Greetings, my Hellions. Welcome to another installment of Death’s Door. There’s no point in the typical pleasantries. This place is so covered in blood from the absolutely insane amount of deadly death metal released this month that we may not ever be able to clean it. So grab a bone throne and get cozy. You have hours of listening ahead of you.
Last month, I wrote about the overwhelming glut of incredible death metal released in 2018, and bemoaned the time-based gatekeeping of sectors of the death metal community that may keep people from enjoying it. The argument surrounding which is the best era of death metal can be solved in a similar manner to that of whiskey consumption (of which I am also fond): The best era of death metal (like a good whiskey) is the era death metal you like, consumed exactly the way you like it. For those who relish the modern scope of death metal, it’ll be pretty difficult to deny that August 2018 was one for the ages. Deathgrind, tech death, brutal death, Aussie death, progressive death, it’s all here in shocking abundance. For those who may have missed out on some of this month’s releases, take heart. Heavy Blog’s got you covered.
As per the usual, my partner in death and destruction Scott joins in the bloodletting with some premium recommendations. We are always prowling for the latest and greatest in the death metal world, so shout your picks at us in the comments. Happy listening.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Convulsing – Grievous
Fortunately for listeners of every persuasion, death metal (and metal overall, for that matter) is truly a rabbit hole genre. As soon as the scene’s founders dove into the abyss, infinite branching tunnels and a general sense of endlessness has allowed the style to warp into a broad range of sonic territories. Even a supposed “niche” genre like dissonant death metal has various factions at play within the scene: Pyrrhon take a borderline mathcore approach; Portal exist under piles of blackened murk; Artifical Brain are as equally indebted to tech death; and so on. As with any web of tunnels, there’s always a point in which these multiple off-shooting tunnels converge. In the case of Convulsing, the resulting chamber is an immense cavern worthy of intense inspection and admiration, both for its structure and its awing scope and majesty. The one-man band’s latest album Grievous is an exercise in both synthesis and mastery of the subtle but potently unique shades of dissonant death metal’s already rich palette.
Hailing from Australia, Brendan Sloan helms the project from every angle, and he capably handles each aspect of the album’s expansive display. A nod to Gorguts is pretty much required for any analysis of this subgenre, but Sloan’s work under the Convulsing banner stretches further into territory not often explored by his peers. Sure, there’s plenty of ripping, deathly assault throughout the album that fans of Ulcerate and the aforementioned Portal will certainly find to be of interest. Then again, these passages are executed with a great deal more finesse and depth than the former band and much, much more clarity than the latter. Instead of punding bursts of riffs and drums, Sloan infuses the perfect ratios of melody, melancholy and a general vastness, creating a sublime atmosphere that sacrifices not an ounce of brutal impact.
Digging deeper, another aspect important to highlight is Sloan’s affinity for the textures afforded by various shades of doom. Throughout the album, but on “Relent” in particular,” the album envelops the listener in massive soundscapes that could easily fit on an album from Lycus or even Evoken, while never fully embracing the funereal pace or diminished momentum that comes with doomy territory. Rather, Sloan uses these sounds to bolster his existing approach and achieves phenomenal results. This is on full display on album closer “Strewn/Adrift,” which approaches death-doom from a blackened, funereal angle to craft the perfect epilogue to a blissfully overwhelming experience. On top of this, the main melodic riff the track revolves around is a truly infectious progression that, once again, demonstrates how many unique ways Sloan is capable of adding depth to his music.
The plight of determining the peak performer is the main struggle of death metal having such a banner year. With Grievous, Convulsing just made that internal debate a great deal easier for me, a sentiment I’m sure Jonathan shares. There are months where Jonathan and I toss around a couple of potential albums that could earn this “Cream of the Crop” spot; August wasn’t one of them. There’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that Grievous will remain a frontrunner in the conversation for death metal AOTY, despite some stiff competition. On top of all this, Sloan has put the album up as a “Name Your Price” release on Bandcamp, though his remarkable efforts deserve much more than just your time and attention. Convulsing is precisely the type of artist we strive to showcase in our constant effort to highlight underground, independent artists, and when we as a scene come together to support the next wave of great talent, it benefits everyone involved and continues the seemingly constant upward trajectory of what sonic heights metal can reach.
