Let’s face it — the constant pressure of having to innovate is starting to cause a noticeable shift in the death metal paradigm. Progressive and technical death metal continue to draw new listeners who are attracted to the subgenres’ collective tendency to continuously push boundaries in order to stand out, whereas bands that keep to the tried-and-tested formula of old school death metal have, despite their enduring fanbase, slowly but surely been shoved by the wayside. Demiurgon, however, are not particularly fazed by this; Above the Unworthy is a slab of unapologetic death metal that doesn’t seek to innovate as much as devastate.
Opener “Rex Mundi” throws the listener right into the thick of the action after a brief trem-picked intro, as the Italian five piece steamrolls ahead with crushing riffs and endless blast beats, leaving very little room to breathe. The constant sonic asphyxiation — in the vein of, say, Behemoth — is clearly the sound the band set out to achieve, and they pull it off well. Long, exquisitely polished solos, a staple of both technical and progressive death metal, are nowhere to be found; the leads on the album, while solid in their own right, are sparsely distributed, and the overall focus remains on the relentless riffage. While the songwriting is occasionally somewhat reminiscent of Cabinet-era Spawn of Possession and also perhaps early Gorod, the comparatively cleaner production on Above the Unworthy gives the guitar parts a uniquely satisfying crunch. The band also manage to include an admirable amount of groove in their music — not so much in copious amounts as do Gorod, but enough to keep things fairly interesting. Vocals are about what you would expect, and done well on their own terms, while bass heroics are kept to a minimum (perhaps for the better). Ultimately, as increasing numbers of newer bands in and around death metal push towards more polished sounds, an affinity for concept albums, and some abstract idea of ‘maturity’, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a younger band still bring it old school.
That being said, some of the problems with the old school sound are, as one would expect, inherent in Above the Unworthy — mainly that while 80s and 90s death metal fans will find plenty to enjoy in the album, those better acquainted with recent innovative releases from bands such as Beyond Creation will likely find some of the less-stellar songs to be somewhat interchangeable. Aside from that, the album closer, “Birth of a New Light”, is a minute-long acoustic not unlike something Opeth would do, and is perfectly fine on its own terms — however, in the context of the album, it comes out of absolutely nowhere, and feels like an uneven and unexpected outro to a solid death metal album that doesn’t otherwise feature anything of the sort. Had the album started off with a similar piece, or had other songs featured something even remotely alike, it would make sense to conclude with something along these lines, but “Birth of a New Light” remains an oddly placed closer that ends the album on a very strange and arguably even unsatisfactory note.
However, approaching Above the Unworthy without any pretense of mind-blowing innovation or dynamics makes for a suitably fantastic listening experience; largely unyielding throughout, and about as tranquil as your average blast furnace. Demiurgon don’t try anything particularly new, but they kick your teeth in regardless, and that’s what we’re all here for, right?
Demiurgon’s Above the Unworthy gets…