Friends. Ingrates. Gutter rats. Welcome once more to Death’s Door. Wipe your feet on the mat and pull up a bone throne. The gore runneth over, and there seems no end to it. How has 2018 been this damn good for death metal? The sheer volume of quality records in this space defies all logic. Scott and I are here reviewing upwards of ten records per month and I leave each new installment feeling dissatisfied that I wasn’t able to cover a dozen others. It’s insanity, and count me forever gleefully mad.
One of the more unique aspects of this year’s crop of death metal is it’s defiance of the standard music quality calendar. October isn’t necessarily a banger month in the music world, yet here we are, with a boatload of fantastic records to discuss. As the year has progressed, the quality seems to only have increased, and I can’t think of a single month this year that was, in majority, a dud. The year-end column for 2018 is going to be a doozy, and just thinking about it gives me a headache. But we’re not there yet. Here. Now. October. Get some.
The albums contained herein are some of my favorites of the month, but there are plenty I neither had time to listen to or cover (damn adulthood). Thus, I’d love to hear about your favorites from the month. What did I miss? Why am I wrong? Post your scathing rebuttals and firm rebukes in the comments. But first, bask in the glory that was October. There’s plenty to relish.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Gorod – Aethra
French tech death masterminds Gorod have held a warm place in many a death metal junky’s heart since their debut Neurotripsicks dropped back in 2005. Their penchant for highly technical instrumental chaos is second to few (if any) in the scene, with album after album further cementing their titanic reputation as tech death legends alongside Necrophagist, Obscura, and a host of others. But like most solid tech death, there’s often a hitch. If there were one criticism I could consistently lodge against the band’s back catalog, it’s in the songwriting department. While the band write decent compositions generally, the instrumental wizardry very often supplants all other elements of a given song. While this is somewhat expected in tech death, I’ve always hoped Gorod were capable of more. Their sixth full-length, Aethra, proves they are in a big way. Filled to the brim with expert musicianship, quality groove-filled riffs, searing melodies, and a cohesion absent from some of their previous work, Aethra is their most dynamic and enthralling album yet.
It’s not particularly common for an established tech death band to take a step back from their most technical leanings in favor of meatier, more consistent songwriting, but Gorod isn’t your typical tech death band. Upping the progressive elements just a tad (evidences immediately in opener “Wolfsmond”), the band add a great deal of diversity and flavor to the noodly proceedings. And there’s plenty of noodling to be had. “Bekhten’s Curse”, “And the Moon Turned Black”, and “Goddess of Dirt” display plenty of the band’s wildly inventive instrumentation, but the hero of this chapter in Gorod’s career is vocalist Julien Deyres. Front to back, he infuses these tracks with a Gojira-esque gravitas that grounds each song with a diverse through line that never fails to be interesting. The production on Aethra is also spectacular, giving each instrument a significant amount of heft while never losing overall clarity. It’s the best the band have ever sounded on record, and has a significant impact on overall experience with the record.
In addition to the album’s more progressive elements, groove makes its presence felt early and often, with tracks like “Hina” and “A Light Unseen” propelling themselves through riff after groovy riff with expert precision. Proggy sludge also makes an appearance in the title track, recalling the proggiest bits of Mastodon in the process. As stated above and worth repeating here, Gorod’s attentiveness toward diversity in their songwriting is evident in a big way throughout Aethra, culminating in a record that’s as varied in style and execution as the band has yet produced. It isn’t their most technical, it’s simply their best.
If you like Gorod, you’ll love this album. If you don’t know Gorod, it’s time you changed that. Start to finish, Aethra is one of the most outstanding releases in the band’s catalog, and unquestionably one of the premiere releases in technical death metal in 2018. A triumph in every sense of the word.
Best of the Rest
Beyond Creation – Algorythm
I’ll be honest, Algorythm is not what I expected it to be. Toning down Beyond Creation’s Canadian tech death leanings through the incorporation of a heavier concentration of progressive elements, I honestly didn’t know how to feel about this album upon first pass. Subsequent listens, however, have shown the record to be a rich and complex affair worthy of the band’s name and sterling reputation. It’s not what I thought it would be, but expectations are made to thwarted in the world of death metal.