Best of the Rest
Aethereus – Absentia
Ah, yes. Tech death done right. This being my first exposure to Washington’s Aethereus, I approached this album with fairly neutral expectations. Happy to report that my feelings swung to abject enthusiasm fairly quickly. Mixing the technical derring-do of bands like Inferi with the obfuscation of Ulcerate or Ulsect, Aethereus have crafted a debut record of epic proportions that fans of quality tech death should relish.
With the glut of mesmerizing tech death released this year, it’s pretty difficult to stick out from the crowd. Aethereus do so with clever songcraft that throws in just enough curveballs to keep Absentia perpetually interesting. Whether it’s the keys that break through “Cascades of Light”, the acoustic musings of “Writhe”, the synthy string interlude found in “Mortal Abrogation”, or the out-of-nowhere tempo and tone changes in tracks like “Fluorescent Halls of Decay” and “That Which Is Left Behind”, Aethereus keep their music infinitely engaging throughout. Looking back on the record, there are few (if any) changes I would make to this tracklist. It’s solid enjoyment from start to finish.
Tech death and I have a pretty specific relationship. It takes a particular type of aesthetic and sound to keep me fully on-board past two or three tracks, and Absentia kept me present and engaged throughout. This is a band with enormous potential, and even if we never got another record, we’d always have Absentia to fill the tech death void in our hearts. A great release.
Carnation – Chapel of Abhorrence
One of our favorite games to play behind the scenes is “Guess the Genre,” where we use an album’s contextual clues (artwork, band/album name, logo, etc.) to nail down what we can expect. This is usually pretty easy given how much music we all consume, and it’s also not a game played at the expense of the band. To the contrary, when we’re aching for a particular sound, it’s a nice surprise to be able to take just a brief scan of an album cover and know it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for. Which brings me to Carnation, who just released the precise take on death metal I’ve been craving with their new album Chapel of Abhorrence (man, what a great name). If you’re looking for that savage, HM-2 pedal-to-the-medal style of death metal, then this album is the perfect opportunity to stomp out your aggression into oblivion.
If Dismember, Entombed and Cannibal Corpse swapped members throughout the early years of the Corpsegrinder era, then I imagine the results would sound a great deal like what Carnation bring forth on Chapel of Abhorrence. Not only does the album have the phenomenal guitar tone and romping pace of Entombedcore, but it breaks of the linear pace of the d-beat/thick riff combo often associated with the style. There’s an air of filthy, unbridled aggression oozing throughout every ugly string bend, double-kick break and gruesome, barking vocal assault. Of course, you’ll still find thick, bludgeoning riffs abound on the album, which are easily the album’s greatest moments. But these moments are perfectly interwoven with the basics of the death metal cannon performed at the highest degree possible. Essentially, you’re getting the best of everything this side of the genre has to offer, without anything left to be desired.
Cemetery Urn – Barbaric Retribution
2018 is the year of the filthy, if nothing else. I could write thousands of words on the veritable treasure trove that is old school death metal this year (and I have). Cemetery Urn continue this tradition of excellence by bringing to the altar of death more rotten, riff-heavy sonic meat ala Golgothan Remains, Burial Invocation, Dead Congregation, Phrenelith, and the like. This is invariable, concentrated death metal aggression of the highest order that fans of death metal’s nastier side can sink their teeth into with glee.
Describing the music on Barbaric Retribution isn’t too complicated. Take the heaviness of Incantation, crank up the speed a notch or eleven, and throw in some savage solo work ala Slayer or Morbid Angel and you have a pretty good idea as to what this record sounds like. But Cemetery Urn’s skill with the death metal riff, as well as their technical proficiency, elevates them to a higher order of death metal band than their fairly standard influences may indicate. The songs here feel incredibly intentional, with opener “Victim Defiled” presenting a fairly clear picture of the type of beating you’re going to receive as you plunder the riches of this record. Subtle hints of death metal’s past giants rear their heads frequently as well, with doomy sections like those found in “Deathmask Preserver” calling toward that Incantation-core we know and love. It’s a straightforward, punishing package that should do just the trick for any filth junky looking for their next fix.
