2018 has been an absolute field day for quality death metal of all shapes, sizes and stripes. More broadly, the past three-to-five years have exhibited as much technical and songwriting prowess in the genre to rival its heyday in the early nineties. It’s been a good time to be a death metal fan as of late, and may the ever-flowing stream of premium music never cease. Boston’s death metal wizards Zealotry have been in the thick of this revivalist movement since they released their first demo back in 2009. Their first two full-length records, The Charnel Expanse and The Last Witness, were close-to-perfect slabs of technical, atmosphere-drenched old school death metal that cemented their reputation as one of the genre’s most talent-filled acts. Their latest record, At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds, does nothing to diminish their reputation as death metal riff lords. In fact, it instead serves as the vehicle for the band’s most cohesive and intricate songwriting and musicianship yet. It’s their best record and, quite frankly, one of the very best death metal records to see release this year. Which, in 2018, is a big deal indeed.
For anyone unfamiliar with the particular breed of death metal Zealotry are peddling here, think a mixture between Blood Incantation or Dead Congregation and the spacier, atmospheric pyrotechnics of Chthe’ilist. It’s a potent combination of bone-breaking riffs, songwriting complexity, technical acumen, and a flair for more mystic atmospherics, and Zealotry do it better than anyone in the game on At the Nexus. The album’s opening (and title) track wastes absolutely no time introducing listeners to the dark and sinuous sonic world Zealotry have created with an instrumental blast as potent and intricate as they’ve yet created. Phil Tougas’ (he of Chthe’ilist fame) guitar work is as sharp as ever, churning out one dense riff sequence after another in a rush of musical color. Joined this time around by Jake Himelfarb of Calcemia on guitar, the tracks populating this album are jam-packed with memorable moments from universally erudite performances. Of particular note on this record is the work of drummer Alex Zalatan, who stuffs tracks like “Lethe’s Shroud” and “The Hole” with enough impressive work to populate several less worthy records. The overall percussive element to this record is also heightened by Aodán Collins’ fantastic bass play, which is brought frequently to the surface (especially during the album’s opening number) by a fantastic production aesthetic that balances these performances seamlessly into one complex, yet distinct and clear, whole. Topping off the album’s performative excellence is Roman Temin on vocals, whose performance here nestled perfectly within the overall sonic aesthetic of the record.
The performances and sonic elements discussed above are only valuable in the context of solid songwriting, which is something of a weakness for many a young death metal band. Zealotry have no such weakness, as these tracks are filled to overflowing with good ideas that never overstep one another and work exclusively within the confines of the album’s overarching sonic vision. Rather than letting the fantastic musicians in this band run these songs wildly into nowhere (which is a complaint lodged, whether correctly or not, against bands on the more technical/progressive side of things), there is a consistent and propulsive thread that ties these tracks together with a near-perfect blend of uniformity and adventurousness. “Universal Deceit”, “The Sky Bleeds Nightmares”, and album closer “Irredeemable” each pull in different sonic elements present in the album’s earlier tracks (mainly the utilization of clean, haunting vocal harmonies and blistering solos) in a way that is familiar, but lacking in repetition. Every new sequence of these previously tread patterns is imbued with just the right amount of narrative cohesion to keep the record constantly on the rails. Always going somewhere, and never aimlessly. It’s death metal songwriting done right, and from start to finish exemplifies everything the band do well to the nth degree.
All of the above elements combine to create one of my favorite death metal releases this year. With At the Nexus, Zealotry have refined their mixture of technicality, atmosphere, and punchy songwriting to Gorguts levels of meticulousness. It’s a stand-out in a year filled with stand-outs, and a record that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds drops December 7th, and is available for pre-order in physical and digital formats on the band’s Bandcamp page.