As much as we love highlighting the latest and filthiest death metal for our depraved horde of readers, Death’s Door wouldn’t exist without the countless veteran bands and classic albums that helped shape our love of the genre. That’s why we’re inviting you to journey with us down to Death’s Vault, an outlet for us to highlight some crucial records for the progression of death metal. While we’ll obviously cover some established classics along the way, our main goal will be to shed light on some criminally underrated deep cuts in the death metal canon. So without further ado, wipe your feet on the mat, settle into a bone throne and prepare for a bloodbath.
As soon as Jonathan and I started brainstorming what would become Death’s Vault, I knew To the Depths, In Degradation would be the perfect album four our inaugural segment. My infatuation with Infester dates back to the dark days of my music taste when I legitimately thought Emmure was one of the most b00tal bands out there. I slowly started to develop an interest in good ‘ol fashioned death metal, and before I knew it, I was adding classics from Cryptopsy, Morbid Angel and Suffocation to my CD collection. Thanks to the power of the internet (and Decibel’s 100 Greatest Death Metal Albums of All Time) I started unearthing some deep cuts during my freshman year of college, which included an invaluable recommendation thread in a metal Facebook group I followed. As soon as I saw the cover for To the Depths, In Degradation in a YouTube preview in the thread, I knew I was in for some of the filthiest death metal I’d ever heard. Even to this day, Infester has retained a top spot as one of the most brutal, invigorating and all-around best iterations of the genre you’ll ever encounter.
I genuinely don’t understand how Infester became such an underrated act in the 90s death metal scene. To the Depths, In Degradation may be the Seattle trio’s only full-length, but one-hit wonders aren’t an anomaly when it comes to death metal; just look at bands like Carnage and Demilich. So why then has such a talented, relentless band been so criminally overlooked? I honestly don’t have an answer. I’d heard Cryptopsy‘s None So Vile and Dying Fetus‘s Destroy the Opposition by the time I checked out Infester, and the trio from Seattle leverage the best of both records with their own unique, ghoulish flair. Infester embodies the unbridled ferocity of brutal death metal with the technical prowess of the big names in old school death metal. The result is a crushingly heavy affair accented by occult themes and overarching themes of dread and darkness.
This isn’t always the case for death metal, but every member of Infester is a truly integral part of what makes the band’s music so devastating. Dario J. Derna (drums) performs with loose ferocity behind the kit, seamlessly shifting between double-kick beatdowns and flurries of pounding blast beats. Honestly, I initially thought Infester spawned from the same New York death metal scene as bands like Suffocation because Derna’s playing carried many of the brash qualities of New York hardcore. Of course, the percussion is only so effective due to its propulsion of Jason Oliver’s riffs, which erupt through a thick coating of filthy distortion. His playing feels like that brutal-death-metal-meets-tech-death style perfected by Cryptopsy, albeit with much more murk dumped into the equation. More importantly, Jason infuses a number of blackened occult passages and breakdowns into the mix, adding a dynamic range to each song which stretches into both brutal and stirring. “Chamber of Reunion” in particular incorporates morose passages of melodic chord progressions along with chugging quasi-slams that feel ahead of their time. The band expands on these cultish themes throughout the album, such as the dungeon synth organ on “Braded Into Palsey.” Todd Stevenson rounds out the lineup with some truly impressive bass work, twisting his way through the thick, coiled web of riffs and blasts to provide some thundering, resonant accents.
Finally, we return to Oliver again for what’s undoubtedly the defining element that ties the entire record together. Jason’ death growls are some of the lowest I’ve ever heard, making John Gallagher sound like Barry Gibb. Nothing elevates the innate heaviness of a death metal record more than exceptional vocals, and Oliver fits the bill effortlessly with demonic growls befitting of the scenery on the album’s cover. He also throws in some wretched screeches throughout the album, as if to create a dichotomy of Satan and one of the damned in the lowest circle of the underworld. While Oliver won’t win any points for annunciation, his vocals more than serve their purpose within compositions that called for such an eruption of pure, auditory evil.
Honestly, the main point I want to make with this post is that any death metal fan shouldn’t wait nearly as long as I did to jump on what this album has to offer. There aren’t many albums in the genre that offer up this level of brutality, let alone with considerable technicality and off-kilter melodies thrown into the mix. To the Depths, In Degradation is an enthralling, suffocating experience that commands attention from its first note and drags the listener down through the pits of Hell until the final sledgehammer riff stops reverberating. One of the downsides of having archives available on metal’s history is the inevitable experience of finding an exceptional band with a limited discography. Even though it’s tough to realize Infester will likely never come out with another album, their sole full-length is a testament to the sheer quality bands can pack into a single record. There’s no telling how much more punishing might have evolved to become if Infester were given the attention they deserved back when they first broke onto the scene.