There we go. More words about old school death metal from the current year. Will the torrential downpour of bloody good releases from this strain of death metal never cease? Here’s hoping, because I could always do with a bit more nastiness.
Crawl – Rituals
There’s no branch of the death metal tree that has fallen into consistently stale output more than Swedeath. The HM-2 pedal only goes so far in creating effective atmosphere, and most Swedeath records feel to me like the most utterly dull murder scene of all time. Sure, At the Gates had their day, but their latest output continues to leave much to be desired. Dismember and Entombed haven’t released quality material in decades, and most new bands just ape the styles made famous by these groups. Overall, it’s a meh scene at best. That is, until Crawl showed up and ripped my head off.
Rituals is violent to a degree that I have not heard in Swedish death metal for a significant amount of time. The riffs contained on this record are bountiful and absolutely relentless. Seriously, they never stop. The production is a bit jagged and muddy, which only adds to the feeling of impending violence present here. And with a run time of 25 minutes, it’s as compact a haymaker as you’re likely to hear from this strain of death metal this year. All killer, no filler, straight filth.
If there’s a single band that gives me hope for the future of Swedeath, it’s Crawl. Consider my faith in what this brand of death metal is capable of restored. More, please.
Descent – Towers of Grandiosity
There’s something in the water in Australia. Whatever it is, it’s fundamentally putrid and unhealthy. The amount of quality death metal coming from Down Under is just ridiculous, and Descent are no exception to the apparent rule that no death metal leaves the country unless it’s great, and their debut album Towers of Grandiosity is just the right type of abomination that I’m looking for when I feel like punching something repeatedly and with great force.
The not-so-subtle callbacks to Insect Warfare contained in Dan Shaw’s artwork for the record are appropriate on multiple levels. Outside of the blazing death metal these Aussies have espoused, there’s a hefty amount of grind present here as well. “Skinwalker”, “Foundation of Sand”, and “Chameleon” rage with the all-consuming ferocity of a category five hurricane, decimating eardrums with an obscene level of intensity. Tricksy, clever death metal this is not. Instead, listeners will be bludgeoned throughout with a concentrated dose of sheer brutality. The performances are sharp, the songwriting simple and effective, and the production just as nasty as it needs to be. It’s violent music for bad moods, plain and simple.
There’s a dearth of good deathgrind in the world right now, and we can thank Descent for capturing its essence and power so thoroughly and brutally. Here’s hoping this is only a first taste of what this band is capable of.
Facegrinder – Kugelblitz
You know that whole thing you just read about deathgrind being in short supply? Well, ignore that for the month of August. Facegrinder’s sophomore record Kugelblitz takes all the deathgrind elements present in Descent’s debut and cranks them to 11. The Australian (I TOLD YOU!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING OVER THERE?!) trio has been pushing the boundaries of deathgrind for over half a decade, with their sonic and thematic explorations culminating in a record that brings Australian death and grind to space. And yes, that combination is as good as it sounds.
One of the most satisfying elements of Kugelblitz (outside of being named for a black hole and sounding like the soundtrack to an entire galaxy collapsing) is its generous incorporation of brutal death metal elements. Wormed, Engulf, and Cryogenocide all come to mind as brutal space-themed influences, but the special sauce that makes Facegrinder stand out is its deft mix of brutal death with an allegiance to sickening, ultra-fast grind. These elements blend incredibly well together in the capable hands of these musicians, with “Neutron Collapse” and “Hawking Radiation” serving as two fantastic examples of what this brand of music is capable of. Front to back, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better mixture of these styles anywhere. In all, it sounds absolutely fantastic.
If there’s an underground resurgence in Australia of deathgrind, let it be known that Facegrinder led the charge. A thoroughly engaging and unrelentingly violent slab of space-themed goodness that stands peerless in its category in a year chock full of insane releases.
Gourmand – Blossoming from the Grave
By definition, a Gourmand is one who enjoys eating and has a propensity to eat a bit too much. Think a fancier term for gluttony. It’s an apt name for a band that engorges its records with enough riff magic to fill the belly of a titan. As a follow-up to their debut record, Blossoming from the Grave is a natural progression that feels richer and fuller than its predecessor, while clinging to the things that made their first record special. It’s a smorgasbord of death metal delights that combines elements of tech and old school with a melodic sensibility that is both unique and refreshing.
