Welcome to Death’s Door, Hellions. Pop a squat on a bone throne and get comfy. There’s plenty of premium content to be had in the world of death metal, and Scott and I are here to deliver unto thee the goods.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of complaining about the state of death metal in the first half of 2019. While my caterwauling may not be the most productive, I haven’t seen reason to reconsider my opinion of the lack of quality death metal releases in 2019 opposed to the last few years. But with June under our belts, it’s becoming a lot harder to justify that argument on the large scale. Last month was absolutely stuffed with exceptional death metal, including what is now my front-runner for death metal album of the year (or any year, really… it’s that good). With such a significant ramp up in quality releases, I am filled with a dark, sinister hope that the remainder of the year will be filled with enough virulent nastiness to fill my blackened heart for the cold months to come. But until then, it’s blazing hot everywhere and we’ve some good death metal to sweat the hours away with. That’s enough for me. For now.
In addition to our standard template, Scott has added a section exclusively for demos that deserve attention, respect, and perhaps even a little love. If you’re looking for some up-and-coming bands to sink your sharpened chompers into, look no further than Cassette Catacombs. So feast on the death metal deliciousness contained from the month of June, and let us know what you’ve been listening to in the comments. Even in a down year, death metal continues to reign supreme as metal’s superior product, and I foresee little that could possibly change that status, regardless of how the next five months treat us.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Abyssal – A Beacon in the Husk
I’ve written about this album at length over the past month multiple times. The shocking thing is that every time I sit down to write something about it and give it another spin, new aspects of the band’s songwriting style or performances stick out to me. For any who may be reading about this album here for the first time (which I sincerely hope is not the case), my first position in favor of this gem is its repeat listening appeal. This is a dense, overwhelming record with lots to offer, and each new spin has unfurled new aspects of its riches. As the band’s fourth full-length offering, it stands as their most diverse, complex, and thoroughly engaging record to date. Following up one of the most noteworthy death metal albums of the decade is no easy task, but Abyssal have done the impossible here, and it’s well worth your time and attention.
For those unfamiliar with the band’s sound, Abyssal are rocking the cacophonous, cavernous and technical death metal that Ulcerate, Portal, Impetuous Ritual, and Mitochondrion have been peddling for over a decade. Abyssal have, since their third record Antikatastaseis, held a prominent seat at this table, and A Beacon in the Husk only further cements that position. From the opening moments of “Dialogue”, listeners are introduced to a sequence of music that is as challenging and abrasive as it is rewarding. Not only has the band ratcheted up the intensity in the atonal, dissonant and technical aspects of their music, but they’ve also added several moments of atmospheric drone and sheer melodic beauty into the mix (“Recollection: Shapes Upon the Retina” and “Discernment: Khyphotic Suzerains” respectively). There’s a diversity of sound here that allows the album to avoid every boredom pratfall imaginable, making for a record that never feels stagnant or stale. Several listens in, I’m still unpacking it and am nowhere close to tired of it. The mark of an excellent album in my book.
If complex death metal straight from the caverns of Hell is up your alley, look no further than A Beacon in the Husk. It’s a remarkable achievement by a band that is no longer sitting on the fringes or their sub genre, but is instead sits astride the peaks reached by their contemporaries as equals, if not their betters. Give this album a go if you don’t believe me.
Best of the Rest
Fetid – Steeping Corporeal Mess
Some death metal speaks to the mind (see the technical and progressive sides of the genre). Some of it speaks to the soul (WE’RE ALL GOING TO HELL WE GET IT). But some death metal seems to not speak at all, instead crawling from the swampy depths with howls of rage-filled bloodlust that only a skilled anthropologist could decode. This latter style is the kind of death metal the pacific northwest’s Fetid write and perform, and it’s a sight to behold. Standing tall beside contemporaries in the swamp thing death metal subgenre like Ascended Dead, Contaminated, Undergang, Mortiferum, and Triumvir Foul, Fetid’s debut full-length Steeping Corporeal Mess screams at the primordial beast in us all, and is start to finish one of the more straightforward and brutal death metal releases of the year thus far.
When approaching this record, it’s important to note the “straightforward” comment above. This is by no means a display of overt technical prowess (though the performances herein are all excellent). Instead, Steeping Corporeal Mess sounds exactly like its title indicates. This is a swirling stew of death metal filth that intends only to beat you out of existence. The drums are thunderous and consistently blast-heavy (especially in opener “Reeking Within”), while the guitar work and tone on tracks like “Cranial Liquescent” and “Dripping Sub-tepidity” is astoundingly vicious, sounding like each instrument was pulled through a poisonous bog before reaching its master’s hands. It’s a nasty package capped off by a guttural vocal performance that feels lifted straight from a monster movie marathon. All these elements combine to create an album that is severely head-bangable, and a fiendish delight from start to finish.
