Hello my Hellions, and welcome to Death’s Door. Don’t even bother wiping your feet on the mat this time around. The blood runneth over. What an absolutely insane summer it’s been for death metal. So great that we’ve had to eliminate a multitude of records from our monthly list because we just don’t have time to cover them all. It’s a glorious problem to have, but thinking about all the fantastic releases that have gone unmentioned over the past two months makes me nauseous. Which leads me to the crux of my opening diatribe this month: It’s a great time to be a death metal fan.
This topic has been broached fairly frequently in the metal blogosphere over the past few months, with Bandcamp and our friends over at Toilet ov Hell expounding at length on the subject. Is this the greatest era of death metal? Does it suck because of what came out in 1992? In my estimation, such arguments are fun but practically useless. Those that found emotional, artistic, or psychological connection to the works of Death, Bolt Thrower, Incantation, and Carnage are obviously going to opt for the formative years of the genre. AS THEY SHOULD. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with lionizing the music of your youth (unless, in my opinion, it gets in the way of you experiencing new and valuable works of art). I will go to my grave thinking The National is the best damn rock band of all time. My nieces and nephews will eventually disagree because dad rock is objectively repulsive to the teenage aesthetic. That’s cool by me. But just like the old timers and their Morbid Angel allegiance, I will consider these past few years to be the most explosive and incredible thus far in death metal’s existence. Why? Because they’re mine.
To be clear, I hold a fundamental appreciation in my heart for the foundational bands that shaped death metal. I sport plenty of Timeghoul t-shirts to concerts and can rattle off my favorite releases from 1992-94. But those albums, however objectively excellent, don’t grip me like Pyrrhon’s relentless technical assault, or Blood Incantation’s roars into the void. Nothing from the early 90s can compare in my mind to the first time I spun through Ulcerate’s debut. This is because none of those foundational albums encapsulated a time and place in my life that my mind constantly reverts to. That doesn’t diminish their value or make them any less great. It just means that the 90s aren’t my golden years.
I fully recognize that there are plenty of holes to be poked in this logic. Music isn’t by its very nature eternally bound by the artificial constraints of time or context. Plenty of young whipper-snappers enjoy the oldies, and I don’t blame them. But they don’t have to consider those bands their holy grail to be fans of the genre. A new listener who is introduced to the wild wood of filthy death metal weirdness in 2018 by Chthe’ilist is receiving no less of a revelatory experience than the guy who kicked on Demilich’s opus for the first time in 1993. Death metal’s continued growth and expansion depends on young listeners discovering the bands that are impacting their own time and space, and that should be celebrated, not shit on by cryptkeeping purists. 1992 and 2018 are equally valid years to be scarred irreparably by the righteous fury of death metal.
Perhaps if we all expended less energy trying to ingratiate ourselves into date-stamped scenes and just enjoyed the fucking music we’d be a little less obnoxious.
Scott is here with good picks. Simon is here through solid recommendations. Chuck is with each of us in spirit.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Burial Invocation – Abiogenesis / Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
That’s right. For the second time in the history of this column, we’ve got a two-fer. In a quite lengthy review earlier in the month, I covered Burial Invocation long-awaited debut full-length Abiogenesis. With nearly a month of consistent listening under my belt, I’ll state with abject sincerity that my opinion of the record hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Almost a decade in the making, Abiogenesis is the death metal record I’ve been waiting for all year. That is, until Imperial Triumphant’s Vile Luxury graced my ears with all its ethereal strangeness. Both are absolute masterclasses of modern death metal done right, but approach the genre in very different ways. Abiogenesis blends a complementary assortment of death metal styles into a staggering, spellbinding whole that honors the spirit and tradition of death metal’s forebears by generating some of the heaviest and nastiest sounds you’ll hear this year. Vile Luxury, on the other hand, discards that tradition entirely, striking off into utterly bold and disorienting new territory. Serving as stark examples of death metal’s two divergent (yet I would argue equally impactful and important) paths, these records represent all that death metal can be in 2018. Friends… the present is very good indeed.