Like each Beyond Creation album that came before it, Algorythm sounds fantastic. The production is crisp and clear, allowing the performances to each individually shine. While I personally prefer a bit more oomph on the low end with percussion, it doesn’t impact the overall quality of the music here. Which is very high, even for Beyond Creation standards. The album’s first two proper tracks, “Entre Suffrage Et Mirage” and “Surface’s Echoes” detail the band’s emphasis on more progressive sounds early and to great effect. The guitar work here is exceptional, weaving back and forth between technical mastery and progressive charm with seamless precision. If these two tracks suit your fancy, this album will please start to finish.
It may not be the album I anticipated, but I have grown to appreciate and thoroughly enjoy Algorythm nonetheless. Beyond Creation maintain (and perhaps even expand) their reputation as expert purveyors of the good ol’ Quebecois tech death sound with plenty of flair to spare. It’s a solid outing from one of the subgenre’s most exciting and consistent acts.
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn
As has been mentioned more than a few times in this column by yours truly, Swedish death metal and I have a fairly contentious relationship. While At the Gates and Entombed will always hold a special place in my heart, a great deal of the subgenre’s most modern offerings are stale caricatures of the former greats. Crawl’s fantastic album Rituals presented a welcome change of pace in the subgenre for me earlier in the year, and Bloodbath provides another with The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn. While not a revelation in the Swedeath sound, TAoSID provides fans of this branch of the death metal tree plenty of bloody meat to chew on, culminating in one of the most enjoyable records released in the scene this year.
Opener “Fleischmann” kicks off the proceedings with a proverbial bang, presenting what is quite possibly the best opening track to any Bloodbath record. The riffs rip and tear through eardrums with all the HM-2 fury a Swedeath-head could desire. The intensity relinquishes nary a bit of ground throughout as “Bloodicide”, “Levitator”, and “Warhead Ritual” blast listeners with punch after punch of premium death metal aggression. The formula is simple, the execution direct, and the results exactly as intended: Total audio annihilation. It isn’t anything outside the traditional standards set for the subgenre, but when the music is performed this ably and passionately it’s difficult not to get swept up in the effectiveness of it all.
Swedeath isn’t a scene bitten by the innovation bug very often, and most modern recordings in the subgenre prove that point on the daily. But maybe, just maybe, it was never intended to break the mold, but rather pound its adherents to smithereens again and again. If one accepts this mission statement, you’ll find few better beatings than those delivered by Bloodbath here. Exhilarating stuff.
Cryptopsy – The Book of Suffering – Tome II
There are few bands in the world of technical and brutal death metal as divisive as Cryptopsy. With early work almost universally revered as classic in these subgenres, coupled with a mid-career release pattern that to some displays as much quality as a set of dollar store dish towels, to say their career has had its ups and downs would be a massive understatement. To this listener, the band have been on an upward trajectory since their self-titled 2012 record, with 2015’s EP The Book of Suffering – Tome I presenting their best work in well over a decade. That EP’s sequel, The Book of Suffering – Tome II, continues that uphill climb by presenting tracks that rival some of the band’s most ferocious and inspired work. It’s a face-shredder, so prepare yourself accordingly.
Containing four tracks that blaze by in a barely over fifteen-minute blast of ugly riffs and technical wankery, this shit is vicious, brutal, and downright nasty in every respect. Flo Mounier and Olivier Pinard’s percussive work is an audio assault unmatched, while Christian Donaldson’s legendary guitar work runs circles around the competition with a renewed vigor that is a welcome sound for tired ears. Opener “The Wretched Living” puts all of their talents on full display, especially Matt McGachy, whose vocals are just straight filth. If this track suits your fancy, there’s nothing on this EP you won’t like. It’s Cryptopsy doing what Cryptopsy do best, and nothing less.