In all, if nastiness is what you crave in your music, Fetid are here to deliver the goods. A promising new band among a sea of old school, caverncore contemporaries, Fetid stick out from the crowd through unwavering performative proficiency, a knack for simple and effective songwriting, and enough bile to fill even the happiest of hearts with malice. It’s good stuff.
Fuming Mouth – The Grand Descent
I don’t know what I was expecting when I put on Fuming Mouth’s debut record, The Grand Descent, for the first time. Perhaps something slower? I think Mariusz Lewandowski’s stellar artwork might have had something to do with that (Bell Witch Stans unite). Regardless, I chose this record from my “need-to-listen” stash with little expectation and was thoroughly unprepared for the audio assault that awaited me. Gatecreeper and Black Breath fans, you’ve found your next crusty HM-2 obsession. The Grand Descent is everything I didn’t know I needed it to be, and has proven to have surprising replay value.
In regards to style, just about all you need to know about The Grand Descent’s charms can be summed up in the few sentences above. This is rock hard, crusty death metal with few frills or fringes, instead offering nothing more or less than straight up destruction from its opening frame to its harrowing conclusion. The opening seconds of the blistering “Fatalism” should tell you just about all you need to know about the onslaught to come. Jagged and merciless guitars ravage throughout with little to no discrimination, while the capably performed drums are both deep and crisp, standing out in the mix just enough to make their presence felt with maximum impact without ever drowning out any other aspects of the band’s performance. The album has an overall excellent production aesthetic that makes its gnarlier edges both listenable and deep enough to demand repeat listens. The performances and songwriting are nothing to ignore, either. There are riffs stacked on riffs here, and all of them coalesce to create a body of work that’s about as diverse as you’ll get in this brand of music. It’ll be hard to find a more brutalizing record than this one this year.
The audio equivalent of a brick to the face, The Grand Descent is as assured and violent a debut as they come, and I couldn’t be more in love with it. This band has a bright future ahead, and I cannot wait to see how they choose to obliterate us next. A thoroughly entertaining listen from start to finish.
Hate – Auric Gates of Veles
Polish blackened death metal is arguably the fastest and most vicious of all the genre’s scenes and splintering. The subgenre offers an impeccably produced dose of blast-heavy aggression steeped in sinister atmospheres. Personally (and perhaps unsurprisingly), my go-to band for this niche has always been Behemoth, mainly due to the fact most newer bands in the scene sounding like Behemoth-lite. Hate have always stood out from the pack in my eyes, and the band continues to differentiate themselves on Auric Gates of Veles.
Of course, you’re still going to experience many of the subgenre’s signature traits. Pavulon is an absolute machine behind the drum kit, and lead guitarist/songwriter ATF Sinner matches his speed and intensity with some excellent riffs and chord progressions. Throw in some synths and blackened atmospheres here and there and you have a sweeping, epic death metal album that pummels from start to finish.
Beyond the top shelf quality of their music, what sets Hate apart further is ATF’s deep, resonant vocals. Sure, Nergal and other vocalists in the scene also employ death growls as their scream of choice. But something about ATF’s delivery helps him stand out; he bears some similarities to Mikael Åkerfeldt’s growls with Bloodbath. Yet, ATF carries himself with a bit more of a commanding presence, as if he’s growling from a pulpit throughout the entire album. He consistently amplifies the intensity and grandiosity of every track.
Each of these songs follows a somewhat similar formula, differentiating themselves in their own ways while contributing to the overall vibe and mission of the album. Death metal fans itching for a perfect synthesis of speed and blackened aggression should immediately add Auric Gates of Veles to their 2019 rotation.
Nucleus – Entity
Nucleus’ debut record, 2016’s Sentient, was an album that spoke more to me of a band with great potential than a full-fledged death metal juggernaut. There are several fantastic tracks on the record, but on the whole it felt just a hair underdeveloped to me. Not a bad beginning by any stretch, but nonetheless a record that left me wanting and hoping for more. When I heard they would be dropping their sophomore record Entity last month I was cautiously optimistic. After having sat with it for a few weeks, the “caution” portion of my optimism has been unceremoniously thrown to the wind. Entity puts on full display the talents this band possesses, culminating in a rich and diverse listening experience that counts among my favorites of the past few months.
Fans of space-based metal will find plenty to love in Entity, from Adam Burke’s fantastic artwork (as per the usual) to the band’s tech-infused approach to death metal songwriting. In their review of the album last month, our very own Simon commented on the guitar interplay throughout the record being exquisite (see the album’s title track for reference), with their songwriting and performative choices giving off a distinct Demilich-ian vibe. This assertion is absolutely spot-on. This isn’t technical death metal that reaches for the altitudes reached by bands like Archspire from a performance perspective, but instead a record that finds itself right at home among the Nocturnus A.D.s and Timeghouls of the world, ascending to stratospheric heights of songwriting while maintaining a down-to-earth, scrappy style that should please fans of both old school and technical death metal. It’s a winning combination that makes good on the band’s initial promise from the album’s opening frame to its fantastic conclusion.
