Hello and welcome once more to Death’s Door. You know the drill. The month of August was an absolute monster in the world of metal, but especially so in death metal. Good lord of darkness, just LOOK at the amount of music being covered this month! We’ve thrown guidelines out the window at this juncture, as there is just too much music that we love to confine this column to a couple entries per month. Prepare for sensory overload, because death metal delivered in spades in August.
For the second consecutive month, there was too much goodness for me to listen to and handle. Thus, the venerable Scott is here to bring his own sultry-voiced (just imagine James Earl Jones singing sweetly in a carrot patch and you’ll come close to the majesty) perspective to the proceedings. But he isn’t the only esteemed contributor to this month’s smorgasbord. Matt from Grind My Gears, Celtic Connection, and all things bright and beautiful here at Heavy Blog has joined the fray as well, lending us his most excellent thoughts on some amazing music. Death’s Door truly has become a den of abject filth and lechery, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Without further hemming and hawing, the picks of the month.
Cream of the Crop
Pyrrhon – What Passes for Survival / NYN – Entropy: Of Chaos and Salt
Yep. You read that correctly. Two albums sit atop the heaving pile of malevolence that was August death metal, and deservedly so. A grand total of zero albums displayed the amount of forward thinking tomfoolery contained within both of these records last month. Not only are they expertly performed and brilliantly composed, they each approach technical and progressive death metal tropes from differing perspectives, which makes them both incredibly unique and rewarding listens.
Pyrrhon, for example, utilizes a particularly jagged sonic assault that combines the abject ferocity of death metal both technical and progressive and infuses it with a sharply realized vision regarding lyrical content and vocal delivery. The lyrics on this album are phenomenal, and not enough credit is given to Doug Moore (officially metal’s sexiest man) for his ability to paint meticulous pictures of political and emotional despair within the context of Dillinger-level sonic insanity. Album opener “The Happy Victim’s Creed” and subsequent track “The Invisible Hand Holds A Whip” give us an ample taste of the delights to be found on this album. Frantic and layered guitar work, manic drum blasts, and Moore’s righteous fury all blending into a batshit cacophony that feels so, so right. While the majority of the album maintains this breakneck pace, it’s the slower, more grueling “Tennessee” that steals the show from every other incredible track on this record (and they are all incredible), containing one of the most brutalizing riffs of 2017 in its finale. All of these elements could have been nothing more than a brilliantly written hodge podge of indecipherable noise if not for the masterful hands of Colin Marston, who produced the record to absolute perfection. This is one of the most adept evolutions of the technical death metal sound that I have heard, and I cannot recommend this album highly enough. A major step up from the already excellent The Mother of Virtues, and one of the best albums of the year.
Then we get to NYN, which follows this insanely technical and progressive bent in a slightly different and equally brilliant direction. Rather than focusing primarily on the primal intensity inherent within the death metal style, Entropy: Of Chaos and Salt presents a cornucopia of sounds and influences that contort and reshape this music countless times. Eastern music, frequent and brazen alterations in vocal style, and blazing solos all combine to create an album that cares very little for your sensitive ears, and instead intends to warp your mind without apology. It accomplishes this feat by blending these elements impeccably well and creating one of the most truly unpredictable death metal albums I have ever heard. But this frenzy never feels like it is random or heading off the rails. The trajectory of Entropy always feels forward and insanely heavy, making for a listen that one can study intently or get mindlessly lost in depending on your mood. The balancing of these disparate sonic elements is pulled off primarily due to the otherworldly dexterity of the musicians on this record. Let it be stated that Noyan Tokgozoglu, Jimmy Pitts, and Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschlager are virtuoso musicians, and their individual contributions to this album are in a word impeccable. I challenge you to find a record that displays a greater level of precision and creativity on these instruments. Songs like “The Apory of Existence”, “Omnipotence Paradox”, and “Embrace Entropy” are perfect examples of insanely creative songwriting brought to perfection by incredible levels of musicianship, and are three of the wildest tracks you will hear this year. This is the real deal, and you should give it your time and attention.
Best of the Rest
Beneath – Ephemeris
Brutal death metal has a somewhat spotty reputation within the death metal community. While there are acts that create soundscapes that are absolutely stunning and forward-thinking within this strain of death metal (Wormed, Disentomb, and Defeated Sanity come to mind), much of the music rings in my ears as a whole lot of chug-a-lug that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose other than giving one the emotional propellant necessary to punch a hole through a wall. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it sometimes feels almost like top 100 radio pop to me: fun, but ultimately lacking in any sort of staying power. Not so with Iceland’s Beneath. While the band did not deviate to far from the typical brutal death format in their first two records, their third full-length record Ephemeris is a varied and infinitely engaging monster of a record that is worthy of your time and attention.
