It’s difficult to extricate new death metal records in 2018 from the context of time and place. While many (including myself) found 2017 to be an absolute treasure trove of death metal goodness that might be unsurpassed outside the work of the early 90s, 2018 has proven equally if not more bountiful. We are in a truly special time in death metal’s evolution, and it’s a glorious thing to behold. With that written, the standards and expectations for new death metal releases are exceedingly high, given the body of work the subgenre has collected over the past few years. This is the world that Boston hell-raisers Innumerable Forms have unleashed their debut record into. Does Punishment in Flesh‘s surly death-doom madness live up to the sterling reputation established by 2018 death metal? Hell yes.
While only now releasing their debut record, this project has been active since 2007. Fronted by Justin DeTore (think Sumerlands, Magic Circle) as a solo project, Punishment in Flesh finds him surrounded by some capable musicians out for sonic blood. Chris Ulsh of Mammoth Grinder and Power Trip, along with Jensen Ward of Iron Lung, cover guitar duty here with measured, raging gusto. Those two alone make this record a who’s who of crossover/hardcore/powerviolence awesomeness. Bassist Doug Cho from The Rival Mob and drummer Connor Donnegan of Genocide Pact form the rhythm section, completing an all-star cast of musicians. Given the various styles and components brought to bear by the musicians present here, it’s surprising that Innumerable Forms jumped into the death metal world at all. Nevertheless, Punishment in Flesh provides listeners with a delicious slab of death-doom that should thrill most fans of the sharp, heavy, low, and slow.
After a brief instrumental intro, the album kicks off with a gnarly title track, which introduces the band’s Finnish influence almost immediately. There are hints of Hooded Menace and early Paradise Lost here, as the track gyrates between oppressively heavy and slow to manically paced and frantic. The guitar tone here is just filthy, pulling heavily from the razor-sharp nastiness of Mammoth Grinder’s latest LP. It’s a kick-ass introduction, and serves as a palate cleanser for the madness to come. Subsequent track “Petrified” builds on the foundation laid by the album’s title track with a bit more brevity, careening through its shorter run-time with a primal rage and focus that is both admirable and highly effective. Swiftly-changing variations in speed inhabit nearly every track here, and are without question one of the band’s primary strengths. “Purity’s Demand” is an excellent example of this, as every time the track feels as if it might gallop headlong into a Sadistik Forest-style Finnish death massacre, the band pulls back, letting the sheer weight of their patient and focused songwriting style ground the proceedings. Yet as soon as one needs a bit of a breather, in comes a ripping solo intent on stealing the show. It’s both impressive and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
The remainder of the record is no less fantastic. Sometimes more speed-driven (“Reality”) and other times more doom-laden (finale “Meaning”), it’s an album that reveres its source material and expounds upon it with vigor. Which, to be frank, is one of the few things to fault it for. While an excellent piece of Finnish death-doom, it isn’t much more than that. Sure, there’s some potentially unique guitar tone and solo incorporation, but overall Punishment in Flesh is nothing new. I’d argue that it absolutely doesn’t need to be in order to be excellent. This is an excellent record that stays in its sonic lane intentionally, focusing all of its members’ attention on a carefully constructed vision of Finnish death-doom that’s punishing and infinitely enjoyable. Sure, you’re not going to get an Imperial Triumphant-style exploration of genre norms, but that’s not what this record is, nor does it need to be.
If you have been blown away by the insane amount of quality death metal releases in 2018, Punishment in Flesh won’t snap you out of your revelry. It’s a solid record that knows exactly what it wants to accomplish, and does so with skill and precision. If you’re looking for a wild, original adventure, this record wasn’t made for you. If you enjoy old school death metal done very well, Innumerable Forms have written you a love letter. Quality stuff.
Punishment in Flesh is out August 17th via Profound Lore Records, and is available for pre-order in physical and digital formats via the band’s Bandcamp page.