For those inclined toward death metal’s more traditional sounds, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more compelling and absorbing listen than Abiogenesis. It’s not only arguably the best death metal album of the year, but perhaps one of the year’s best metal records, full stop. From its general construction (small amount of longer tracks a la Blood Incantation) to its blistering solos, Abiogenesis is the complete package. Often vacillating between doom-infused passages and manic, Finnish-inspired death (with the album’s title track being the best example of this juxtaposition on the record), there’s literally never a dull moment on Abiogenesis. The instrumental pyrotechnics are further complimented by an outstanding heavy-yet-balanced production aesthetic provided by Dan Lowndes, which allows each instrument its time in the sun without sacrificing the sheer brutality of the music on display here. Even the album’s instrumental finale is captivating, giving listeners a much-needed final breath before driving the knife into our mutilated hearts. On the whole, Abiogenesis is as good as one can expect modern death metal to be. Utilizing various sounds and textures that flow together seamlessly, the record is impeccably crafted and expertly performed, culminating in the most satisfying death metal record I’ve heard in some time. If you are even moderately interested in the evolution of old school death metal, I implore you to give this outstanding piece of music a listen. You will not be disappointed.
While Abiogenesis melds the stylings of old into something grand, Vile Luxury takes on death metal in a much riskier fashion. To be completely honest with you, Scott and I discussed whether we could consider it death metal at all (it is, we determined, but in my mind it adheres much more to the Deathspell Omega/Ulcerate side of the death metal equator). Hailing from New York, and using the city as one of their primary lyrical and thematic linchpins, Imperial Triumphant have been propagating a style of death metal that few if any other bands are trying, let alone perfecting: Blackened, dissonant, avant garde, oddly progressive, noir-inspired, jazz-infused death metal. Think Dashiell Hammett and Don Delillo meeting in a back alley in lower Manhattan and, upon exchanging pleasantries, commencing the gnarliest acid trip of all time. If you have no idea what that’s supposed to sound like, you’re in good company. Let Vile Luxury be your fervent introduction.
In case there were any doubts that the above descriptor was a serious assessment of their music, let opening track “Swarming Opulence” dispel them. Opening to a smattering of horns that feel oddly askew, the track then bleeds into a propulsive, manic swarm of jangling guitars, blasting drums, and utterly wretched vocals. Melding grandiose instrumentation with the basest, most disorienting of sounds is sort of the album’s trademark, and such sonic hysteria continues throughout the record. “Lower World” kicks off with the sound of a subway car undergirding feedback-laden guitar and off-kilter drumming, laying the groundwork for a composition that incorporates piano and choral arrangement in a chugging, writhing industrial song that feels as if it will fly off the rails at any moment. Nearly every track on the record feels this way at one point or another, tipping so precariously toward insanity that it legitimately feels like the whole endeavor may fall apart. But it never does. Frame by frame, the story that Imperial Triumphant is telling unfolds like a majestic, sublime whirlwind of molten gold, filling your senses with burning, suffocating opulence and degradation. It’s unlike any other metal record I’ve heard.
Whatever your proclivity when it comes to death metal, you’ll find something to love here in the two best records released in the subgenre thus far this year. Dig in. The harvest is plentiful.
Best of the Rest
Anachronism – Orogeny
When putting on an album for the first time, there’s honestly no greater feeling than the band excelling early and often. While some of my favorite albums of the year or all time have taken the entire run time or several spins to click, other records have captivated me as early as the opening moments of the first track. The challenge then turns to sustained success, of course, since a handful of front-loaded, solid outings can result in a disappointing experience overall if the rest of the record tapers off. In the case of Orogeny, these issues never surface one throughout the entire album. Anachronism come out swinging as soon as “Anthropocene” starts and don’t stop landing sucker punches and left hooks until after the final notes of “11’034” ring out. The Swiss trio produce a potent and exceptionally well-balanced blend of progressive, dissonant and technical death metal to produce one of the most dynamic tech death albums I’ve heard in quite some time. Whereas a lot of tech death bands fit neatly into various factions of the subgenre, Anachronism are hellbent on being their own mutli-headed beast, and death metal fans are all the more fortunate as a result.
For the non-geologically inclined among us, the TL;DR definition of “Orogeny” is “how mountain ranges are made.” It’s a fitting name, considering the trio’s music feels like a sonic experience of seismic proportions. The dissonant, technical wizardry of Gorguts and even Krallice feel like appropriate comparisons, as do the melodic-leaning prog sensibilities of The Faceless and other like-minded bands of their ilk. Yet, Anachronism brings so much more to the table that these influences feel morel like extracts added to their own unique recipe. The tracks on Orogeny are some of the most brutal and heavy-hitting cuts of tech death I’ve heard in this style, almost like a a more technically-inclined Entheos. But what’s most striking about the band’s music is how nimble every members moves across ever track. Even going beyond the band’s penchant for seamlessly shifting tempos and moods, the rapidfire blast beast and riff progressions feel truly effortless. A common criticism of tech death is its rigidity, but on Orogeny, the trio feel as loose as a filthier band like Succumb without sacrificing any technicality or finesse in the process.
