In discussing Downfall Rising, it is impossible to avoid framing Wombbath’s resurfacing within two themes within the annals of death metal history. It is first obvious to focus upon Downfall Rising’s status as a comeback record; one would hope that the impetus for ceasing a two decade hiatus was a docket of invigorating material. Death metal has had a couple of resoundingly successful comebacks in recent years, seeing as both Gorguts and Carcass dominated metal discourse in 2013 with two of the strongest releases – Colored Sands and Surgical Steel, respectively – from both that year and within their own discographies. However, the second piece in this historical examination is the platform from which these comebacks sprung. Not every original death metal band has released as many undeniable masterpieces as Gorguts or Carcass; Obscura and Heartwork are the types of albums whose impact is a singular occurrence in a genre’s life cycle. The grand majority of original death metal bands either fizzled out in the days of tape trading or released a moderately respected classic before releasing a lackluster follow-up – if even that – and then breaking up. Genre purveyors label these mild classics as deep cuts rather than essential listening; God Macabre’s The Winterlong… and Carnage’s Dark Recollections, but they are no Left Hand Path or Altars of Madness. While there are instances of these types of bands initiating a comeback, their reception has thus been fairly lukewarm. Convulse’s World Without God did little to stir excitement in 2013’s Evil Prevails, and when Massacre released the underwhelming Back From the Beyond last year, some in the death metal community revisited their debut From Beyond and questioned whether or not it has truly held up as a genre classic. All of this considered, the present question is as follows: twenty two years after Wombbath’s moderate classic Internal Caustic Torments, within which of the aforementioned categories – if any – does Downfall Rising place the band within?
After a brief and uneventful intro torn straight from Burzum’s dark ambient playbook, “Under Apokalypsens Svarta Vingar” emanates Wombbath’s homeland with an overtly Swedish tone, complete with ripping buzzsaw guitars and some mild Gothenburg melodies appearing in the middle of the track. While all of this may be standard fare, it is the introductory gurgles of the following track “Underneath This Rotten Soil” that reveal the key element of Downfall Rising’s enjoyability. Jonny Pettersson delivers an unhinged vocal performance that channels the passion and styling of young death metal pioneers through a seasoned and vicious larynx. Pettersson consistently elevates the quality of each track, with his growls on “Paid in Blood” portraying him as having dripping crimson jowls.
Yet, while the actual music found on “Paid in Blood” is indeed fast, aggressive and heavy, it does not earn any adjective representing originality. It is effortless to identify Downfall Rising’s influences as the record unfolds. Yet, while the Swedish buzzaw tone and d-beats are obviously reminiscent of Entombed and Dismember and the pacing of riffs often alludes to Incantation and Nile, it feels more accurate to describe Downfall Rising as merely an incarnation of the genre itself. The only track that deviates from this is closer “Abandoned Furthermore,” whose terse runtime neuters the building of a funeral doom atmosphere that perfectly accents Pettersson’s vocals with organs, pianos and subtle guitars. Other than this brief, wasted opportunity, each other track merely provides an enjoyable iteration of death metal’s core traits. And though there is not a single subpar performance on World Downfall, it is simultaneously difficult to peg anything on the album as essential listening for genre tenderfeet and veterans alike.
So again, the question surfaces: where does Wombbath fit into death metal in 2015? Sure, there are a plethora of younger death metal bands who unabashedly advertise their adolescent heroes; Gruesome’s Savage Land – one of this year’s genre highlights – has been very openly hailed as blatant Death-worship. At the same time, bands like Horrendous have achieved much more inventive heights with their fascination with the past, and in general, modern releases that truly charm the death metal minded ear approach the genre in a forward-thinking manner. Additionally, many of Wombbath’s more successful peers have both a stronger back catalogue and modern presence in the scene (Cannibal Corpse, Incantation, Immolation, Suffocation, etc.). After stripping all of this away, all that remains for Wombbath and Downfall Rising is a standard death metal band releasing an album of equal quality, with the silver lining being a younger generation’s renewed interest in their superior nineties debut.
Wombbath’s Downfall Rising gets…