If there were one word to describe Ephemeris, it would be balance. Opposed to the near constant bludgeoning that most brutal death metal bands rain down on the listener, Beneath veer in a more nuanced direction. While there are most certainly heart-pounding, fist-pumping moments of chug-a-liciousness (“Constellational Transformation” has a few that will rip your face off of your skull), they are surrounded by a cleaner, more open composition style that allows the music to breathe and dabble in some very effective sonic diversity. Songs like “Cities of the Outer Reach” vacillate between soft, languid passages of epic guitar work and incredibly heavy blasts of brutal death that work together seamlessly and never feel odd or out of place. What has happened here is an entirely fresh perspective on songwriting from the band, and it works brilliantly. One of the best brutal death metal releases of the year, and if you like this branch of death metal even remotely give this record a spin.
Desecrecy – The Mortal Horizon
Desecrecy seem a simple band on the surface, peddling a bludgeoning, propulsive, murky, and doom-inflected death metal of the old school variety. To be blunt, this sound in 2017 has become a dime-a-dozen formula within the death metal tree. In the days of excellent Dark Descent releases and bands the world over pushing their own version of Incantation-worship (Father Befouled, Dead Congregation, etc.), it can be a chore to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Thankfully, your compatriots at Death’s Door are here to help with that problem! Given the style of death metal they play, what makes Desecrecy different from any of the other death metal bands venerating the old school? Well, for one, it’s not necessarily an easy style to master. Aping a sound is not the same as creating your own unique space within it, and Desecrecy fall squarely into the latter camp. The Mortal Horizon is an album that recreates the best of this notorious style of death metal but does not shackle itself to any limiting conventions inherent within it, creating an atmosphere of abject oppression and sonic suffocation that can stand toe-to-toe with the year’s best old school death metal releases, and in many ways eclipses them.
The songs on this record are, to a fault, fantastically evil. Tommi Gronqvist (who plays every instrument and was the principal songwriter for the record) and his growing skill as a songwriter and musician are a formidable force to be reckoned with. The sound Gronqvist cultivates on The Mortal Horizon, while firmly in the Incantation camp, helms close to Asphyx and Bolt Thrower in regards to their sheer intensity. From the speedy fire of “Horizon Blazing” to the crushing finale of “Excavation”, Gronqvist’s in full command of his formidable talents, creating a death metal record of the most cavernous and vile atmospheres.This is not one to be missed for fans of the old school.
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Just the five years since their last recorded offering, Dyscarnate bring all their might (hur) to the fore on a death metal album that owes more than its fair share of thanks to the works of Gojira and Decapitated. The UK band definitely sit on the polished, high quality production end of the death metal mantel and are an odd inclusion among the usual bestial, depraved acts that Jonathan loves to wax lyrical about. What makes it even more peculiar that they’re included in this month’s Death’s Door is that I’m writing about them! I don’t even listen to death metal!
I’m kidding, obviously. I just don’t devour nearly as much death as other folks at Heavy so it’s rare for me to put words down about what is essentially a great example of by the numbers death metal. With All Their Might has fucking stacks upon stacks of grooves, mid tempo riffs that evoke all the fine death metal of the last five years and some surprising moments of progressive influence too. Like I said, it’s by the numbers for the most part, but it sounds big and professional, giving meat and potatoes metal numbers like “Of Mice And Mountains” and “Iron Strengthens Iron” a beefy attack, even if they lack any real spice or salacious seasoning. It’s when Dyscarnate pull back to expose their seedy, slow jam underbelly that the record starts to hit home.
As a huge fan of the last few Hadal Maw albums and (some of) Decapitated’s more recent efforts, it’s pleasant to hear a band pepper light Middle Eastern influences through stomping melodic death metal passages. “Traitors In The Palace” is a right creeper of a tune, taking shape with cold, picked chords before mutating into a grizzly stomping beast. Closer “Nothing Seems Right” makes the wait worthwhile, forty odd minutes in and Dyscarnate deliver a moody groove track that constantly threatens to spill out into savagery. Black Crown Initiate used to do this for fun but now it’s these guys turn to churn out the moody metal masterpieces. A rare death metal outing for me, and one of the more clean cut death metal offerings on this feature, but it’s worth pushing the boat out for.