I’d been saving my write-up for the album until this very column, but I’m extremely glad that Joshua gave the band an HLT shoutout earlier this month. The band deserve heaps of attention and praise for their unique talents and approach to songwriting, and I wish someone had turned me onto them back when they first started making music in 2015. A clear sign of when an album’s made an impact is when you immediately want more new music as soon as the last track plays out. Thankfully, Anachronism are still young, and Orogeny clearly proves they have many more ambitious, well-executed ideas to record over the course of their career.
Atavisma – The Chthonic Rituals
Our good friend and fellow DD contributor Simon’s death-loving hands are all over this list, and nowhere more so than with Atavisma’s The Chthonic Rituals. Recommended a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a spin while I mowed my lawn. Resulting in the most aggressive stint of yard work I’ve ever undertaken, France’s Atavisma impressed me greatly with their skill at crafting riff after tasty riff without ever falling into the repetition that plagues many death metal releases. It’s a solid debut from a young band with plenty of room for growth and expansion, but regardless of their potential, I like The Chthonic Rituals just fine on its own.
While the album as a whole kicks ass, it’s beginning is a bit more subdued (almost… jazzy?) than the rest of the record. “Chthonic” kicks things off with a righteous drum solo that occupies the first moment or so of the album. As unusual as it is awesome, this track eventually explodes into a rabid form of orchestral tuning session that perfectly primes the listener for subsequent track “Extraneous Abysmal Knowledge”, which hits your face like a doom-laden hammer. Those who partake in the nastier side of death-doom will find their cup filled very quickly here. The guitar tone is filthy, and doesn’t become any more polished as the record continues. Fans of Father Befouled and Ascended Dead will find plenty to relish here. Which, if we we were to poke some holes, is part of the album’s potential pratfalls. There’s nothing particularly new here. But for a debut record loaded with potential it sure is tasty.
If you like it filthy, give Atavisma a shot. With a thoroughly enjoyable debut release, the band have catapulted themselves onto my watch-list, and hopefully continue to hone and refine their sound in the records to come. Just maybe avoid working with potentially deadly yard tools while you listen.
Dire Omen – Formless Fire Embodied
Dire Omen’s furious EP Formless Fire Embodied is very short and straightforward in its presentation. The music, however, is anything but. The three tracks contained on this release, a follow-up to the band’s debut full-length Wrestling the Revelation of Futility, are a winding, dissonant cavalcade of atonal death metal goodness that should whet the whistle of any fan of Deathspell Omega, Exlimitir, Mitonchondrion, Convulsing, or Ulcerate. In a short amount of time, the band takes listeners on a ferocious journey through some of the farthest reaches of seismic death metal, stuffing enough riffs in three songs to fill entire full-length records by less capable bands. “Null” and “Geburah” are mercilessly dense, compacting a million ideas into the shortest possible runtime, causing these tracks to feel simultaneously brief and excruciatingly detailed. It’s a juxtaposition that left me wanting much more music from these obviously talented Canadians. Finale “Malkuth” is no less stimulating, filling its runtime with some significant jazz influence that speaks to the band’s versatility and sky-high potential. It’s a tight package with a lot to say, and speaks it with bruising conviction.
The only disappointing aspect of Formless Fire Embodied is that there isn’t more of it. Clocking in at just over ten minutes, I could have taken another twenty with glee. This is premium stuff from a band that will hopefully gain further recognition is they develop, and if this EP gains any sort of foothold, expect to read a lot more about Dire Omen over the coming years. An excellent (albeit short) release from a band that will most certainly be on my radar for years to come.
Extremity – Coffin Birth
Few things frighten me more than the word “supergroup”. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but generally I find the output of most of these projects to be more than marginally unpleasant. Thankfully, Extremity are the kind of supergroup I can fully get behind. Featuring members of Agalloch, Vhöl, Cretin, and Vastum, the band certainly has the pedigree for success. Last year’s mini-LP (whatever the hell that is) Extremely Fucking Dead displayed all the band was capable of achieving, but in an unfortunately microscopic way. Coffin Birth, the group’s first full-length, takes all the nastiness that made their mini-LP great and expounds upon it. If you liked what you heard on Extremely Fucking Dead, you’re going to love Coffin Birth.
