Welcome back, hellions, to Death’s Door. Wipe your feet on the mat and pull up a bone throne. It’s time to talk death metal. New year. New filth. Oh yeah, baby.
The beginning of a new year is always weird for me. It’s a time marked with artificial beginnings, often misplaced optimism, and the absolute doldrums for music releases. January is very rarely a month chock full of great new music (with independent music releases somewhat excluded from this general trend), and my listening habits often drag as a result of the lack of quality tunes to pour into my ear holes. But the music gods hath, oddly, smiled upon us in this the year of our infernal underlord 2019, and delivered a few ridiculously awesome death metal releases. There’s a great sigh of relief that’s breathed when some of the most unsatisfactory months for music releases churn out quality content, so let’s all breathe deep the sounds of vile decay that await our eager ears, and hope that the rest of 2019 doesn’t suck.
As is tradition, Scott joins me in highlighting some of the filthiest death metal of the month. So enough meaningless prattle. Let’s do this.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Altarage – The Approaching Roar
Three albums in, Spanish death metal wizards Altarage have slowly become something of an institution in the gnarly/dissonant/tech death scene. Few bands sound exactly like them, but their influences are easy to spot and bountiful. Mash Portal, Ulcerate, and the slower, heftier components of Inverloch together and you’ll come close to the sound this band has begun to perfect. While the band’s debut Nihl remained just a notch or two above their sophomore record Endinghent, their third record blows both of these previous efforts out of the water. The Approaching Roar contains the band’s best songwriting, performances, and production to date, culminating in a release that further elevates the band’s already pristine reputation.
Album opener “Sighting” reveals a significant amount of what the band is trying to accomplish on this record, while introducing some new and highly effective components. The haunting, slightly off-kilter acoustics that open the track display a renewed emphasis on atmospherics in the band’s songwriting, while also enhancing the record’s overall level of unpredictability. The remainder of the track is a fiery furnace of hellish, congealed sounds that recall the band’s previous material, but are here somehow fiercer and more chaotic. This is a general trend throughout the record, as these tracks vacillate between doom-laden, dissonant, atmospheric, and chaotic textures in a manner that few bands can pull off with this level of skill. If “Sighting” is your proverbial cup of tea, keep listening. It only gets more harrowing from here.
Start-to-finish, The Approaching Roar is everything I wanted it to be, as well as the qualitative next-step that I hoped the band was capable of. It’s a premium dose of doom-infused dissonant death metal that is as relentless as it is engaging and elusive. Multiple listens are recommended before judging this record, and I assure you the time spent will be amply rewarded. Riveting stuff.
Best of the Rest
Charnel Altar – Demo
It takes quite a bit for demo material to make it onto my monthly list. In fact, I can’t recall personally having covered any demos as long as this column has been in existence. That isn’t to say that demo material fails in general to pique my interest. It’s just that there’s usually more polished, well-written material out there to cover, and I’m a man with little time and lots to listen to. That’s, in part, what makes Charnel Altar’s demo such a rare gem. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but these 30+ minutes for blackened death metal may end up some of the best I hear this year.
Cut from a similar cloth to Mutilation Rites and Barghest, Charnel Altar are here to destroy your senses completely. Taking the sharp edges of black metal songwriting and hewing them to an Incantation-esque caverncore atmosphere, the band do an excellent job creating music that feels distinctly like both black and death metal simultaneously. “Caverns of the Hypogeum” is a relentlessly brutal track that delivers nearly nine minutes of unfiltered audio darkness, and the remainder of the demo does little to alter this path of abject sonic torment. While obviously demo material, the lo-fi production actually works in the demo’s favor, creating an overarching feeling of menace and ugliness. It’s exactly as rough as it needs to be.
This demo includes some of the best new material I’ve heard in a good while. I’m looking forward to hearing a proper full-length soon, and predict here and now that it’ll be a doozy.
Defacement – Deviant
Most of the time, intro tracks feel like wasted time, despite how relatively brief they are. There are certainly great introductions that convey an overall mood of an album while being a worthwhile musical moment in its own right. Yet, most of the time, it’s basically a blip on the screen that holds no real role other than to delay the actual opening track.
“Isolated” isn’t an example of this whatsoever. Across just two minutes, Defacement demonstrate precisely what they came here to accomplish on Deviant, with swirls of reverb-heavy melodies and feedback that still feel imminently devastating. Though the rest of the album doesn’t quite adhere to this initial soundscape, it’s a testament to the massiveness and immediacy that defines every track on the album. From the first “proper” song onward, Defacement put on a ferocious display of cavernous, blackened death metal.
There’s really no area where Defacement lack any substance or technical prowess. Mark Bestia’s drumming is exceptional throughout, balancing passages of blast-heavy rage with interludes of equally pummeling fills and mid-paced beats. On guitars, Khalil Azagoth is constantly discontent with remaining idle, prompting him to concoct a shifting blend of dissonant, angular riffing and tremolos that somehow remains catchy all the while. And atop it all, Forsaken Ahmed barks a mighty roar to make the proceedings all the more hellish.