While there are arguments to be made as to the true validity of the sophomore slump, such conversation need not apply to Nucleus, who have with Entity exceeded the quality of their first release in every way. It’s a fantastic record that is by turns immediately accessible but complex enough to warrant in-depth repeat listens. Give this record a go if you’re a fan of any of the above stated bands. It’s a wild ride.
The Odious – Vesica Piscis
This album came out of nowhere for me. Up until last month, it had been several years since we were last gifted by a skronky, wack-a-doodle slab of deathy goodness from these Portland trailblazers (basketball, ha). Vesica Piscis showed up out of the blue and I hit play faster than I have for any album in some time. Thankfully, my initial excitement evolved into a sense of wonder at how the band was able to pull off their best album yet after so long a break. The Odious have here created a sequence of songs that are as invigorating and engaging as they are unusual, culminating in one of the more thoroughly entertaining listening experiences I’ve had this year.
More than anything, Vesica Piscis puts the band’s talent as musicians and songwriters on full display. “Repugnant” includes an absolute earworm of an opening riff that eventually moves into more spacy territory, shifting at just the right moments to create a composition that never feels predictable but never succumbs to the directionless noodling of many of their peers. The rest of the album could be described in similar fashion. These tracks are each like a universe unto themselves, but still feel part of a whole musically, which is just further testament to the band’s development as songwriters. “Mono No Aware” is among the best tracks the band have yet composed, and “Arbiter of Taste” isn’t far behind. But these tracks, for all their songwriting ingenuity, would be less than the sum of their collective parts if it weren’t for some utterly fantastic instrumental performances. As musicians, The Odious easily chop with the best of them here, wearing their Meshuggah and The Mars Volta influences on their sleeves without ever falling into rote copycatting. In all, it’s a pure delight from start to finish.
The Odious are without question a band separate from their contemporaries, and Vesica Piscis is without question their masterpiece. Fans of progressive death metal will find plenty to fill their cups in Vesica Piscis. There’s diversity and expert musicianship galore, highlighting the band’s sheer talent without ever deviating from using it to create consistent, kick-ass songs. It’s a great record from a great band and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard from them.
Organectomy – Existential Disconnect
This might seem like an odd hot take, but I much prefer brutal death metal that focuses just a bit more on the “death” than just the “brutal.” I love a good burst of brutality as much as the next guy, and brutal death metal is chock full of bands happy to oblige. Yet, the sheer number of bands that amplify and prioritize frantic blasts, gurgles, and slams over songwriting has always been a turnoff for me. I’ve always felt like the genre’s formula can be executed in a balanced, effective way, and occasionally, bands like Organectomy remind me that’s not a lofty desire.
First, let’s make one thing clear: Existential Disconnect is brutal. The album’s guitar tone is absolutely soul-crushing, and there are plenty of breakdowns and slams to go around. But all of this is achieved while also including some key details; namely, coherent production that enhances actually well-written songwriting. Essentially, Organectomy presents their own updated take on OG brutal death metal from the likes of Suffocation and other genre pioneers.
The band branches out from this foundation early and often, though. Namely, “No Solace in Ascendance” splices slow-churning riffs and chugs with groove-oriented passages and some melodic and atonal noodling. It’s a sudden, stark change from the straight up brutal death metal offered by the first three tracks, though certainly a welcome shift considering how well the band pulls it off. Further on, “Where Pantheons Lie” manifests in a two-part saga, with “I: Malfeasance” serving as an unsettling, atmospheric introduction to the beatdown on “II: Conviction.” The breakdowns and blasts on the latter track bookend a blackened chord progression.
The core tracks on Existential Disconnect are brutal death metal through-and-through, performed at the highest level; my personal favorite is “Catastrophic Intent,” which features a bouncy, Demilich-esque riff amid incredible heaviness. Overall, fans of “dirtier” or “cleaner” brutal death metal should both be able to get behind one of my favorite death metal albums of the year. It blends heaviness with a great deal of intriguing ideas and song structures, offering a bit of everything from the death metal spectrum.
Serpent of Gnosis – As I Drink from the Infinite Well of Inebriation
Members of The Black Dahlia Murder, Job for a Cowboy, and Deeds of Flesh get together to drop some high octane, premium grade death metal on our asses? Sounds good on paper, but in my experience rarely do supergroups like this formulate quality music. Sure there are plenty of collaborative projects that have generated some quality music, but for every Serpentine Dominion (in which members of Killswitch Engage, Cannibal Corpse, and the above-mentioned TBDM got together to churn out some quality melodeath), there’s three Legend of the Seagullmen (in which members of Mastodon, Tool, and Zappa Meets Zappa embarrassed themselves). All that to say I’m not typically a huge fan of supergroups in metal. Thankfully, Serpent of Gnosis fall squarely into the former category. As I Drink from the Infinite Well of Inebriation combines all the unique elements that these musicians bring to the table and synthesizes them into digestible, highly enjoyable tracks that are as hard-hitting as a death metal supergroup of this caliber should be. In short, it’s everything I could have hoped for and more.
