Welcome to Death’s Door, people. Wipe your feet on the mat and pull up a bone throne. We’ve got plenty of solid releases to cover.
It’s early in the year to be pessimistic. But I’m me, so here I sit, staring into the void consumed by feelings of musical hopelessness. There’s still plenty of time for death metal to finish as strong as 2018 did, I know. But at this point I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt a bit underwhelmed by the output generated by the death metal camp in the earliest months of 2019. It’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But January and February didn’t include many albums that I still find in my regular rotation, instead offering records that have proven to be enjoyable listens with less staying power than the best death metal records tend to give me. This is disappointing, to say the least. But, thankfully, we have March. Flowers are blooming, trees are beginning to show their first signs of life, and death metal is here to torch it all with merciless glee. All is as it should be once more.
As you will see below, there are several albums listed here that have received significant listening time over the past 31 days, with a few now lodged firmly in our own personal playlists. Death metal is back with a righteous vengeance, and it gives me hope that the remainder of the year could include records of this caliber. Here’s hoping. As always, we’re here to deliver unto you our picks of the month’s best death metal. Let us know what albums you loved and loathed in the comments.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Venom Prison – Samsara
2019 has been more low key for me in terms of new death metal. While there have been a decent amount of releases I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, few have had a lot of staying power. Venom Prison’s sophomore full-length Samsara changed that. I have not been able to stop listening to this album since it first hit my speakers, and I have no intention of removing it from my regular rotation anytime soon. Front-to-back, it’s a vicious, brutal display of death metal prowess, and one of the best albums to be released so far this year.
Everything about Samsara works. Whether focusing deathcore-adjacent chuggery (“Matriphagy”), hardcore-infused chaos (“Uterine Industrialization”), or straight-up death metal brutality (“Asura’s Realm”), there’s little that doesn’t sound uniformly excellent. Holding together the band’s hodgepodge of influences is vocalist Larissa Stupar, who delivers one of the most electrifying performances I’ve heard on a death metal record in some time. Screaming and spewing lyrical motifs on Buddhism and modern suffering, her vocals are as arresting as the crushing music surrounding them. It’s the complete package of death metal intensity, and I can’t get enough of it.
If you like your death metal fundamentally violent, look no further than Samsara. Technical without dissolving into wankery, punishing without losing sight of nuance, there’s a veritable treasure trove of riffs contained here. Very much looking forward to seeing how this band’s career evolves. Riveting stuff.
Best of the Rest
Contrarian – Their Worm Never Dies
Contrarian make death metal that any 90s prog-head could love. If you find yourself turning to groups like Death, Pestilence, and Cynic more often than Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse, this is the band for you. Their debut record, 2015’s Polemic, was a sterling (if somewhat incomplete) project that marked the band as one to watch. 2019 marks the release of their third full-length record, which is without question their most accomplished and clearly defined record to date. In similar fashion to Horrendous, Contrarian herald back to a sound long past with fresh perspective, making their music much more than a cheap copy of greater works, but something unique enough to stand firmly on its own in a sea of imitators. In short, good stuff.
Whether you come to 90s progressive death metal for the noodly, over-the-top instrumentation or hyper-melodic songwriting, Contrarian have you covered. “Vaskania (The Evil Eye)” showcases the band’s penchant for dramatic, immediately catchy prog-tinged songwriting right out the gate, highlighting the breakneck speed the band is capable of reaching as well as the copious amount of sonic variety they are able to stuff into an individual track. Such songwriting techniques run wild throughout the record, but never shirk more robust death metal fare like that found in “My Curse” and “Among the Mislead”. Couple this balance with a production aesthetic that feels pulled directly from the golden period of 90s death metal, and you’ll find as close to perfect a package for the 90s prog-death head as we’re going to get in 2019. Praise the worm for it.
While Contrarian may not be sailing into completely new territory, their work in recreating a sound that’s beloved by a great many death metal fans in a manner that almost entirely avoids simple retread status is commendable. Their Worm Never Dies is an enjoyable romp from start to finish, and deserves whatever time and attention you can give it.
Gomorrah – S/T
Gomorrah is scary good at what they do. Mixing technical death metal with progressive, groove-heavy/deathcore-adjacent sounds, the band’s influences range from the industrial tinge of bands like Anaal Nathrakh to the solo and group work of Hannes Grossmann (who provides the mesmerizing drum work on this particular record), allowing their music to walk a thin line between bendy weirdness, total sonic chaos, and technical cohesion that few other bands have been able to successfully traverse. Their self-titled sophomore record is the culmination of all the elements that have made their music so interesting over the past few years, and should be a certain stand-out for fans of technical death metal.
With a few notable exceptions, there have been few listening experiences I’ve had this year that match the speed, precision, and immensity of this record. Right out the gate, “Ember” lulls listeners into a false sense of security before catapulting us into a riff sequence that could have been pulled straight from the heaviest sections of an Alkaloid record, only to pull the rug out from under us once more as the music takes a violent turn into the chug-a-licious. It’s a track that adequately represents the band’s songwriting emphasis on this record, and if you like what you hear, the remainder of the record will please you greatly. “Predatory Reich”, “Frailty”, and “The Blade Itself” are all contenders for death metal song of the year for me (and it’s only April… good lord), and I don’t foresee growing tired of this record in the near future. It’s a varied, near-perfectly executed slab of tech death aggression and I can’t get enough of it.
