Death metal, perhaps more than any other genre, builds monuments to its past often, and it builds them tall. And can anyone really find fault in that? With stylistic confines so severe, and such a wealth of talent and personality from day one, it’s not hard to see why every step forward seems like it’s taken while facing backwards. Anyone saying that traditional death metal isn’t progressing at all is wrong as hell, but it’s easy to see how they come to that conclusion: death metal still pretty much sounds like it did 25 years ago. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and classic death metal, even in 2019, remains so very, very far from being broken.
Living Tomb joins the ranks of Starspawn and Manor of Infinite Forms as one of my main pillars for this position. Way back when, when I wrote up Ossuarium‘s debut demo for our Death’s Door column, I remarked that they seemed completely unconcerned with offering a new interpretation of death metal, instead taking the route well-traversed by doom-inflected greats like Incantation and offering forth to the world their profound talent at doing exactly what those bands did. To be exact, I said Ossuarium “operate under the KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid…[their sound] adheres to what’s been done before, but it’s hard to fault them for this when they pull it off with such aplomb.” (If anyone’s keeping score, I stand by my previous appraisal 100%, Calcified Trophies of Violence is still one hell of an EP.) Much like Blood Incantation drenched Blessed-/Covenant-era Morbid Angel in ayahuasca, and Tomb Mold brought the nascent John-Carpenter-body-horror vibes always lurking just beneath the surface of Autopsy‘s gooey stomp to the forefront, Ossuarium exalts the classic sound of doomy death metal and become a vessel for its incarnation as something that is both extremely recognizable in its lineage and an entirely new beast. All this is to say, then: holy fuck, Living Tomb GOES.
On an immediate level, Ossuarium sets up their debut record as a greatest-hits collection of doom-death’s mottled history: after a negligible intro track, opener “Blaze of Bodies” unloads a flaming salvo onto listeners with little warning or lead-up. A corpuscular mid-paced riff switches to a full-on tremolo section set atop pulverizing blasts; Finn-death legends Convulse and Demigod both come to mind through the immense musculature all three share in their sound. Some clean guitar enters the fray for a brief respite, its reverberating and ghostly tone strongly echoing Denver savants Spectral Voice, but before long it is subsumed once more under Ossuarium’s methodical tank-tread assault. One of the gnarliest grooves the genre has seen in a hot minute, a proper love letter to Obituary if ever there was one, takes up the last legs of the track before the clean guitar returns once again to lead us out atop the song’s final punches.
Even though Living Tomb‘s genealogy encompasses pretty much every record that has ever been associated with both doom and death metal, Ossuarium demand to be taken on their own terms simply because of the wideness of the net they cast. The Frankenstein’s Monster of death metal tropes utilized on Living Tomb is surprisingly unpredictable due to its sheer largess and the band’s willingness to play around with shifts in mood, tempo, and loudness. Take, for instance, “Blaze”‘s immediate follow-up, “Vomiting Black Death.” This track takes the opposite approach to the pyroclastic machine-gun of riffs that is its predecessor: of the seven-minute run time, the first half is spent building tension as Ossuarium cycles through various movements before utilizing a melodic break that recalls the gilded sound of Hooded Menace or Icon-era Paradise Lost to put that last little flourish on the ensuing battering ram of sound. It works perfectly. The latter half of “Vomiting Black Death,” in addition to being set up incomparably well, is superbly written in its own right, and the extravagant collection of riffs and solos bounces between tempos and modes with excellent variation.
After the two mini-epics, “Vomiting Black Death” and “Corrosive Hallucinations,” have snaked their way through over a third of the record’s time on their own, the last four tracks condense the varied approach, though the songwriting certainly does not suffer. The claustrophobic lull of “Writhing in Emptiness” explodes towards the end into incandescent solos and hair-singeing riffs, which give way to the dark psychedelia of “End of Life Dreams and Visions Pt. 1” and the molten heave-ho of “Malicious Equivalence” before finally culminating in “End of Life Dreams and Visions Pt. 2.” This final gory victory lap shows Ossuarium pulling out all of the stops, letting their music ricochet from one extreme to the other in a crushing tug-of-war that builds into a phenomenal climax for Living Tomb. There is nothing here that does not belong, and everything that is here serves its purpose perfectly.
When the dust has finally settled, what we see is that Ossuarium have created something that stands supreme as an exaltation to the sheer power of death metal as a genre. Rather than try to separate themselves from the canon of their birth, Ossuarium have opted to create a 40-minute liturgy to the gods of death metal on high, and they’ve succeeded with flying colors. The gauntlet for 2019 has unequivocally been thrown down.
Living Tomb will be unleashed on the unsuspecting populace on the 1st of February through 20 Buck Spin records. You can preorder the record on CD, vinyl, and cassette, (plus check out a couple sick shirts) over at 20buckspin.com.