Given the nature of these columns, it might seem counterintuitive to include a subpar album among our selections for the month. That’s why I’ve accosted this intro spot to say my piece about Deicide, and specifically their latest album Overtures of Blasphemy. Coincidentally, the same month these Floridian antitheists released their 12th (!) album, Facebook pinged me with a memory for my deep dive explaining why they death metal pioneers have fallen off in recent years. Two years later, Overtures had left me feeling for confident than ever in my view of the band’s trajectory.
Aside from the incredible album art, what about Overtures is the least bit exciting? As I’ve said before, Deicide has always felt like the best example we have of textbook, no-frills death metal. Except in the past, they’ve actually performed at a high level and felt ferocious with their contributions to the genre. Now? The band have seemingly thrown their ideas into the same mold for years now and pulled slight modifications into their tried, true and tired sound. Yes, every track on here is technically sound and admittedly enjoyable. But as an album-length experience, and particularly in terms of memorability, there’s just nothing here worth writing home to Satan about. From familiar vocal phrasings to predictable song structures to guitar riffs seemingly written in mere minutes, Overtures is the definition of phoning it in.
So what’s the point of typing all this out, let alone using it to lead off the column? Put simply, Overtures is perhaps the best proof for the benefits of experimental death metal (no matter how adventurous) I’ve heard in quite some time. Not to name names, but the few reviews I’ve read of the album, while not positive, all highlighted the…shall we say “steadiness” of Deicide. In essence, the argument seems to be that since the band has already proved their worth and aren’t doing anything truly egregious, then it all boils down to “no harm, no foul.” In my view (and I assume Jonathan’s as well), no band gets a pass in the current death metal climate, even those with established veteran status. We’re not looking for every band to dish out insane, avant-garde wizardry, just a dedicated passion for performing death metal with a unique voice and eye for quality. Not every group needs to emulate Obscura, but they definitely shouldn’t be content landing where Overtures falls flat.
Cream of the Crop
Infernal Coil – Within a World Forgotten
Some music sounds so utterly and unrepentantly violent that it’s hard to imagine its creators avoiding bloodshed in its performance. Infernal Coil’s sensational debut Within a World Forgotten is one of those distinct pieces of music, and it is uniformly destructive. Take the suffocating ugliness of Primitive Man and Vermin Womb, mix it with the speed of the choicest Napalm Death-grind, and slather it in the squalid, esoteric brutality of Impetuous Ritual and you have a skeletal outline of the absolute monster that is Within a World Forgotten. Helmed by former Dead in the Dirt mastermind Blake Connally, Infernal Coil is the type of music that your friends just don’t understand. It’s the audio equivalent of being stabbed repeatedly in the head until dead. These descriptors honestly only make sense as net positives in the context of death metal fandom, and those who love this music will find much to relish in this sonic demon. It’s a masterpiece of relentless deathgrind and one of the most potent and overwhelming records of the year.
That’s some lofty praise to kick off a review for a debut record, I know. But I assure you the above is far from hyperbole. Infernal Coil have on their first attempt struck a near-perfect balance or technicality, riff-making, sound songwriting and suffocating atmosphere that only becomes more disorienting and brutalizing as the album progresses. Opening triad of “Wounds Never Close”, “Continuum Criciatus”, and “Crusher of the Seed” offer nothing but a blisteringly fast, torturously loud, and unremittingly aggressive assault on the senses. A great deal of the crushing sensation this record engenders can be attributed to the uncompromising production work of the incomparable Billy Anderson, who mixes screeching sound and instrumental clarity to near-perfection. It’s almost unbearable at times, but close inspection reveals a finely detailed production aesthetic that allows the music to sound both technically impressive and overwhelmingly atmospheric. This penchant for atmosphere shines clearest during the second half of “49 Suns” and album closer “In Silent Vengeance”, which slow the proceedings down to some extent, creating breathing room that only increases the record’s general sense of manage. It’s a brilliant stew of sounds that I can’t get enough of.
Not since Vitriol’s Pain Will Define Their Death have I heard music so uncompromisingly vicious. Start to finish, Within a World Forgotten is merciless, pitiless deathgrind that is as purely wicked as this music gets. May its campaign of destruction and misery never cease.
Best of the Rest
Aborted – TerrorVision
To start off, I’d like to list a few things that I didn’t enjoy about this new Aborted record, TerrorVision:
Okay, now that the negatives are out of the way, let’s dive into the good stuff. Because, holy lord, there’s a lot of it. Coming off Retrogore, there were some sky-high expectations regarding this album from yours truly, and I’m happy to report that my hopes were exceeded on almost every measurable metric. This is an instrumental and songwriting tour de force, and one of the best and most thoroughly enjoyable albums in the band’s catalog.
