraisers who’ve returned with another crushing album a year after their full-length debut on Blood Harvest Records. The usual suspects around our office all loved Primordial Malignity when it dropped seemingly out of nowhere last year. Simon plopped a Bandcamp link into our Facebook group and prompted several wide-eyed reactions. Eight tracks and a half hour later, Tomb Mold effortlessly leveled us with some of the grimiest, unrestrained death metal we’d heard in 2017, hardly a small feat considering the band’s competition. Talented players deserve a bump up to the majors, and it was great to see Tomb Mold get the nod from 20 Buck Spin and step up with a quick turnaround on their sophomore album. Unsurprisingly, the excellently titled and cover art-ed Manor of Infinite Forms improves on everything Primordial Malignity had to offer and then some. We usually come to a consensus for our monthly “Cream of the Crop,” but in June, there was no discussion needed as to which album deserved the top spot.
Above all else, Manor of Infinite Forms benefits from a marked improvement on the production front. Cavernous, lo-fi recording certainly has its place in death metal, and this approach definitely complemented the raucous romp on Primordial Malignity. But it’s hard to put into words how impactful the crisp, resonant tones from the band’s first notes on the opening title track are. The music feels so much richer, detailed and vaguely progressive right from the initial guitar wails, floor toms and gurgling growls, a trend that continues throughout the track and the album. As if Decrepit Birth‘s heaviest moments took on the thematic elements of good ol’ Incantation worship, Manor of Infinite Forms finds Tomb Mold offering up a bevy of sonic options for the listener to grasp onto. There’s always something to latch onto and unpack, right before the band snaps it away and drowns the listener in another form of sludgy, pummeling goodness.
Part of the album’s success is due to its structural boldness. One track shorter but 10 minutes longer than Primordial Malignity, Tomb Mold’s sophomore album demonstrates a confident leap forward in terms of ambitious songwriting. The scorching passages of unbridled death metal are still here in abundance, but instead of packaging them as is, the band pays head to pace and development to ensure each track twists and turns in a plethora of enticing directions. This brings the band into some truly grandiose territory on “Two Worlds Become One,” a phenomenal conclusion that opens with virtuosic acoustic guitar before an absolutely killer riff sweeps the listener off their feet. The band rips through some borderline death doom before calling it a day, leaving a field of waste in their wake.
Track by track, Tomb Mold have enhanced their sound and leaped into invigorating new territory. An early contender for death metal AOTY, Manor of Infinite Forms is bold, inventive and just downright punishing in a way that few of the band’s peers have managed to match with their own output. Having a one-two punch with back to back releases proves just how much further Tomb Mold are capable of growing, and I for one am excited to spin their sophomore album plenty more times while I wait for the band’s next offering.
Best of the Rest
The Aftermath – Vermine
I’ve written a lot of words regarding this record, so I’ll keep my thoughts brief and concise. For the uninitiated, The Aftermath are a technical death/grindcore band from Quebec. They’ve been active for over a decade, and have released only two EPs before unleashing their full-length debut, Vermine, last month. The amount of time it took to create this beast of a record was well spent, because it’s an absolutely incredible piece of technical aggression that is well worth the short amount of time it will take you to invest in it.
Clocking in at just under 25-minutes, Vermine is tech death stripped bare of pretense and excess in order to deliver only the choicest cuts. It’s a lean, mean, brain-melting machine of a record that boils down technical death metal to its raw essence: Pulverizing, aggressive, lightning fast death metal that focuses on technicality as a key component of its songwriting structure. Think Gorguts and Archspire but even more truncated and aggressive. Opener “Shine” should tell you just about everything you need to know about the record, including its fantastic production value, airtight performances, and strict adherence to interesting songcraft.
No more words necessary. Listen to this thing as soon as you can. Well worth your time.
Chthe’ilist – Passage into the Xexanotth
Our favorite band that we can’t pronounce correctly (or can we? I don’t even know anymore…) is back with one hell of an EP. With Passage into the Xexanotth, Chthe’ilist once again display their mastery of the death metal arts with two tracks that are as good as anything they’ve written thus far in their career. If you weren’t already chomping at the bit for a new full-length from these Canadian monsters, this EP should do it for you. Serving as a bite-sized morsel of what we’ve come to expect from the band, it’s a perfect introduction point for anyone who wants to dip their toes into the slime-covered waters of the band’s sound.