As displayed on their previous release, Extremity are very much in the nasty OSDM business. 2018 has been replete with quality music emanating from this camp (releases from Of Feather and Bone, Skeletal Remains, Ritual Necromancy, and Tomb Mold spring to mind), and Coffin Birth is no exception. Opening track “Coffin Birth / A Million Witches” displays the band’s multifaceted audio assault right off the bat, kicking things off with a funhouse of horror vibe that quickly transforms into a punishing, ruthless death metal beast. Shelby Lermo and Marissa Martinez-Hoadley’s guitar work mixes Swedish abrasiveness with Floridian heaviness, balancing styles with skill and precision. Aesop Dekker’s drum work is worthy of special mention as well, winding through passages that alternate between doom-infused slow-and-low and death metal insanity. In particular, the work on the cymbals is particularly impressive, and a unique flavor to tracks like “Umbilicus” and “Occision”. The obvious skill and love of death metal history on display here make this record something that many other OSDM worshippers cannot duplicate: Fun. From start to finish, Coffin Birth is a blast to listen to, and lands squarely among the most enjoyable listens I’ve had with an OSDM record this year.
There’s very little to dislike about Extremity. Sure, they aren’t doing anything new. It’s fairly clear that originality was never their intent to begin with. The band have with Coffin Birth honed an interpretation of death metal’s early days in a highly effective and enjoyable manner, and it will be mighty difficult for fans of the subgenre to not get swept up in its gleeful ugliness.
Gnosis – Dweller on the Threshold
Simon strikes again! Another fantastic recommendation that I might have missed if not for their guiding hand. Bless you, you magnificent human. Gnosis is a new one for me. Hailing from British Columbia, they peddle a particularly heavy brand of sludgy death-doom. All the traditional monikers apply. It’s brutal. It’s punishing. It’s ugly. But there’s a distinctive edge to the music on the band’s debut full-length, Dweller on the Threshold, that intrigues me. While most certainly touting all the intensity one would expect from a death-doom release, there’s a sharpness to this music that lends it an unusual kind of power and uniqueness for this branch of the metal tree. Refusing to fall wholeheartedly into subgenre tropes, Gnosis carve their own path into an interpretation of death-doom that suits me just fine.
Part of the album’s above-stated sharpness comes from some excellent production decisions, including some delicious guitar tone that adds a smooth lethality to the proceedings. Like being choked to death with a silk scarf, tracks like “Part II: The Feast” envelop the listener in a sludgy world that is incredibly difficult to extricate yourself from once the music has taken hold. But this bondage is a welcome one when the music is this good. Each instrument finds its own time to shine, existing in a good mix that allows each instrument some time and space to breath. It’s a spacious sort of suffocation that is a real pleasure to listen to. “Part III: Creeping Dread” brings in some moderately progressive elements into the mix as well, increasing speed with force and conviction, launching the album out of its slower aesthetic and into something unexpected and overall fantastic. This is an album not bereft of complexity, culminating in a varied and effective listening experience.
Dweller on the Threshold is a hidden gem that only gets better with repeat listens. It sounds great, the performances are solid, and the songwriting shows tons of promise. It’s a fine debut, and an album that I look forward to spinning repeatedly as the summer continues.
Mutilation Rites – Chasm
As someone who hasn’t been enamored with most modern punk and hardcore, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a couple of modern death metal bands who’ve infused a distinct, energetic punk spirit into the genre equation. Last year’s self-titled album from Succumb was my favorite album from the genre for a reason – the way the band blended the ferocity of death metal with blackened atmospheres and a youthful exuberance clicked in all the right ways for me, and there always seemed to be another unique moment around every corner. In the same way, the latest album from Mutilation Rites immediately attracted my attention after Simon suggested it just might be his death metal AOTY for this year. Simon went on to praise Chasm for our Editors’ Picks column for July, and now I’m here to throw my endorsement behind a truly invigorating slab of death metal goodness.