From Par Olofsson’s fantastically grotesque cover artwork to the album’s first instrumental track “Lasciate Ogne Speranza”, TerrorVision creates a horrifying hellscape that’s as bleak in tone as it is rich in complexity. “Farewell to the Flesh” is a technical firestorm that serves as a sterling example of the performative highs this band is capable of. Mixed deftly into the technical stew offered by this record is a fantastic sense of accessible (at least for brutal/technical death metal standards) groove, which is heard loud and clear on tracks like “Vespertine Decay”. The combination of these two elements throughout the record makes for a musical experience that scratches multiple death metal itches without ever sacrificing the sheer magnitude and pure evil of the band’s signature sound. The vocal performances here are straight up disgusting and vicious, ramming through every track with the force of a runaway freight train. In short, it’s exactly what Aborted fans were hoping for and then some.
If I had to rank TerrorVision on sheer enjoyability, this is my record of the month. Getting close to 10 front-to-back listens and it’s still as fresh and invigorating as the first time I heard it. Fans of Retrogore should be immensely pleased, because if it doesn’t eclipse that record for you, it should at minimum meet its elite level of quality. A fantastic album from a fantastic band and one of the most fundamentally awesome death metal experiences I’ve had this year.
Horrendous – Idol
The darlings of death metal are back with their fourth full/length record, Idol. Since their inception, Horrendous have been building on the sounds created by Death, Atheist, and a slew of death metal pioneers in their own unique way. While Anerata was their most bold statement of individual intent yet, Idol blows it out of the water in nearly every respect. This is the band’s best record, and one of the best releases of the year.
One argument that gets leveled against Horrendous is that their music lacks inherent originality. And while it’s true that the band hold the music of their influences in high esteem, Idol is the most difficult record in their discography to lodge that complaint against. Revering the technical death metal of years past without ever stooping to cheap imitation, Idol is filled to the brim with good ideas performed impeccably well. “Soothsayer” alone includes enough solid riffs to fill an entire album from a lesser band, while tracks like “The Idolater” deftly display the band’s proggier tendencies, with the addition of Alex Kulick on bass this time around adding a hefty amount of meat to their already blistering sound. Their ability to shift at will between methodical pacing and breakneck speed is on full display during “Divine Anhedonia”, and “Devotion (Blood for Ink)” is a guitar lover’s wet dream. Every track on this record displays the elements that have made this band a staple of the scene over the past decade, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a weak spot on the entire project.
In all, Idol is Horrendous doing what Horrendous does best. If that hasn’t appealed to you throughout the band’s career, Idol will do little to change your mind. But if you enjoyed Anerata, Idol is the sonic evolution you were hoping for. As I fall in that latter category, I find myself delighted. A stellar release.
Hyperdontia – Nexus of Teeth
Some of you may recall my glowing review of Burial Invocation’s long-awaited debut record. I declared it then one of the best death metal records I’ve heard this year. That claim still stands, as Abiogenesis has maintained its appeal remarkably well as the year has continued. If you are a fan of that blistering assault on the senses and have yet to give Hyperdontia a shot, I implore you to change that immediately. Featuring members of Burial Invocation, Phrenelith, Undergang, and Engulfed, this supergroups debut record Nexus of Teeth is a form of sheer audio violence that stands as tall as any of the records in these bands’ catalogs.
Hyperdontia aren’t a particularly subtle project, as razor-sharp opener “Purging Through Flesh” readily attests. If you aren’t in the mood to be beaten to a pulp, best pass on this record. It only gets gnarlier from there. When not being assaulted by the manic guitar work of “Teeth and Nails” or “Euphoric Evisceration”, you’re being bludgeoned by the deliciously effective death-doom generated by “Of Spire and Thorn”. Any way you slice it, Nexus of Teeth is as aggressive and filthy as death metal comes. But for all its in-your-face brutality, there’s a good amount of complexity here, filling these brutish tracks with enough variety and technicality to keep things from becoming mundane. It’s thoughtfully and carefully composed stuff, and it’s as good as this style of music gets.
With Nexus of Teeth, Hyperdontia meld all of the elements that make the members of this supergroup’s projects so enticing. Rather than feeling disjointed or like a gimmicky throwaway, Hyperdontia have dropped one of the best old school death metal records of the year.
Inoculation – Pure Cosmic Dread
In modern tech death, a good chunk of bands seem obsessed with BPM and exploring the majority of the guitar neck in every song. As much as I love this approach to the genre, I also appreciate the days of Death and Pestilence, when technicality was a bit more modest and songwriting still honored early death metal traditions. Of course, one of the best parts of modern death metal is the abundance of releases for every preference, which is precisely what Inoculation offers on Pure Cosmic Dread. Grounded in history but modern in just the right ways, the album is an exceptional ode to tech death’s formative years that’s chock full of riffs to sweeten the deal just a bit more.