Incantation – Profane Nexus
Jonathan and I certainly had some choice words for Decibel regarding their extreme veneration for death metal’s forefathers at the expense of including younger bands among their proclaimed “Year of Death Metal.” Yet, our critiques weren’t meant as a blanket dismissal; to the contrary, we both agree that several of the genre’s old guard have indeed released some exceptional albums this year. This is particularly true of Incantation, who clearly have no interest in squandering their resurgence in popularity. As we’ve talked about ad nauseum on the blog, a slew of new bands and labels have latched onto the band’s filthy approach to death metal and evolved their sound in a myriad of different directions, some placing extra emphasis on the filt and others gravitating towards their death-doom undertones. As flattering as this might be for Incantation, the veneration of a veteran band’s always comes with the risk of oversaturation and a general indifference to the progenitors given the abundance of new interpretations.
While that certainly could be a reality in Incantation’s future, Profane Nexus proves the band has no intention of fading into the background anytime soon. That’s not to say the band’s tenth full-length offers a huge overhaul of the band’s sound; frankly, there’s no need for that, something Incantation is keenly aware of. Whether you spin classics like Onward to Golgotha or fresh offerings like Profane Nexus, you’re guaranteed a plummeting journey into the bowels of hell, with plenty of collisions with lost souls and debauchery along the way. Of course, Incantation knows well enough to latch onto new production techniques and spruce up the elements of their sound with each album, allowing for subtle structural improvements to bolster their sound rather than straying away from a formula that crushes time and again. It’s an approach that still satisfies almost thirty years into Incantation’s career, and with records like Profane Nexus, the band is guaranteeing themselves another few decades of relevancy in their genre and dominance in their niche.
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Nostoc – Ævum
In the months following my review of Anticult, I’ve cycled through the five stages of grief regarding Decapitated’s post-hiatus foray into second-rate groove metal. The band has forced fans into the “what could have been” conundrum—when a veteran artist falters, fresh blood from the scene often provides a glimpse into an alternate timeline where their forefathers continued to excel. Of course, these new bands are the plus side of this dynamic, proved beautifully by Nostoc’s Poland by way of Costa Rica approach to Decapitated’s mastery of airtight, groove-laden tech death. In an adjacent timeline, we can imagine Decapitated going in a more complex, progressive direction in their later years and exploring the logical evolution of their compositions on Organic Hallucinosis. Thankfully, Nostoc have spliced this alternate reality into our own present day and unleashed an impressive, monumental debut that’s bursting with future potential.
It’s genuinely surprising that Ævum isn’t the work of seasoned genre stalwarts, as the album’s intricately crafted compositions suggest otherwise. Nostoc’s formulas shows a level of refining beyond their years; they synthesize pre-hiatus Decapitated’s songcraft, Gojira’s progressive grooves and Psycroptic’s technicality, launching this concoction into an æther realm of progressive metal’s greatest ideas. Ævum’s songs average about seven minutes apiece and open and close at about nine and eleven minutes, respectively, and while some listeners may be daunted by the album’s length and lack of interludes, Nostoc’s songwriting lends itself to extended compositions replete with tantalizing ideas that connect beautifully with one another. Each track weaves between crushing tech death grooves and gorgeous prog flourishes from the Opeth playbook. Yet, the way in which Nostoc blends these sounds leads to wholly unique sound all their own. It’s the kind of songcraft bands take years to develop, a fact that should whet the palates of listeners at the thought of how Nostoc will undoubtedly improve upon such a stellar debut.
Resurgence – Besieged
Some records you anticipate for weeks, months, or years. You know what I’m talking about. That insane level of excitement reserved for the Tools of the world, where expectation for a new (probably never to be released because it’s Tool) project is at a constant fever pitch. Whether or not these albums will be revolutionary or absolutely awful is beside the point when it comes to these types of records. Then there is the opposite end of this spectrum. Completely unsung bands that arrive out of nowhere to break your face with the power of the mighty riff. British Columbia’s Resurgence are that band. Rising from the swirling pit of constant death metal releases with their stunning debut record, Besieged, the band use showcase a level of songwriting skill and technical prowess that could soon make them a household name in the death metal community.