The opening and title track is a straight-up riff fest. Plain and simple. Focusing heavily on the grimy, cavernous production that has darkened many a death metal record’s doorstep over the past few years, Chthe’ilist channel their own slice of echo-laden darkness into an effective package of memorable, discombobulating riffs. Just as it should be. Incorporating doom-elements into their songwriting is not an unfamiliar decision for Chthe’ilist, and this track highlights that tendency with plenty of verve, allowing the pace to ebb and flow in a way that is both organic and highly effective. Another highlight of this track is the bass work, which rides high in the mix and bounces with an elastic energy that adds tons of flare to the band’s weird take on death metal. We can thank Dan Lowndes for more fantastic production work here. The EPs second track “Beneath the Crypts” is equally fantastic, showcasing Phil Tougas’ excellent lead work yet again, along with Philippe Boucher’s manic-yet-controlled drum work. The entire band is in top form here, and for such a short offering there is much to commend them for.
Holding onto that weird, Timeghoul-ish space of death metal with a vice grip, Chthe’ilist seem poised for another death metal takeover akin to what they accomplished with 2016’s Le Dernier Crepuscule. All I can ask for now is more, please. And soon.
Construct of Lethe – Exiler
Another banger that I wrote a bunch of words about earlier this week, but it bears repeating here: Construct of Lethe are onto something special with their sophomore record Exiler. This is the kind of hazy, unstable death metal that has made bands like Ulcerate and Artificial Brain so influential in this space of the metal world. Also heralding back to the sounds conjured by mid-career Morbid Angel, there’s plenty of hefty riffing to chew on alongside the spacier, more technical bits. It’s a balanced, diverse slab of death metal that is on the whole one of the more enjoyable releases I’ve heard from the subgenre this year.
While the entire album is chock-full of delectable bangers, none come close to the towering colossus that is “The Clot”, which is the best synthesis of the band’s various influences and without question the most impactful song they’ve written. Deftly mixing classic death metal chugging with an unsteady undercurrent of dizzy, off-kilter guitar work, the track’s opening is incredibly compelling. Frothing to a militant march as the drums kick in, the whole arrangement eventually implodes into a teeming black pool of guitar-based darkness, drowning itself in a vibe that can only be equated to complete and total insanity. But it refuses to stay here, periodically popping out into some dramatic riffing that not only fits the song, but adds an entirely new element to its sound that is both somewhat jarring and infinitely rewarding. It’s a lights-out masterpiece of a track from a band that is capable of going anywhere they want to in the world of metal.
It’s a wonderful feeling to find an album that presses all of the right buttons when it comes to its chosen style. Construct of Lethe have created that here with Exiler, and it’s their best work as a band by a fairly large margin. Don’t sleep on this band. You’ll most certainly be hearing more of them here in the (hopefully very near) future.
Gutter Instinct – Heirs Of Sisyphus
As you can probably glean from my writer bio/quote/thing at the bottom of my posts, I’m a mighty big fan of French-Algerian author/philosopher Albert Camus. I remember reading both The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus in college and feeling like Camus has transcribed the Absurdist philosophy directly from my own worldview. So superficial as this may be, the title of Gutter Instinct’s latest album immediately earned it a place on my playlist. With so much death metal out there, contextual factors help to narrow down the field of what’s worth listening to, and it helps when my gut instinct (lol) ends up paying off. Heirs of Sisyphus is the sonic equivalent of its titular inspiration – brutal torment that’s insanely enjoyable from start to…well, there’s no finish for Sisyphus, but you get the idea.
Labeling Heirs of Sisyphus blackened death metal is technically true, but misleading. Instead of blackened blasts in the vein of Behemoth and their ilk, Gutter Instinct have perfected an offshoot of Entombed-core that leverages the Swede’s thick, chunky death metal with the foreboding tone of black metal. The results are thunderous and surprisingly complex; thumping HM-2 riffs suddenly give way to twin guitar melodies and tints of sinister majesty. Simon Fridlund leads the charge with a truly ferocious bark that accents the band’s Left Hand Path-meets-Vile-meets-A Blaze in the Northern Sky approach. Tracks like “The Abyss Speaks” are a bit more blackened than the album as a whole, but every track is firmly rooted at the foot of a steep mountain. And with music this good, you’ll happily roll the boulder up and over the peak again and again and again and…
Mortuous – Through Wilderness
I’m without question an avid appreciator of metal album artwork. Both as an individual piece of art and in its potential connection to or expression of the music it adorns, a good piece of album artwork can add a great deal to value to a musical work. It’s especially fitting when the art itself can be directly tied thematically to your experience with said music. Take the album artwork for Mortuous’ debut record Through Wilderness, created by the masterful Marald van Haasteren, for example. In it, a humanoid figure is rotting, decapitated, decomposing into the vegetation that has now become a biological part of it. It’s fairly obvious that this shell of a human body met a quite violent end before making its way back to the earth. Behind it, a maze stretches across the ground, ominous and uncaring. This is an excellent example of album artwork that amplifies what the music might bring. In this case, a maze of audio violence intent on ripping your damn head straight from your body and leaving you to rot. Which is exactly what this record does. Listen with caution.