It’s good to see a legend fallen on hard times take steps in the right direction, and while the band will probably never return to their former glory, The Book of Suffering – Tome II is a more than adequate taste of all the band does incredibly well. To more of this, forever.
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Since their inception in 1999, Erik Rutan’s Hate Eternal have been a consistently better version of Morbid Angel than, well… Morbid Angel. Sure, 2017’s Kingdoms Disdained was a welcomed return to form after the legendarily abysmal Illud Divinum Insanus, but Rutan and his revolving band of musicians have experienced none of the titanic dips in quality that have plagued his former band. Instead, Hate Eternal have emerged as one of death metal’s most consistent acts, and their seventh full-length record Upon Desolate Sands does nothing to diminish this pristine reputation. Filled with all the traditional fire and fury fans have come to expect from Hate Eternal, as well as a few upgrades, Upon Desolate Sands is a triumph, full stop.
One of the key additions contained on this record is the inclusion of acclaimed drummer Hannes Grossmann of Obscura/Alkaloid/Necrophagist fame. His presence is an obvious, immediately felt juggernaut in the percussive department, flooding these tracks with his signature technical brutality in a manner that both fits into the band’s established sound and subtly refines it. “What Lies Beyond” and “Vengeance Striketh”, in all their guitar-based bluster and viciousness, are elevated in technical approach by Grossmann’s superb playing. That isn’t to say the rest of the performances are lacking, either. To the contrary, Rutan’s guitar work is as sharp and varied as it’s ever been, while J.J. Hruvobcak’s bass (while less prominent in the mix than it should be) is also dynamic as all hell. The album’s title track most clearly displays the expert interplay between these musicians, as Rutan’s guitar and Grossmann’s drums swap places as the driving force of the rhythm section with sticky, seamlessly entwined alacrity. It’s an instrumental tour de force front to back, but that only means something if the songs are good. And good they are. Pulling from the Morbid Angel playbook in “Nothingness of Being” and the Immolation-isms of “Dark Age of Ruin”, Hate Eternal wear their influences on their sleeves, but these known elements all combine with a blisteringly fast death metal aesthetic that feels distinctly Hate Eternal. In short, it’s everything fans of the band could ask for.
When it comes to death metal that mixes styles and influences with precision while maintaining its own sense of sonic uniqueness, it’s hard to beat Hate Eternal. Upon Desolate Sands is another gorgeous feather in the cap of one of death metal’s premiere acts, and should be celebrated accordingly at year’s end.
Hissing – Permanent Destitution
I saw Seattle’s Hissing open a live show a few years back. Don’t remember who was headlining. I remember Hissing, though. Their potent mix of the filthiest kind of black and death metal left an indelible impression on me, and I was disappointed to see how scant a collection of recorded music they had. Thankfully, my many tear-filled nights have come to an end, as this month saw the release of Permanent Destitution, the band’s debut full-length. Rejoice! Or despair, if you’d like. There’s nothing happy about the sounds contained on this conspicuous piece of blackened filth, and that’s a very good thing.
Those enamored by the cavernous, lo-fi brutality of groups like Of Feather and Bone and Our Place of Worship Is Silence will find plenty to love here. Opener “Backwards Descent” makes the band’s death metal aesthetic abundantly clear from its opening notes, churning out riff after terrifying riff in a frenzy that’s as welcome as it is disconcerting. This is unsettling music, and the band dig into this discomfort full bore throughout the album’s relatively compact run time. But this allegiance to menace takes on more forms than meat and potatoes death metal brutalization. There’s a hefty dose of doom thrown into the mix as well, with “Eulogy In Squalor” and “Cascading Failures” providing plenty of slow, chunky riffage to sink one’s teeth into. But little of this sets Hissing apart from their contemporaries. What does, however, is their sneaky utilization of melody. “Pablum Abundance”, “It Without More”, and closer “Purderance” each contain discernible melodic undercurrents that make these tracks stick out from the cavernous death metal pack, and give the album a welcome edge in a musical world of sharp atonality.