While the opening and title track kicks off the record with a fairly straightforward and brutal first few minutes, it’s the song’s closing seconds that provide us with an indication as to the particular delights contained on the record. With the track’s general and highly effective chug-a-thon receding into the background, a delightful acoustic guitar and bass combo carries the track into “A Message In Wax”, which switches gears into some fantastic-sounding melodic death metal. This emphasis on melody does not relent as the album continues, with “Between Vessel and Body”’s somber string opening, “Redemption”’s keys and “Siren Song”’s overwhelming vocal arrangements smothering the record in enough beauty to easily counter the more rancid, wretched sounds it conjures. It’s a dynamic mix that makes this album stand out amongst its more straightforward peers.
If you enjoy a healthy smattering of melody in your death metal, it’s hard to go wrong with Gourmand. A tasty bit of extreme metal goodness.
Grave Dust – Pale Hand
A lot of things pop into my mind when describing Portland, Oregon. Coffee. Food trucks. Multnomah Falls. Powell’s. Weirdos. You may have noticed that death metal isn’t among those things. That’s because, to be frank, there isn’t a whole ton of it coming out of that particular corner of the PNW. Grave Dust are out to change that with their debut EP Pale Hand, and they very well may succeed. This is a punishing, highly engaging 18 minutes of death metal that serves as an effective opening salvo for the band, and hopefully portends great (and longer) things to come.
While not always the biggest fan of intro tracks, Pale Hand’s opening bit of atmosphere is mighty nice, and sets up the rest of the record well. I honestly hope that the band incorporates more of this atmospheric style into their future recordings, but whether they go in that direction or not there are riffs aplenty to keep this ship afloat. “Rotting with Evil” is just a big ol’ nasty death metal banger, while finale “Purgatory Alone” throws in a few thrash elements to keep things interesting. Buried in some oppressive production, the whole thing feels a bit rough around the edges, just like nasty old school death metal should. It’s a great start for a band whose debut full-length I’m greatly anticipating.
It may be known for a bunch of things other than death metal, but here’s hoping a scene from that area of the United States rises to match the magnitude and influence of its Cascadian black metal counterparts. Here’s to Grave Dust leading that charge.
Infuriate – Infuriate
Brutal death metal is a subgenre that requires the right balance of nuance and senseless violence to be effective. There are plenty of bands playing this brand of death metal that have the latter component down pat, but completely lack any detail-orientation. These records are fun for a maximum of three songs, then normally find themselves in that ever-growing pile of unfinished records. Because life is short, people. Only the best brutal death will do! Thankfully, Infuriate fit the bill. Their debut self-titled record is an impressive feat of technical wizardry, coupled with creative songwriting choices that keep the record interesting from start to finish. It’s brutal death metal delivered with the verve and creativity required for such violent audio experiments to work.
And when they work here, they WORK. Think the complex intensity that Construct of Lethe brought in “The Clot” coupled with the relentlessness of Benighted. It’s an impressive mixture of speed, unplugged aggression, and attention to the details and mechanics that make songs work. “Matando” is a good example of this dynamic at work, with the track bouncing back and forth between more complex riff passages and Cannibal Corpse-style chugging. It works brilliantly, keeping the track from ever feeling stale. “Surrogate” is even more diverse and complex, fitting in enough riffs in differing death metal styles to fill an EP. The performances are taut and filled with vigor, and the songwriting is top notch throughout.
Austin, Texas just got a little hotter with the arrival of Infuriate. If their self-titled debut is any indication, the band may have a successful and influential future on their hands. Here’s hoping, because I’d like a whole lot more records like this yesterday.
Innumerable Forms – Punishment in Flesh
Superstar casts rarely work out well. For every Ocean’s Eleven, you get ten The Expendables. Putting a bunch of talented people together does not inherently good art make. Following this trajectory, supergroup Innumerable Forms are the Ocean’s Eleven of death metal bands this year, featuring members from Iron Lung, Power Trip, Mammoth Grinder, and Sumerlands working together to create something greater than the sum of its collective parts. Punishment in Flesh is a triumph of nasty death-doom goodness that is worthy of your time and attention.