Simon truly said it best – Chasm is filthy, nasty, downright ugly record. I found myself constantly asking how the band could so effortlessly embrace several genres at once and bring them all into the fold. Chasm is absolutely a death metal album at its core, but it goes well beyond your standard fare to incorporate the oppressive moods of black metal with grimy shades of crust punk and sludge metal. It’s a nasty, viscous stew of heavy music that stomps on your ear drums like a demonic winemaker crushing a mixture of grapes and blood in a barrel with spiked boots. Mutilation Rites are also impressively versatile across the album’s six tracks. On the one hand, you have a sub-four-minute scorcher like “Axiom Destroyer,” which feels like the heaviest Noisem track out there tuned down several steps lower. But then the rest of the album extends the song developments further to create some savage, slow-burning romps, and at its conclusion, ten-and-a-half minute dirge “Putrid Decomposition” feels as slow-churning and gruesome as its title suggests.
It’s a rare occurrence when Simon misses the mark with an album suggestion, and more likely that these suggestions are incredibly spot on. Chasm is absolutely a case of the latter, and anyone who wishes to be kind to their ears with some truly unkind tunes should start following Mutilation Rites immediately. This is another great record in an already well-accomplished career, and the energy on Chasm indicates the band is only just getting started.
Obscura – Diluvium
What else can be written about Obscura that hasn’t already been stated? To deny their influence and talent is simply incorrect, and to ignore them a grave mistake. While much has been said about former band member Hannes Grossman’s other (and, in more than a few respects, superior) project Alkaloid, one would be remiss to think that the band’s principal talents had been completely transferred to another band. On the contrary, Diluvium is without question an exceptional record by a band operating at or damn well near the peak of their collective powers, completing a cycle of records whose bridging concept I feel very fuzzy on, but are nevertheless a monumental achievement of technical/progressive death metal.
As the final chapter of an overarching concept sequence, Diluvium delivers the goods. Outside of the aforementioned Alkaloid record, I’m hard-pressed to find a more entertaining and impressive technical death metal record released this year. These songs are chock-full of awe-inspiring guitar work (provided ably by Rafael Trujillo and Steffen Kummerer), with “Clandestine Stars” serving as an effective reintroduction to the band’s insane technical capabilities. Sebastian Lanser’s drum work is also excellent throughout the record. Whether blasting through breakneck passages in “Emergent Evolution” or diving into jazzy exposition in “Mortification of the Vulgar Sun”, his boundless talent is clearly evident. To a large extent, one comes to Obscura for the technical pyrotechnics, but with Diluvium one stays for the excellent songwriting, which is prevalent on every track of this record. These tracks seamlessly flow together in a manner that causes Diluvium to feel very much like one unified piece of music, rather than a collection of disparate compositions (which, to my ear, a great deal of this brand of metal falls prey to). Front-to-back, Diluvium is a cohesive sonic journey of the highest order, and possibly the band’s best record to date.
It’s always nice when the heavy hitters of metal make good on their potential. Obscura do exactly that with Diluvium, crafting a record that is as pleasurable to listen to as it is mind-numbing in its sheer technicality. A must-hear.
Parius – The Eldritch Realm
Melodic death metal and I have a fairly strained relationship. While I deeply value melody as a cornerstone of quality music, its emphasis in death metal doesn’t always translate well. At all, to be honest. There are obviously exceptions to every rule (Insomnium and Be’lakor being two such anomalies), but on the whole my feelings toward this particular subgenre are mixed at best. I can safely add Parius to that small list of bands who do this music justice, as The Eldritch Realm is a pure, horror-obsessed delight.
One thing that every death metal needs, regardless of subgenre classification, is riffs. Lots of them. Parius don’t disappoint in this department, burying the listener in a constant flow of fantastically catchy guitar composition. If “Eldritch” doesn’t get you going on so many levels with its manic display of fantastic guitar-based insanity, I don’t know what will. The vocal samples on this record are also wonderful, delightfully cheesy conceptual asides that add a nice B-movie flare to the proceedings. But you’re here for the riffs, and more of them you shall have. “Phylactery”, “The Boundless”, and finale “Crashing Black Moon” are replete with them, creating ultimately one of the best experiences I’ve had with melodic death metal in some time. As a whole, the band are operating on instrumental overdrive, with the vocals, guitars, and rhythm section creating fantastic track after fantastic track, leaving the listener spent and satisfied. It’s premium stuff.
The Eldritch Realm is one helluva ride. If you come to death metal for some fun with your riffs, this very well may be your AOTY.