There’s practically nothing about this record that isn’t great. Do yourself a favor and give this bad boy a few careful listens, and you, like me, may find yourself adding it to a year-end shortlist of amazing death metal.
Mongol – The Return
Melodic death metal. Songs about the Mongol Empire. Dschinghis Khan references. Yeah. Mongol are great. This album is great. I love it so much.
I mean, I might need to give a little more detail, but that’s just how I feel, man. The first time I heard The Return I lost my ever-living mind, and I haven’t found it since. It is, above all, a ridiculously fun album to listen to, which isn’t a compliment I give to many death metal records. As the band’s career has progressed, they’ve become simultaneously more instrumentally proficient AND more enjoyable on the songwriting front, stuffing their albums with enough incredible riffs to fill the coffins of a dozen lesser gloom-and-doom death metal records. One need only listen to the album’s title track or “Takhil” to prove my point. If you enjoy the thematic nature of Tengger Cavalry and the blazing melodic fire of Parius, this is the album for you.
Enough talk. Just listen to this damn thing already. Glory awaits!
Outer Heaven – Realms of Eternal Decay
The death metal hype machine is a real thing, and Outer Heaven have been square in the middle of it for most of this year. It doesn’t take much observation of the metal blogosphere to ascertain that death metal has had a banner year in 2018, and what better indicator of that than albums being hyped beyond all reason through all manner of genre publications? The band’s full-length debut is certainly a record that received a great deal of attention before release, which honestly puts more pressure on it to not suck than most releases that hit the promo stash. By its inclusion here, it should be clear that I think Realms of Eternal Decay does not, indeed, suck. At all. It’s a perfectly capable slab of ugly, filthy, vicious old school death metal that gives you exactly what it advertises. Which, in this case, is audio punishment.
While the majority of this record helms very close to the traditional, decadent sound of early-90s death metal, Outer Heaven are not without their own unique bag of tricks. While tracks like “Pulsing Swarm” definitely pull liberally from the Incantation playbook, “Multicellular Savagery” contains fantastic slices of vicious technicality, which add dynamics to these tracks that help them rise above the standard, traditional death metal sound. But when the band decides to kick it old school, they do so with great vigor. The album is chock full of fantastic, bone-crunching riffs that in just around 30-minutes will leave you begging for mercy. It’s a compact punch to the face that I have thoroughly enjoyed on each listen.
There’s a little bit of everything for the death metal fan here, so rejoice! The hype machine lies not. It may not be the next generation of death metal sound, but it’s not trying to be. It accomplishes what it set out to do and my ears (though bleeding) are grateful for it.
Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex
Canadian death metal is having a field day in 2018. The scene, especially in the technical department, has produced some of the finest death metal of the past several years. While less technically dazzling than many of its contemporaries, Outre-Tombe’s version of death metal is no less potent. Their second record, Nécrovortex, knows exactly what it wants to do and accomplishes exactly that. Thankfully, what it wants to do is consume you in abject death metal horror. Which, in the end, all I ever really want in life (and death).
In terms of songwriting, Outre-Tombe begin and end with the guitar, which is provided here with skill and manic energy by Vitesse and Désastre. “Désintégration” is a masterclass in the classic, speed-driven death metal style, which the band adheres to for the majority of the record. “Écorché Vif”, “Concile Cadavérique”, and “L’Enfer des Tranchées” in particular are balls to the wall death traps that keep the pedal to the metal throughout. But it’s when the band adds less speedy dynamics when they really begin to shine. The album’s title track and closer “Rongé par les Miasmes” incorporate a more deliberate, sometimes doom-like pace that allows these very talented musicians to stretch their skills in more diverse and creative ways. Overall, this is an album built for those who enjoy a healthy injection of speed-driven ferocity in their death metal, and in that regard there’s loads to enjoy.
While existing for nearly a decade and only having released two full-length records, here’s hoping that Nécrovortex is only a taste of what’s to come. An immensely talented band with the chops to make their career a long and memorable one, I for one am looking forward to witnessing all the places their potential will take them. Great stuff.