It would be very difficult to discuss this record without mentioning the influence of Incantation. In the riffs, songwriting structure, and vacillation between doom-laden trudging and OSDM blasting, the impact that the masters of cavernous death-doom have had on Mortuous is distinctly visible. Is this the most original record you will hear in 2018? No. Will fans of filthy death metal find plenty to enjoy? Hell yes. Start to finish, this is a quality slab of the good stuff. Following a brief (and transfixing) acoustic opening, opener “Beyond Flesh” proceeds to stack riffs on top of riffs in a slimy blast of the choicest and nastiest death-doom your likely to hear this year.
This band knows exactly what they are trying to do and don’t deviate from that mission for even a moment. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of stylistic diversity. Death and doom battle it out throughout the record in a hellish back and forth that is a true pleasure to hear. “Chrysalis of Sorrow” might be the best example on the record of this battle, jumping back and forth between agonizingly slow doom and ridiculously abrasive speedy death. The band also interject some unique acoustic or toned-down guitar interludes that add a distinct and unique flavor to the music, such as in the beginning of “Anguish and Insanity” or the close of “Screaming Headless”. Never too flashy, never distracting, these additional portions of sonic diversity serve to heighten the overall intensity of the record, making it one of the more impressive death-doom releases this year.
If you survive the listening experience Mortuous have prepared for you, I commend you. It’s a violent chunk of death-doom insanity that adds very little new to the subgenre, but doesn’t need to. Its mission is complete and total sonic brutalization, and it accomplishes that mission in spades. Highly recommended.
Mylingar – Döda Drömmar
Mylingar is a death metal band from Sweden. Döda Drömmar is their debut full-length record, and it’s a fucking hellscape. A walking, breathing, vicious, violent and relentless nightmare. Honestly, it’s a bit difficult to overstate how distinctly destructive this music is. There is absolutely no light within it. It’s the embodiment of pure, unadulterated metallic darkness. This is the death metal your mother warned you about, the kind that you were supposed to stay far away from as a kid. It’s the kind of music that drove pastors to write vitriolic sermons decrying the loss of a generation to Satan himself in the 80s and 90s. It’s the vinegar on Christ’s lips as he perished on the cross. It’s disgusting, absolutely filthy music that has no place in an ordered, civilized society. Which is, if I’m being honest, about as enthusiastic an endorsement as I can give a death metal record. It’s unconditionally vile in all the right ways.
Working under a shroud of anonymity, these Swedes have created with their debut record something truly filthy. Helming a guitar tone that feels ripped directly from the industrial revolution, these songs blast through enough passages of disintegrating-as-they’re-created riffs and razor-sharp leads to make one’s stomach churn. There is nothing here outside manic aggression, and it bleeds through every track on this record. The vocals are jarring and bile-filled, pulling in elements from brutal death metal and osdm to create something truly repulsive. One of the absolute highlights of the album, the vocals feel unhinged in a way that fits the music like a glove. Filled with wheezes, coughs, gurgles, lustful growls, and world-crushing bellows, it’s an incredibly dynamic performance that is worthy of special commendation. Skip right to “Ritualen” if you want to get an earful of some of the best death metal vocals of 2018.
But despite the vocal gyrations present throughout, it’s the guitar work and propulsive, skull-shattering drums that are the true stars of the show. As songwriters, the band do a decent job of eking out just a touch of melody in the maelstrom, keeping these songs from going completely off the rails, which they often feel like they’re about to do. “Skammen”, “Loftet”, and “Besvikelsen” are strong examples of the band’s ability to embed melody into truly heinous amounts of audio chaos. It’s a complete package of death metal ecstasy, and I loved every second of it.