Inoculation’s style of choice imagines a scenario where Carcass and Deicide customized their sounds to sound more like the early days of tech death. The album’s pure, unadulterated death metal roots are present throughout the tracklist, but so too is a clear appreciation for mood, atmosphere and technical chops. The blast beats and riffs are always under control, exhibiting the snarl of traditional death metal within the structure of experienced songwriting. Within this are some surprising blackened flourishes, such as the morose arpeggio to open the album on “Hypnotic Regression” and some haunting atmospheres on “The Silencers.”
Pure scorchers like “Purity” rage by in a flurry of blast beats and thick, punchy riffs, similar to the one-two-punch provided by “Pockets of Devastation” and “Lunar Illusion 3” leading into the end of the album. Finally, the title-track locks the proceedings down with a slower, heavier affair, providing the perfect cap-off for an album varied in its execution but consistent in its level of quality. Inoculation have put forth an homage to genre greats with their own unique flair, and it’s yet ano0ther example that every possible death metal craving has an album to fill the void.
Phrenelith – Ornamented Dead Eyes
Sometimes shorter is sweeter. Denmark’s premium death dealers Phrenelith understand this concept, and have unleashed a new EP to prove it. Composed of two songs and just over 10 minutes of material, Phrenelith prove once again that they are a force to be reckoned with in the death metal world. As if there was ever any doubt.
Picking up where they left off in Desolate Endscape, Ornamented Dead Eyes is as brutal and vicious a slab of old school death as you’re likely to hear. Adopting the overcast haze of Chthe’ilist and mixing it with the feral nastiness of Contaminated, both “Triumphing Blight” and the EP’s title track bring enough audio to placate even the most ravenous Phrenelith fan’s need for more. It may be short, but Ornamented Dead Eyes has riffs for days. Here’s hoping for another healing helping soon.
Pyrexia – Unholy Requiem
Considering both Pyrexia and Suffocation started contributing to the development of brutal death metal around the same time (the latter more so than the former), it’s a bit odd for me to argue that the lesser acclaimed of these genre peers is better emulating the sound in their golden years. But facts are facts – since Blood Oath, Suffocation have fallen into a rut with albums that lack the brutality of their earlier albums and can’t fully compete with the technical chops now rampant in the modern tech death scene. Meanwhile, Unholy Requiem finds Pyrexia stomping through 25 minutes of uncompromising brutality, essentially just a better-produced version of what unexpecting death metal fans were beaten down with back in the 90s. The album isn’t flashy, nor is it reinventing the wheel. But that hardly matters when the band uses that wheel to flatten everything in their path across eight excellent, brutal slabs of riffs and growls.
Focused but bloodthirsty, Unholy Requiem manages to offer tight compositions throughout that don’t fall prey to brutal death metal’s affinity for all-out cacophony for the sake of intensity. Pyrexia craft distinct, engaging ideas throughout the album, without sacrificing the impact of a truly great marriage of riffs, chugs and blasts. And of course, atop it all are mandatory demon growls, performed with aplomb by Jim Beach. Highlights like “Wrath” leverage the technicality and brutality of Dying Fetus, while “Angels of Gomorrah” show mastery of that mid-paced, double kick and guitar chug combo that Suffocation pioneered back in the day. And with the types of slams offered up on tracks “Path of Disdain,” there’s no shortage of moments for good ol’ fashioned headbanging.
The results speak for themselves across Unholy Requiem, an album deserving of a spin both for its relative brevity and high-quality approach to a brutish sound. There’s no shortage of intensity to accompany a slew of solid songwriting ideas.
Revocation – The Outer Ones
Revocation have always been a band that I enjoyed greatly but found hard to love. Which, honestly, has never made a whole lot of sense to me. This pack of musicians, led ably by mastermind Dave Davidson, are wicked talented, with their live set consistently ranking high on my most enjoyable list. Their albums are also uniformly enjoyable, but looking back on my listening experiences with the albums in their catalog I’ve found that few stuck with me long after having heard them. Enjoyable, well-constructed, but ultimately fleeting in my memory. Then The Outer Ones dropped, and so did my jaw. Every single element of the band’s sound I find so enjoyable is here in spades, cranked to 11. This is the band’s best album by a fairly wide margin, and one of my favorite death metal releases of the year.
While consistently melding sounds from the death and thrash worlds, rarely if ever has the music of Revocation sounded this progressive or, dare I say it, jazzy. These compositions are full of complexity and are performed with an attention to detail that borders on obsessive. Whether it’s the hard-hitting riffs that populate the mid-section of “That Which Consumes All Things” or the prog-infused, jazz-soaked second half of “Blood Atonement”, everything the band touches on this record sings out with performative verve and songwriting prowess. There isn’t a weak track on here, with the entire album filled to the brim with memorable licks and riffs that stick with you long after the album is finished. It’s the band’s most consistent, fantastic display of death metal goodness to date.
Say what you will about Revocation, but talent has never been one of its primary weaknesses. The Outer Ones puts every ounce of that talent to good use, culminating in the most ambitious and memorable album of the band’s career. An excellent release by every standard, and one that will most certainly be following me to my year-end list.