No bones about it, this record is just straight filthy from start to finish. The title track is a punishing foray into very patient, doomy territory (which, given the propensity for speed and aggression in the band members’ other projects, is an impressive change of pace), only to be consumed whole by the fires of “Petrified”. But that speedy rush of audio violence only lasts for so long, eventually grinding to a brutally slow sequence of riffs in “Purity’s Demand”. This changing of paces and tones is one of the hallmarks of this record, and an element that makes it a much more variety-filled listen than you might anticipate in the record’s first few moments. These fluctuations elevate the album above the death-doom crowd of 2018, making it one of the more compelling and listenable releases in the subgenre this year.
Innumerable Forms may not be Hooded Menace yet, but don’t be surprised if they get there. All of the essential elements of success are here, and only time will tell how this group evolves. Excited to be along for the ride.
Soreption – Monument of the End
Though everyone else has seemingly moved on from the truly heinous charges levied against Decapitated, many of us on Heavy Blog have remained uneasy (to put it mildly) about the nature of the charges and the troubling reason behind why the case was dropped. We’ve made our stance of supporting victims known in the past, and in general, the band’s handling of the trial has been problematic, to say the least, particularly in their misunderstanding (or perhaps purposefully misleading representation) of what “dismissed without prejudice” means.
I bring this up as someone who used to listen to the band regularly and, in all honesty, missed their specific take on groovy tech death. It’s difficult to get excited about putting on a record from someone considering what I outlined above. Fortunately, Soreption have gone above and beyond the task of scratching that particular death metal itch on Monument of the End. Though leaning much more on the “groovier” side of this genre niche, Soreption handle the style with an incredibly tight yet nimble approach to songcraft. Armed with punchy, impeccably balanced production, the band pummel the listener with exceptional performances at every instrument.
Though the band doesn’t too many full-on blast beats, their marriage of quick, technical riffing with impressive kitwork and double kick rolls keep the pace elevated on every track. One of the best aspects of the style, which Soreption excels at, is the bait-and-switch experience for most death metal listeners. The perfect blend of groove and technicality creates unique passages at nearly every turn; what you expect from a “normal” tech death album never truly arrives, and in its place, there’s an exceptional groove or technical interplay instead. And if that weren’t enough, Travis Ryan from Cattle Decapitation arrives on closing track “The Entity” to add his unique vocal stylings to the mix over some subtle keyboards. It’s the perfect surprise to cap off an album full of fresh ideas and an overall brutal approach to one of death metal’s best subgenres.
Sulaco – The Prize
In case it wasn’t clear by now through my writing, I like my death metal a little weird. Chthe’ilist, The Aftermath, Pyrrhon, Gigan, the list goes on and on. Sulaco fit into that weirdness niche with a unique brand of grinding death metal that sounds quite unlike anyone else in the game. The band’s third full-length record, The Prize, clocks in at just over 20 minutes, but feels like it could have been much more expansive if the band wanted it to be. Filled to the brim with insane riffs and a ridiculous amount of good ideas executed with precision, The Prize is a top-to-bottom exceptional piece of work.
One of the most immediately discernible traits of Sulaco’s sonic repertoire is its variety. The Prize is teeming with tone and tempo changes, diverse riff passages, and a healthy mix of traditional grind and death sounds. The vocal delivery feels closer to hardcore punk than it does to metal, and its juxtaposition with music this brutal is a welcome change of sonic scenery that almost reminds me of the vocal inflections present in Succumb’s impressive 2017 debut. Trace elements of Napalm Death can also be detected in tracks like “Chosen”, while the band’s flair for rapidly changing songwriting dynamics shines through clear as a bell in “Rivers & Heart”. Melody reigns supreme in album closer “So Be It”, highlighting yet another extension to the band’s general brutality. It’s a dynamic mix of lots of awesome sounds into a singular package that contains enough originality to stave off fears of mimicry. With so much to digest in so truncated a package, one could understandably be left with the feeling that this record offers too little, rather than an overabundance. But the length of this record fits the music perfectly to my ears, leaving that slight twinge of wanting more, yet feeling fully satisfied.
The Prize is a great record. The performances are fantastic, the songwriting engaging and filled with variety, and the production full and crunchy. It’s one of the best grind-influenced records of the year, and one that I will be revisiting for years to come.