2017 saw a full-on resurgence of old school death metal from the crypts and swamps of the metal ether and into the collective conscious of extreme music fandom. Bands like Father Befouled, Ascended Dead, Incantation, Spectral Voice, Gorephilia, Necrovorous, and others brought the OSDM pain throughout our latest trip ‘round the sun with consistently punishing and cavernous material, and we can thank the metal deities for their ample provision. If the beginning of 2018 is any indication, the gravy train of quality OSDM isn’t slowing down anytime soon. We have Atomwinter to thank for that.
Based out of Germany, Atomwinter peddle a particularly buzzy, nasty variety of the old school that feels reminiscent of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, and perhaps even a dash of Gruesome. Three albums into their career, their methodical, fast/slow, always maniacally heavy style fits perfectly into the general death metal moment in which it exists. Catacombs does little to alter this established formula, but rather serves to enhance it with even better production and some solid performances throughout. But, then again, this brand of brutality is nothing particularly fresh or new. Fed on a steady diet of meat and potatoes riffing and songwriting, does Atomwinter warrant a further investigation by your busy and discerning ears? The answer to this question depends on one’s affinities within the death metal world, but if you like old school heaviness, this release is right up your alley.
From the first proper song on the record, it’s abundantly clear that Atomwinter came to punish rather than enlighten. Though the album’s eerie and dramatic instrumental opening may give fans of more experimental fare hope, this is quickly and definitively quashed by the subsequent banger title track, which does absolutely nothing to make you feel like this album is going to delve into deep waters of technical wizardry. It’s a straight-forward, vicious track that perfectly sets the stage for the remainder of the record. You like what you hear? Prepare to be transported into a brutal world of death metal goodness. Not a fan? Skip this one. It only gets heavier from here.
One immediately noticeable trait of the album is its production, which is a bit cleaner and beefier than a lot of OSDM releases. The guitars buzz and slice their way through tracks like “Dark Messiah” and “Sadistic Intent” with verve and clarity, occupying a pretty hefty space in the mix. Which, in my mind, is how things should be with a record hell-bent on bringing listeners to their knees in total sonic subjugation. But the guitars aren’t the only aspect of the album that get their due. The drums also infest a significant chunk of the mix, allowing the d-beat/blast juxtaposition to subsist with enough punch to feel impactful. The vocals may be the highest in the mix of all, as O. Holzschneider’s menacing growls add a great deal of gravitas to the proceedings. Unfortunately, the bass is buried almost entirely in the mix, which is a common malady in death metal on the whole. But there’s plenty of heft to keep fans of death metal satisfied.
The album works in some Incantation-oriented doom elements as well, particularly in tracks like “Ancient Rites” and “Necromancer”, which offer some of the best examples on the album of the fast/slow dynamic inherent within their sound. While the vast majority of this album is as skillfully played as this type of music can be, a few of these tempo transitions are a bit clunky, highlighting the switch from fast to slow or vise versa in a manner that feels like someone awkwardly flipped a switch rather than a seamless transition from one tempo to another. To be honest, these issues are relatively minimal, and do not damage the overall propulsion of the album.
It’s hard to deny the raw, manic energy of a band like Atomwinter. They take what’s good about old school death metal and essentially do that across forty minutes of death metal aggression. It’s a fast, punishing trip through a world of annihilation that only death metal bands can build. Is it particularly new or innovative? No. If this is what you look for in your death metal as a principal value, best skip this record for more experimental releases. No one would fault you for it. But for those who love their death metal as heavy and chainsaw-worthy as it gets, prepare for a wild ride, because Atomwinter are going to give you exactly what your heart desires. This is meat and potatoes OSDM with very few issues that is as fun as you are likely to have with this type of music. A quality release from a band that knows exactly what it wants to do and goes about doing it with zest and conviction. A very good time indeed.
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Catacombs will be released on 2/9/2018 through TrollZorn Records, and is available for pre-order through the label’s website.