Welcome, Hellions, to Death’s Door. It seems that the fog of mediocrity has finally begun to lift from Satan’s most prized genre. Spring is here, and with it a slew of fantastic records that bury the rest of the year in a deep grave of magnificence. So pull up a bone throne and get comfy. Death metal is back, baby.
May was a great month. With bands from death metal’s past surging into the forefront with (*gasp*) utterly listenable records, alongside young guns from upstart scenes making a ruckus, this past month’s release vat was bloody and full, just the way we like it. As is customary around these parts, we’re here to bring all the good stuff straight to your eyeballs and ear-holes. So let’s get right to it. May the bloodletting commence.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Warforged – I: Voice
Ambition, the two-edged sword. Death metal fans either love it, hate it, think there’s too much of it, or not enough. Bands with brainy, zany concepts for their music invariably walk into a maelstrom or differing opinions on whether their experimentation is game-changing or absolute trash. With their debut full-length album I: Voice, Warforged decided to take what is, in my opinion, the most foolproof approach a band can when presenting an ambitious project: all-out dedication. There isn’t a punch pulled over the album’s hour-plus run time, resulting in a project that many will either love or hate. Given its inclusion and placement on this list, you can safely assume which side of the fence I fall on.
For those who enjoy their death metal progressive, blackened, and a tad technical, I: Voice offers a veritable smorgasbord of delights. Jumping between passages of riff-heavy metal chugitude and synth/orchestral components (immediately noticeable and prevalent in “We’ve Been Here Before”, “Beneath the Forest Floor”, “Cellar”, and… well, you get the idea), Warforged create a kaleidoscopic musical palette that is at once varied and highly unpredictable. I’ve given this thing several listens at this point and I’m still finding new tidbits that swept right past me on prior listens. Which also points to one of the only true downsides to this record. At well over an hour long, it’s a lot to digest over a single listen. While I typically recommend concentrated, intent listening over one sitting, this record may be better digested in pieces. But if you find yourself in that category, stay true. Every inch of this album is crawling with good ideas.
Say what you will about the benefits of ambition in a genre that’s main focus is on recreating its founding sounds (which I welcome with open arms), but Warforged have here unleashed a brash, widescreen splash of ice water to the face that has done nothing but grow on me over time. It’s long, it’s dense, it’s at times complex, and it’s all excellent. Don’t sleep on this one.
Best of the Rest
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Veleno
There’s not band in the death metal world quite like Fleshgod Apocalypse. Melding the worlds of symphonic metal with death metal’s more progressive elements, the band’s music can come across in turns as endearingly ardent or unbearably cheesy. The band are at their best, in my estimation, when they embrace both of these approaches. King did that to much success a few years ago, and Veleno continues on that trajectory with even greater gusto. It’s one of the band’s best produced and most consistent records, and may be my favorite in their catalog.
In similar fashion to Septicflesh’s Codex Omega from 2017, Veleno presents its songwriting emphases with energy to spare. The compositions here meld death and symphonic metal with seamless ease. But where this album succeeds to a greater degree than in the band’s previous work is balance and intensity. The overall feeling of being crushed beneath the weight of a death metal freight train never quite leaves, culminating in a project that feels more direct and heavy at times than much of the band’s previous output. “Sugar” is an excellent example of this dynamic, bridging highly melodic passages with a overwhelming intensity that allows it to feel simultaneously expansive and oppressive. Kudos to the production team on this record for taking the time to allow these instruments to reach their maximum impact potential.
In all, if you liked what King brought to the table a few years ago, Veleno won’t change your mind about the band. It’s all the good stuff present in that album cranked to 11, and has fast become one of my favorite listening experiences of the year. If your on the fence about this band, it probably won’t change your mind. But give it a shot anyway. You may find yourself surprised by its riches.
Krypts – Cadaver Circulation
Death-doom is a tricky subgenre to get right. Either your album leans too heavily to the doom side, leaving the music in a slogging and inconsistent mire, or it leans to the opposite side of the spectrum, disrupting rhythm and speed to a point that feels unnecessary and annoying. Krypts, along with bands like Hooded Menace, Inverloch, and Incantation, are unafraid to pepper their old school, cavernous death metal sound with enough doom elements to bring a significant (and effective) amount of audio pain. Cadaver Circulation is the Finnish juggernauts’ latest project, and potentially their best as well.