If you are a fan of the music of any of the above-mentioned groups that comprise Serpent of Gnosis, there’s something for you here. The aggressive melodies of TBDM can be heard clearly in “Fragile Vessel of Serenity” in Max Lavelle’s excellent bass work, while the manic aggression of Job for a Cowboy’s discography peppers the entire project, with tracks like “The Colorless Capsules” highlighting their speedier fare and “Cognivity” displaying their powers when they choose to come in low and slow. Darren Cesca’s drumming, made famous through his work with Arsis, accentuates every track with an expertly controlled performance that certainly can be counted among his best work. With their powers combined, As I Drink from the Infinite Well of Inebriation takes a formula that more often than not ends in disaster and turns it into something thoroughly enjoyable, and that by itself is worth celebrating.
It’s always nice when good intentions lead to good results, and Serpent of Gnosis can certainly be counted among the happy few existing in this sphere. The music serves up the best elements from each musician’s previous work, creating on the whole an album that is deeply indebted to its predecessors but never feels overtly derivative. Let’s call it a fresh take on your favorite tunes, perhaps. Well worth the time you’ll invest in it.
Superstition – The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation
In case you weren’t aware, death metal has undergone a sort of renaissance over the past few years. In fact, there have been a few bands in this genre that could be considered “darlings” in the metal world at large, enjoying critical acclaim and credibility within their respective scenes. Think Horrendous, Tomb Mold, Necrot, Blood Incantation, and the like. This is in no way a knock on those bands’ music (all of which I deeply enjoy), but simply a fact: Not unlike any other music scene, death metal has its own list of spotlight hogs. Santa Fe’s Superstition has been a band knocking on that door of death metal stardom since the release of Surging Throng of Evil’s Might EP back in 2018, and their debut full-length The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation is the first in-depth example of their prowess. If you were hoping that the band could make good on their initial promise, I’m pleased to report that Superstition pass that test with flying colors here, dropping a record that’s as listenable as it is aggressive.
Diving deep into the old school death metal style that many of their contemporaries have espoused, Superstition separate themselves from that crowded pack through a mix of songwriting decisions that places dual guitars as the clear focus of the band’s compositions. The riffs here are tremendous and plentiful, and the band’s focus on their guitars as the principal drivers of these tracks is perfectly placed given the sheer amount of quality material here. I could name dozens of moments here where I wished the riffing would never end, which for an album clocking in just over 30-minutes in length is a compliment of the highest order. But that isn’t to say that the other performances here aren’t any more noteworthy. D.M. and D.J.’s rhythm section is an outstanding complement to the riff-heavy guitar work, providing an exceptional punch to the proceedings. There isn’t a weak spot on this record, and for my money it’s one of the best old school death metal records I’ve heard in a while.
Will The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation cement Superstition as one of the death metal greats? Time will tell. But until that moment, we can kick back and bang our heads to the riffy deliciousness that Superstition have created for us, and rest in the knowledge that this record is one of the year’s most enjoyable and accomplished death metal releases. For now, that’s all I need for a good time.
Given the resurging popularity of demo tapes in death metal, I created this section to cover demos and EPs that are worth your time but difficult to discuss with a full blurb. Though short, these releases still pack in plenty of riffs and brutality. Enjoy!
Ingested – Call of the Void
I’ve followed these guys since Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering (2009), and they’ve continued to grow with every release. Call of the Void continues this trend, with enhanced production, songwriting, and vision for the band’s blend of deathcore, brutal death metal, and slam. There are more melodic and progressive themes throughout that imply the next Ingested full-length will offer even more depth along with their brand of heaviness.
Sedimentum – Demo
From my first listen to Sedimentum‘s debut, I knew it would be a fitting inaugural demo to help kick off this section. From the indiscernible band logo to the filthy, cavernous riffing, Sedimentum are a prime candidate to become the next essential bands in the death metal underground.
Total Isolation – Winfield Demo
By chance, both demos for this month come from Canadian bands; perhaps there’s a new scene Jonathan and I should be keeping an eye on. In the meantime, Total Isolation‘s sludgy, pummeling Winfield Demo is worthy of a spot in your rotation (and more than a couple spins).
Catalyst – The Great Purpose of the Lords (progressive tech death)
Flub – Flub (experimental tech death)
Vulvodynia – Mob Justice (deathcore, brutal death metal)