Besieged is a lot of things, but mainly it is a straight up ass-kicking death metal record. These songs contain enough riffs to populate a small country, and each of them is uniquely world-destroying. Album opener “Entombed Inside Your Brain” begins in a manner on the surface wholly unbefitting to a death metal album. Swirly, twangy guitar weaves its way around lightly tapped cymbal work that almost feels like the opening of a progressive rock record. About thirty seconds later, the album’s first major riff hits with a swagger that is infectious and impressive. All of this takes place in about a minute’s time. Then all hell breaks loose. Death metal is in, and it’s here to stay. The epic track’s remaining seven minutes pummel us with an incredibly catchy and head-bangable audio assault that is as perfect as they come. The album refuses to relent from this point on, as “Machine”, “Sodomy by Chainsaw”, and “In the Mirror” present nothing less than total punishment for fifteen minutes. But Resurgence have more than one trick up their sleeve, as the album’s centrepiece “Thy Diving Convalescence” gleefully displays. Tempo and tone change repeatedly throughout this track, which displays everything the band does well. To be fair, nearly every moment of this album displays what the band do well, because essentially everything they write on this record is supremely effective.
Good lord, this record is fantastic. If not for two utterly game-changing tech death records released this month, this album would be sitting atop the heap of August. But alas, only one (or two… I’m not picky) can be crowned king in any given month. Keep an eye on Resurgence. Their time of world domination is coming.
Seprevation – Echoes of Mercy
“Though she be but little, she is fierce,” says Helena in William Shakespeare’s incomparable A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The same logic could be applied to Bristol UK outfit Seprevation’s latest EP, Echoes of Mercy. This group is relatively young, having released their debut LP, Consumed, in 2014. Since then the band has been mostly silent, with no official releases from that point until this year. Bring on 2017 and, thankfully, another offering of mayhem. Containing four tracks and clocking in at just over fifteen minutes, Echoes of Mercy is a ferocious piece of death-thrash that sits squarely in the esteemed company of blended thrash releases from bands like Power Trip and Weaponizer. But have no fear, there is plenty of death metal here as well. If you were unfamiliar with this band before, prepare yourself for a hefty and aggressive introduction.
Echoes of Mercy wastes absolutely no time acclimating the listener to its distinct charms. “Slaughterous” opens the album at breakneck speed. This track in particular is seriously and unapologetically propulsive, ripping through thrash sections with the verve and power of early Slayer. Seprevation doesn’t stay there though, as they smoothly transition into some death metal blasting and riff progressions, culminating in a finale that smacks of Leprosy-era Death. If this opening salvo moderately intrigues and/or impresses, the rest of the EP will not remotely disappoint. “A Fate Beyond the Flesh” sticks much more closely to the traditional death metal template (while throwing in a fairly thrash-oriented solo for good measure), while “The Death Ethos” displays the band’s instrumental prowess and range, adding a few tempo changes that make the song a fairly unpredictable affair. The album’s final track feels Morbid Angel-esque, incorporating some blistering death metal riffs that keep their sharp edge throughout the duration of the track, not once feeling anything less than utterly intimidating. A fitting end to a thoroughly blistering EP.
From start to finish, Echoes of Mercy is relentless. Fans of old school, experimental death and 80s thrash should absolutely love this thing. If death and thrash blended seamlessly and successfully is your jam, gorge yourself freely on this small feast of metal excellence. Here’s hoping it’s only an appetizer for releases to come.
Spectrum of Delusion – Esoteric Entity
Debut albums can be tricky. Not for Spectrum of Delusion, apparently, as their debut is one of the more assured and confident technical death metal debuts that I have heard in a bit. But boldness alone does not a good record make. When it comes to tech death, one needs much more than that to stand out amongst a gargantuan crowd of hopefuls eyeing their shot at metal fame. Thankfully, Spectrum of Delusion’s debut record Esoteric Entity checks all the boxes of a solid tech death release on go one, which bodes well for the band’s future, as well as our picky ears.
Spectrum of Delusion do a ton of things right. Bringing in a nicely mixed sound that allows each instrument to be heard distinctly (especially the bass) without any individual instrument losing its potency. “Illuminate Eradicate” displays this quality perfectly, bringing in bass sections that allow the song’s rhythm to ebb and flow distinctly and clearly, while the track’s middle section absolutely decimates with technical riffing that feels appropriately heavy without drowning out the rest of the instruments in the mix. “Reverie” also brings the heavy without losing the prominence of the bass or drums. Here, the guitars are a component of the band’s sound, not the foundationally dominant aspect. This can be a rare occurrence in tech death, and it is most welcome. Every track here is engaging and feels like a part of the greater whole, creating a very cohesive listening experience that lasts to the final note.
As debuts go, this is a good one. I heartily recommend giving this band a chance. It will be difficult for them to top this, but I look forward to them trying. Tech death has another great band to count amongst its ranks. 2017 is ridiculous.