The trio’s interplay is on full display during the album’s full run time. on “Mutilated,” Bestia and Azagoth remain in perfect sync despite them both channeling as much cacophony as possible, with recurring, semi-melodic chord progressions bouncing off of rapidfire flashes of cymbals and snares. Occasionally, the band will create some lingering, impenetrable atmosphere on tracks like “Abrogation,” but it always returns to that blasting sonic assault. Even so, Deviant never feels one-note, instead consistently providing constant, subtle shifts to create a multifaceted but thematically consistent sequence of destructive death metal.
Light Dweller – Incandescent Crucifix
Over the last couple years, I’ve started hyping up “lean” death metal bands. Recent gems from bands like Succumb and Anachronism have found an immense appeal to me due to their willingness to juxtapose technicality with more organic, tangible influences. I love Origin as much as the next guy, but sometimes the mechanical, brutal strain of tech death feels a bit to rigid and singularly focused (even though that focus is incredibly satisfying).
As we kick off a new year, I can now add Light Dweller to this “lean” list without a moment’s hesitation. Given how much death metal Jonathan and I consume, being truly surprised by an album is rare these days. Incandescent Crucifix didn’t peddle anything truly new, but the mixture of disparate influences is something I haven’t quite heard in this configuration. Imagine a youthful tech death band with an affinity for blackened, dissonant and melodic flourishes, typically just a moment’s notice. It’s an ever-shifting affair that reminded me of the sounds that first attracted to me to death metal, played alongside current sounds that I feel have kept the genre fresh.
Take opening track “Glum,” for instance. At the onset, it sounds like another addition to the modern strain of dissonant, chaotic death metal, albeit performed at a high level. Yet, the track then takes a moody shift into what could potentially make its way into a heavier post-punk track, before exploding into a crescendo that might be found on a metallic hardcore dirge. Finally, the track concludes with a fading melodic riff in contrast to everything that preceded it, yet it somehow fits perfectly.
The rest of Incandescent Crucifix adheres to this formula to continued success, though the energized death metal at the album’s core is ever-present. Plus the fact this is all done by a one-man-band is particularly impressive. If you enjoy tech death with a distinct flair and unique, eclectic voice, then there’s bound to be something – and more likely, a lot of somethings – that will appeal to you about Light Dweller’s sound.
Noctambulist – Atmospheres of Desolation
Denver’s death metal scene has been slowly growing over the past several years. Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, and Of Feather and Bone have shown a dank, putrid light on all that this microscene is capable of, and newcomers Noctambulist only further solidify the scene as one to be reckoned with. Their debut record Atmospheres of Desolation is a sterling statement of intent that is sure to make waves across the death metal world in the months to come.
Similar to Altarage, Noctambulist wear their influences on their sleeve. The most notable on this record being Ulcerate. This obvious similarity may be a turn-off for some, but I assure you that Noctambulist has more to offer than simple Ulcerate mimicry. Highly technical flashes in “Abnegation” and the album’s title track smack of (very subtle) hints of Immolation and more obvious nods to bands like Setentia, Exlimitir, and Bufihimat. All of these influences together combine into a musical maelstrom that’s as technically impressive as it is starkly brutal. If you like your death metal atmospheric, dissonant, and filthy, there’s little you won’t love about Atmospheres of Desolation.
Denver continues to churn out premium metal bands, and we can most certainly count Noctambulist among their ranks. An impressive debut that points toward a bright future.
Soulmass – The Weakness of Virtue
I love FromSoftware’s Souls series. Having feared the old blood and freshly purged the streets of Yarnham in Bloodborne while prepping myself for another deep-dive through Dark Souls 3, I’d say I’m pretty staunchly placed in the “fan boy” category when it comes to this developer’s games. As is probably apparent to you through reading this column, I’m also a pretty big fan of death metal. The thought of these two loves combining is simultaneously invigorating and horrifying. Thankfully, we have Soulmass to bridge the gap with their fantastic sophomore full length The Weakness of Virtue, which melds these two worlds into something that is immensely enjoyable for fans of either of these things. Death-doom finally joins the ashen ones, and it’s a sight to behold.
Outside of a concept that I’m a complete sucker for, Soulmass brings the heat through an impeccable death-doom mix that is highly listenable and brutal. The production, laid down here by boardmaster and Horrendous mastermind Damien Herring, is particularly exquisite, allowing these songs the space and tone they need to unleash their maximum impact. Opener “To Paint a New World” trundles through its extended length with an exceptional amount of doomy heft, setting the pace and tone in similar fashion to its inspiration: Slow, heavy, and brutal in the beginning. Like the Souls series, once you are used to the tone and mechanics, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Soulmass treat their songwriting in the same fashion, as the album’s second track, “Blacksmith’s Wisdom”, rips through the slower, more methodical approach established by the album’s opener by unleashing fresh death metal hell on our eager ear drums. The album mixes these two styles masterfully throughout, providing enough appropriate changes of pace and tone to keep the album engaging from start to finish.
I love it when a good idea comes together, and Soulmass have here eclipsed their debut in every way, solidifying themselves as a death-doom band to watch. Fans of the Souls series will find plenty to love here, but enjoyment should be had by death metal fans of all shapes and sizes.