“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.”
– Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness In the West
Death metal has, since its inception, been fascinated wholly and completely by violence. Physical, psychological, spiritual, self-inflicted, perpetrated, received, and the power in and taken by these acts. Its fundamental artistic tenets, the delirious and manic music it spawned and the lyrical content it inspired, are in and of themselves mechanisms through which to study humanity’s basest natures on both macro and micro levels. The genre was built and developed from its earliest manifestations in the mid-1980s, at least in part, to examine that which society at large has often shunned and relegated to the back of newspapers and local news cycles. It’s the dregs of society, the depravity-stricken manifestations of our collective psyche, that have piqued the interest of death metal songwriters for decades. In part to shock, and in equal measure to deeply examine that which we don’t want to discuss. In removing the societal constraint on such topics by exploring them through art, death metal has cemented its (oftentimes infamous) place in music history as one of the world’s most singular, controversial, reviled, and deeply loved artforms.
The above description of death metal may seem a bit too single-minded given the titanic thematic and artistic expansion the genre has undergone over the past decade. Gore and violence are not the only touchstones that define death metal as a whole anymore, and one need only briefly peruse the new death metal releases section on Bandcamp or Spotify to determine that to be the case. But as in most art, there are cornerstones that are often heralded back to by both the artists themselves and fans of the form as the most “pure” iterations of the genre. For death metal, the above infatuation with audio and philosophical explorations of violence is often listed as one of the key elements of a successful and fundamentally sound death metal record. If you find yourself in that camp, I would posit that Oregon’s Vitriol make some of the purest death metal you will ever hear.
I would be surprised if you’re a fan of modern death metal and have yet to hear a demented note from this trio. Their 2017 EP Pain Will Define Their Death was one of my favorite releases of the year, and it only contained about 12 minutes of music. Which is saying something, given how fantastic a year death metal had in 2017. But that all-too-brief atom bomb of a release gave more than enough context as to the band’s artistic mission and intent: To explore and exact upon we hapless listeners the methods and impacts of violence. More than any recording I can remember over the past several years, Pain Will Define Their Death accomplished this mission with extreme technical skill and reckless abandon. For context, you can stack Vitriol’s opening and most vulgar display of riffage against the likes of Pissgrave, Triumvir Foul, and Infernal Coil for sheer menace and insanity. But rather than taking a more cavernous, Incantation-core approach to production and songwriting like many bands of their particular ilk, Vitriol instead present a package that feels more akin to being sliced open repeatedly by razor-sharp projectiles that slam against your brain in a relentless barrage. It’s a devastating, technically impressive, and compositionally complex style that has made them stick out from the death metal pack, and their debut full-length To Bathe From the Throat of Cowardice only further cements their already sterling reputation, and only builds upon what made this band so special to begin with.
The band waste a grand total of zero seconds introducing the listener to the hellscape they are about to enter. Album opener “The Parting of a Neck” is an unrelentingly brutal affair. Kyle Rasmussen’s vocal performance on this track, and throughout the record, is beyond sterling, ranging from deep growls to insanity-inducing screams that feel ripped straight from the throat of burn victim. The drum work, executed with near-perfect technical acumen by Scott Walker, blasts and rages with a ferocity that borders on a total loss of motor function. But that complete unhinging never happens, as Walker’s performance balances manic intensity and control with expert precision. Adam Roethlisberger’s bass licks are just beyond delicious as well, culminating in an opening salvo that should be nearly impossible to either duplicate or top. But subsequent track “Crowned In Retaliation” accomplishes just that, sending listeners into another cycle of riff-heavy madness that continues unabated throughout the remainder of the album.
That isn’t to say that To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice is a one-note affair. To the contrary, the amount of diversity contained within these brutalizing tracks is impressive. Much of this can be attributed to Rasmussen’s absolutely insane solos, which pepper each track with enough Slayer-style mania to make even the most unrelenting tracks that much more surprising and enjoyable. The technical skill on display here is nothing short of spectacular overall, giving each of these tracks an extra gut-punch. “Legacy of Contempt” and “I Drown Nightly” shine in particular on the technical front, vacillating between fret-destroying speed and chug-heavy passages that never feel out of place in the swirling chaos that is the album as a whole. For any fan of death metal, this record presents an absolute feast for the ears in nearly every department. Hell, even the three tracks that made up their debut EP are repurposed and performed here with excellence, feeling like consistent parts of a new whole rather than tired retreads of previous material.
Which leads me to one of my only critiques regarding the record. While this album is without question a special entry into the world of modern death metal, it isn’t without its potential drawbacks. In my estimation, there are a few instances where the band could have easily trimmed some fat. Mainly with the above-mentioned inclusion of three previously released tracks. At 44 minutes, I do wonder whether the inclusion of these songs was entirely necessary. While they most certainly fit stylistically with the rest of the record and are performed incredibly, I tend to prefer my most devastating slabs of death metal a bit leaner in duration. Just a personal preference, and not something that took away from my enjoyment of the record overall. But worthy of note nonetheless.
In all, To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice is one of the most intense, violent, and richly rewarding records I’ve heard this year. Vitriol more than make good on the promise of their early material by delivering what has to be one of the most aggressive death metal records I’ve heard in a very long time. But aggression isn’t the whole story. There are deeply complex and carefully crafted songs contained here, displaying a songwriting style that only points toward a continued upward trajectory for this relatively young group of talented musicians. I have thoroughly enjoyed every second spent with Vitriol’s music, and cannot wait for more. In the meantime, we will have the band’s debut record to constantly drag us back into the squalid abyss that is our basest selves, reflecting through music the bloody, beating heart of death metal’s core philosophies around violence while never losing sight of the ever-expanding terrain that belongs to the genre’s future. An outstanding debut, and one of the best metal releases of the year.
To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice drops September 6th via Century Media, and is available for pre-order through the label’s website.