December is a shocking month to release music in. If you’re thinking about doing so, don’t. Most publications have already settled on their end-of-year list, and if they haven’t been published yet they’ll be coming soon. Music journalists are going into shut-down mode as they give themselves some time off and try to recover from the mountain of listening they did in preparation for their end-of-year list. Listeners are on holidays and are enjoying their time off with loved ones. If they’re listening to music it’s going to be their personal favourites and not some new record that’s dropped. What this all means is that albums released in December are likely to get lost, falling into an abyss from which escape is near-impossible even for those with a formidable PR machine behind them. When you’re independent you’ve almost got no chance. That’s my theory for how an album as great as Fleshmeadow’s debut Umbra slipped through the cracks in late 2016 and why they’re still a largely unknown quantity. But we’re trying to fix that because these blackened death metallers are ready to rip your face off.
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Billed as a fusion of technical death metal with black metal, Fleshmeadow hit hard. Think of groove-laden American-style tech death, add a host of atmospherics, a few sprinkles of acoustic guitars and then wrap it all up in the tones and textures of black metal. Most tracks are in the 4-6min range and, barring one interlude, the tempo rarely lets up. Don’t let the Obscura-esque atmospheric and acoustic introduction to the opening track fool you. Once they get going Fleshmeadow relentlessly hit their listeners with volley upon volley of cold and calculated riffs, each strike hitting with deadly accuracy. The vocals sit firmly within the death metal category, with the drumming and riff-work seamlessly shifting gears between black and death. For every barrage of tremolo riffs and blast beats there is a breakneck groove with pummeling drums. “A Vexing Mural” is a brilliant example of how the band expertly interweave death metal songwriting with black metal textures. The song’s groove builds relentlessly throughout the track before exploding at various points, the band balancing tension and release masterfully. Yet, all throughout the riffs carry a frostbitten edge as they methodically cut their way through the dense soundscapes.
In terms of influences the band draw from, there are a host of bands you could choose from. Hints and traces of Obscura, Psycroptic and even Gojira can be found on the death metal side of things. “Isolation” sounds like Ne Obliviscaris’ more blackened moments if you were to strip away the prog, whilst Keep of Kalessin’s presence is strongly felt throughout. “The Bloodbath of Birth” is one of the record’s highlights, alternating between slamming the listener with sledgehammer grooves and drill-like rapid-fire riffs. The slightly proggier title track, the longest song at over the 7min mark, provides a touch of diversity whilst remaining largely in keeping with the record’s sound. If anything, the one grumble a listener may have is a lack of dynamics, with Fleshmeadow dialling it up to 11 more often than not. That’ll suit some listeners, but if they can get that right by the time their next full-length comes around they’ll truly be ones to watch. Let’s hope they find a better time of year to release their follow-up, so that the metal community doesn’t find itself wishing they’d found these gems sooner. In the meantime, you can follow the band on Facebook and pick up a copy of Umbra on bandcamp.