Hannes Grossmann – Apophenia
I don’t think Hannes Grossmann is human. If you do, please explain to me how he can drum for Gomorrah, release his own excellent solo record in the same year, and have work with bands like Alkaloid, Hate Eternal, Obscura, Blotted Science, Howling Sycamore, and Necrophagist on his resume? The entity known as Hannes Grossmann displays a gross amount of talent traversing a wide array of sounds, and it’s honestly more than a bit disconcerting. Whether human or something more, Grossmann’s latest solo effort Apophenia is as good as fans of his previous work could have hoped for it to be. If you’re a fan of Alkaloid’s latest release in particular, there’s a whole lot to enjoy here.
Featuring a majority of the musicians in Alkaloid, it’s no surprise that Apophenia sounds similar to Liquid Anatomy. Being that it was my favorite record from last year, this is a very good thing. Grossmann’s songwriting is as crisp and variety-filled as ever, with guests Jeff Loomis (Nevermore, Arch Enemy), V. Santura (Dark Fortress, Triptykon), and Marty Friedman (Megadeth) lending their particular list of skills to the record as well. Opener “Deep” provides just about all you will need to know about the riches this record contains. Blazing, progressive guitar work, Grossmann’s fantastic drumming, and enough musical themes to fill several lesser records, it’s an out-the-gate masterpiece of a track that adequately prepares listeners for the excellence to come.
Start-to-finish, Apophenia is a gem, and stands as a worthy addition to Grossmann’s disgustingly wide discography. Man, machine, alien, or otherwise, Hannes Grossmann is one of the metal world’s most treasured talents. May his reign of inhuman productivity never cease.
Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation
Some art, at least for me, feels like it’s violating something. Whether relaying deeply personal anecdotes in literature or music, topical concerns that hit close to home, or depictions of activities that are rebuffed by our own moral sensibilities, some art just feels, for lack of a better word… wrong. On that completely arbitrary and subjective metric, Pissgrave feels wrong.The grotesque nature of their album art, the depraved and utterly filthy production aesthetic they utilize, vocal stylings that feel dragged from a pit in hell that even Satan avoids… it all cumulates in a disgusting package that’s as truly brutal as this style of music gets. Which makes it, in at least some historical context, borderline perfect death metal. Their second full-length record, Posthumous Humiliation, belongs in the apex predator category of death metal records, and is without question the single nastiest thing I’ve heard in a good while.
Straight out-the-gate, and without surcease throughout the album’s runtime, listeners are fundamentally brutalized by tracks stuffed with enough sonic filth to make Cannibal Corpse blush. “Euthenasia” suffocates from its very opening notes through its equally brutal conclusion. Slayer-style caterwauling aside, there’s very little variance in the band’s singular sonic assault throughout Posthumous Humiliation, but that is in this context nowhere close to a criticism. Pissgrave know exactly what they’re doing, and have a very clear agenda as to what they want you to feel. And make no mistake, this is the type of death metal that’s meant to be felt. You will find little wankery here, instead a splatter of internal fluids in sonic form that doesn’t relent for even a moment. “Canticle of Ripping Flesh”, “Into the Deceased”, and “Emaciated” feel barely cohesive, hanging above complete and total chaos by a bare thread. But it’s just enough to keep the music grounded in its historical roots, presenting both a callback and evolution of a sound taylor-made to frighten parents and repulse your pastor. In short, what death metal is meant to be.
If you like your music so aggressive and vile that a shower is required after listening, Pissgrave have created your new favorite record. As dark and violent as a Dragged Into Sunlight record with ten times the speed, Pissgrave are here to pulverize your mind and soul into complete submission. I for one happily succumb.
Whitechapel – The Valley
Let it be known here and now that, on the whole, deathcore and I are not friends. In fact, I can think of only three bands in the entire genre that I even moderately enjoy. Whitechapel was not on that list. “Was” being the obvious keyword here. I listened to their latest record, The Valley, on a whim, mostly wanting to hear what all the buzz was about. Shocking no one more than myself, I actually dig this album. A lot. So much so that I decided to write about it. So here we are, a steady deathcore ignorer writing about a deathcore record that deserves your attention. Cue that Bob Dylan classic about times a-changin’.
Speaking of change, the amount of new elements Whitechapel have added to their sound is remarkable. Opener “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” is a varied, full-bodied deathcore tracks that includes all the staples one might have come to expect from a Whitechapel record. The chugs chug, the grooves groove, the drums blast, the vocals belch and roar with reckless abandon. That is, until they don’t. Halfway through the track, a subdued guitar coda enters the fray with (blasphemy of the highest order, I know) sincere, clean vocals. What is this tomfoolery? A kitschy blip on the radar? Nope. The Valley is rife with clean vocals throughout. In fact, “Hickory Creek” includes nothing but clean vocals, while tracks like “Third Depth” feature them in tandem with their traditionally more aggressive vocal approach. A bold move for a band as historically heavy as Whitechapel. But for those who would scoff at the band’s decision to change up their vocal delivery, never fear. There’s plenty of ridiculously chunky breakdowns to go around. “Forgiveness is Weakness”, “The Other Side”, and “Lovelace” are maniacally aggressive, and should provide ample opportunity for fans of the band to relish in the sounds that made them a household name in the deathcore world.
The thing that impresses me most about The Valley isn’t necessarily the usage of clean vocals (which for the most part honestly sound great), but instead the band’s growing prowess as songwriters. Sure, any band can throw in some clean vocals and more emotion-driven melody, but to entrench them in a record that still feels heavy as all hell is impressive. This is a record that is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to from start to finish, and deathcore haters should take note. If this is the direction that the genre is heading, I will find myself much more interested in its future. Impressive work.
Equipoise – Demiurgus (progressive tech death)
Fallujah – Undying Light (atmospheric death metal)
Noisem – Cease to Exist (deathgrind)
Shabti – Trembling and Shorn (blackened tech death)