Opening track “Sinking Transient Waters” flows in a manner befitting its title, and is emblematic of the songwriting approach utilized on this record. Kicking off with a torrential outburst of blasting old school death metal, the track eventually grinds itself down to an intensely heavy doom riff fest that occupies the entire middle of the track. But Krypts are masters of tension, never letting the listener forget that they are capable of raging back to life at any moment. Which they do, in unique and rousing fashion. Piece by piece, the tracks begins to lurch forward at a steady pace, slowly adding faster and faster drum work over doom riffs until the tension feels unbearable. At just the right moment, the track explodes in a torrent of speedy death metal that brings the track full-circle, trailing off eventually into a swirling swamp of guitar and militant drums. It’s as ugly and varied a track as one could hope for from a band playing this style of music, and primes listeners perfectly for the mayhem to come.
Fans of the grimiest, nastiest death and doom metal will find plenty to relish in Cadaver Circulation. It’s a brutal listen that further cements Krypts as one of the best bands in their chosen space, and serves as another feather in the cap of an already deeply impressive musical career. Riveting stuff.
Nocturnus AD – Paradox
Death metal stalwarts roaring back into the limelight has become a trend as of late. Scott and I wrote about the metal community’s intense attachment to nostalgia at length a few years back, but that doesn’t mean enjoying records from bands making a comeback is somehow off limits. To the contrary, I welcome our former death metal overlords. The music just needs to be good. In the case of Nocturnus AD, we need not worry about that. Serving as a spiritual sequel to the band-formerly-known-as-Nocturnus’ seminal death metal classic The Key, Paradox has some big shoes to fill. Shockingly, it’s a blistering statement of technical death metal mastery that’s almost as fun as the classic it succeeds. Fans of the early days of tech death should hang onto their butts. Paradox is a wildly satisfying ride.
Fans of the band’s early records will find plenty to latch onto here. Slathered in a nasty, old school production aesthetic that feels true to the spirit of albums like The Key and Threshold without feeling gimmicky or cheap, Paradox opens the floodgates of its genre prowess right out the gate. The signature synths the band is famous for kick off “Seizing the Throne” with some deliberate nostalgia, bringing listeners right back to the early nineties. But here’s where Nocturnus AD shine among their founding contemporaries. Rather than using portions of their signature sound for a cheap score among the homers, Nocturnus AD instead build compositions around a portion of their sound that set them apart in effective and clever ways throughout the record. Synths aren’t here to please old school fans, but are presented as an integral component of the band’s core sound. It feels authentic, and makes the record all the more enjoyable for fans new and old. The remainder of the album follows this trajectory with little compromise, allowing founder Mike Browning’s unique death metal bark to lift these tracks into the stratosphere.
Not every legendary band has what it takes to both please their longtime fans while offering an introduction to their sound that newcomers can enjoy. Nocturnus AD pull off that rare feat with an album that is well worth your time and investment. A solid release.
Vale of Pnath – Accursed
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: Denver’s metal scene is amazing. Vale of Pnath is a band that is often overlooked in a city overstuffed with doom, stoner, and thrashy death metal acts. This is sad, and needs to change. Here’s me, trying to do that.
Accursed is the exact type of EP I love. Long enough to feel like a full-bodied work, but not so long that its more bite-sized morsels are overwhelmed by an expansive concept. It’s mean, lean, and ready to obliterate faces. Which is exactly what the band accomplishes here. Blackened tech death can be a hard trick to pull off, and I can’t think of another band who has done so with greater success recently. “The Darkest Gate” is a pure delight, cruising through riff after righteous riff with all the verve and vigor required to make such music soar. The EP’s title-track is a propulsive, synth-laden rumble of cosmic thunder that stands easily as one of the best tracks the band have yet written. It’s from start-to-finish a treat to listen to, and one of the more engaging tech death releases of the year.
Denver metalheads take note. Vale of Pnath is one of the best bands in the city, and I cannot wait to see where they go next. For now, Accursed will more than satisfy my craving for techy blackened death metal goodness.
Atlases – HAAR (melodeath, post-metal)
Dawn of Nil – Culminating Ruins (blackened death metal, melodeath)
Fulci – Tropical Sun (goregrind, brutal death metal)
Full of Hell – Weeping Choir (deathgrind)
Inanimate Existence – Clockwork (progressive death metal, tech death)
Nekroí Theoí – Dead Gods (blackened death metal, brutal death metal)
Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion (old school death metal, thrash)
Of Modern Architecture – Matricide (progressive death metal, progressive deathcore)
Origin – Abiogenesis: A Coming Into Existence (tech death)