This record is no joke. The music being created by this band is a sharp repudiation of any and all music headed towards even the faintest form of light. Investing all of their skill in creating a tumultuous black sea of total chaos and death, Mylingar have conjured one of the purest examples of the spirit of death metal this year. I will be listening to this thing frequently, surrendering myself to its dark and all-consuming power. If you like the feeling of being emotionally and metaphysically pulverized, you should too.
Taphos – Come Ethereal Somberness
Chord progressions are something I wish I saw highlighted more prominently when it comes to metal discourse. Sure, riffs are the shit, but how a band strings them together is what spawns memorability. I thought about this a lot during my numerous run-throughs of Come Ethereal Somberness, as Taphos continued to drag me through carefully constructed songs full of enthralling structures and evolutions. Again, a bounty of memorable riffs can be found on every track, but the way they’re linked together to create truly memorable songs is what cements Taphos as a band who will eternally be on my radar from here on out. Jonathan said it best in his review: “This is a memorable and deeply enjoyable record that most any fan of death metal’s gnarlier elements will relish.”
Just take opening track “Letum.” Guitarists M and D effortlessly shift between an Immolation-esque riff to a tense passage full of urgency to bouncy, Demilich worship, all while retaining a consistent sonic theme that circles back again perfectly. It’s difficult to call most any death metal “catchy,” but a similar sentiment is certainly warranted here. In the same way, “Impending Peril” sees blasts and riffs propelling each other into a brutal romp, with snare hits snapping off of a run of deeply evil chords. Not to mention it’s impossible not to bounce at the double-kick, tremolo breakdown toward the end of the track.
Even the shorter songs feel necessary and well-composed. The acoustic interlude and outro on “Dysfori” and “Obitum, respectively, feel M and D are plucking away at while sitting on the edge of hell, their feet dangling over the abyss. It’s this attention to detail, development and structure that’s so intriguing and rewarding about Come Ethereal Somberness. None of this is foreign to death metal obviously, but it’s striking to hear a band just “get it” this completely. Instead of relying on a cool riff here and there, Taphos continuously mold and shape their sound of every track to ensure the listener never loses interest for a moment.
Wombbath – The Great Desolation
So, as I alluded to in my intro, I owe Wombbath a bit of an apology. I tossed their 2015 comeback album Downfall Rising a pretty lukewarm review and score (hey, remember when we did those?), describing the band as “a standard death metal band releasing an album of equal quality.” Hopefully this doesn’t surprise any of you, but reviewers are capable of changing their opinions from time to time. I ended up feeling just a bit more positive about Downfall Rising upon later listens, but the band’s pre-reunion album Internal Caustic Torments clicked with me recently and quickly became one of my favorite offerings of 90s death metal. Fast forward a bit and we arrive at the vastly improved The Great Desolation, an album leaps and bounds ahead of Downfall Rising in every measurable way. I may have been critical of Wombbath in the past, but consider myself thoroughly silenced by the success the band achieve on their best album since Internal Caustic Torments. The competition wasn’t fierce, of course, but these riffs sure are.
Despite my gripes with the description put forth by Soulseller Records, The Great Desolation is indeed old school, Swedish death metal performed with minimal thrills and a phenomenal guitar tone. As odd as it sounds, the album reminds me of the first time I listened to Misery Index. In both cases, the bands smacked me around with a hefty dose of death metal played exactly how it’s meant to be played – heavy, fast and unrelenting. Expect heaps of resonant, beefy guitar riffs and plenty of blasts, d-beats and drum fills to pump endlessly into your unprepared eardrums.
My main caveat here is that the album isn’t just straightforward death metal through and through. In a pleasantly surprising twist, the band incorporates a fair deal of melody into the tracklisting to nod toward Sweden’s other, more melodic death metal trend. The title track, “Footsteps of Armageddon,” “Born of Filth” and “Hail the Obscene” all have dueling twin guitar leads or somber, death-doom melodies that bear little resemblance to the surrounding riffage. It’s certainly welcome, of course, and it’s impressive to see a band not historically attuned with their melodic side decide to shake things up years upon years into their career.
I suppose that’s yet another thing I need to give Wombbath credit for. Not all risks taken by veteran acts pay off, but these new elements elevate the band’s abilities and dynamic songwriting throughout the album. It’s a testament to their continued perseverance and willingness to hone their craft 25 years after their debut. That’s certainly commendable from any band, let alone a group of musicians who pumped out one of death metal’s most underrated, should-be-a-classic albums. Don’t make the same mistake I did and sleep on these guys. As far as veteran reunions go, Wombbath have redeemed themselves in savage fashion.