Welcome, Hellions, to Death’s Door. Grab a blood-filled goblet and pull up a bone throne. It’s about to get loud in here.
August continued death metal’s string of quality releases, featuring names both big and small making waves in an already overstuffed landscape. While I remain somewhat disappointed by the overall quality of death metal in 2019, the records covered below all prove exceptions to the norm, delivering all the audio punishment I expect from my death metal. 20 Buck Spin has been a particularly active participant in death metal’s increased quality of releases as the year has progressed, and I remain in awe of their utterly unreal lineup of quality bands. Keep it up, friends. The genre benefits greatly from your output.
As always, Scott joins me in delivering unto your starving ears the fiendish goods. Leave your personal picks in the comments.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Devourment – Obscene Majesty
Since launching this column, I’ll admit that we haven’t given brutal death metal and slam their due. I certainly appreciate death metal’s least subtle subgenre, and I count genre forefathers like Suffocation among my all-time favorites. But when it comes to modern bands operating squarely within the slam blueprint, there’s just something about their execution that rubs me the wrong way. It mainly boils down to a sense of erratic maximalism; it always feels like the goal is to be as extreme as possible without focusing on the flow and fatigue of their albums, let alone measured songwriting.
There’s an exception to everything, of course, and Devourment has always been my asterisk when it comes to BDM and slam. My forays into death metal began with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Nile, and Suffocation, so when a friend lent me Devourment’s discography, my tenderfoot ears were scalded off by what I heard. I spun Butcher the Weak and Unleash the Carnivore frequently, and I noted even then that there was something different about the band’s approach to brutality. Other BDM and slam groups my friend showed me somehow felt both unorganized and formulaic, whereas Devourment actually showed an interest in crafting memorable songs.
There’s nothing quite like a veteran band sounding reinvigorated, which is exactly what Devourment brought to the table with Obscene Majesty. Jonathan and I both expected to enjoy the album, but we were blown away by how much of a later career gem we were greeted with. The album refines everything the band’s done to pioneer the genre and establish themselves as an essential listen. There’s no doubt this record will help convert and educate some freshmen death metal fans about the genre’s most extreme corners.
First, it’s worth highlighting how the band recalibrated their lyrical approach for the album, something they elaborated on in an article from Kerrang. Musically, the band haven’t changed their core sound beyond recognition. Longtime fans will still find all the slams, blasts, and gurgles that made them love Devourment in the first place. Of course, this is the key distinction between a refresh and a reboot. Some veteran bands have the equivalent of a mid-life crisis and dive headfirst into a shallow puddle in left field (see: Illud Divinum Insanus). Others instead reflect on their sound within the context of their career and the larger genre landscape, prompting them to amplify what’s still relevant and make adjustments where needed.
Obscene Majesty is a textbook example of the latter approach. First and most prominent is the production, which sounds absolutely fantastic. Even in 2019, some BDM and slam bands still feel the need to pursue the most lo-fi sound possible. Sure, old-school cavernous production is making a comeback, but that approach actually adds something to the atmosphere. Devourment threw all this out and instead found a production style that perfectly accentuates their songwriting. The guitars are punishingly heavy but still ring out with crispness and clarity, making it so you can *gasp* actually hear the riffs. Percussion-wise, Brad Fincher’s drums are placed perfectly in the mix, and whether or not his kit is triggered, his playing sounds organic.
Speaking of Fincher, he’s perhaps the most important part of what makes Obscene Majesty such a success. Guitarist Chris Andrews also plays an essential role by writing some of the best riffs and slams of Devourment’s career. However, Fincher’s keen interest in writing actually coherent, engaging drum parts is what drives the album forward. As I mentioned above, BDM and slam drumming often feels more unhinged than anything else, as if the goal is to fit in as many blasts as possible regardless of how the sequence comes together. Fincher ensures the album has both structure and vibrancy, and the way he and Andrews work together helps make Obscene Majesty such a success.
At this point, Devourment have little if anything to prove. They’ve already cemented themselves as a permanent member of the BDM and slam pantheon. That’s what makes Obscene Majesty so impressive. At a time in their career where they could have easily just phoned it in, Devourment actually cared enough to craft what might be their best album to date. Even if you’re generally a slam skeptic like me, do yourself a favor and make an exception for this album.
Best of the Rest
Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay
There isn’t a single movement in the death metal scene over the past several years that has had the impact or influence to match the old school revival. Just naming the bands that have made an indelible mark on modern death metal would take up an entire paragraph. There’s been a veritable flood of groups who have utilized the cavernous formula initially implemented by Incantation to create some of the genre’s most depraved and filthy music, and with their excellent debut Odious Descent into Decay, we can count Cerebral Rot among their ranks.
From the opening frames of the record, it’s clear exactly where Cerebral Rot are taking you. This is pretension-free, meat-and-potatoes old school death metal that checks all the essential boxes for the genre. It’s a little Hooded Menace, a bit of Autopsy, and a dash of Bolt Thrower congealed into a rotting stew of riff-heavy mayhem. “Swamped in Festering Excrementia” encapsulates all that the band are attempting to accomplish in spades, churning out a doom-laden riff fest that’s in equal measure chaotically hard-hitting and deliberately paced. Cerebral Rot excel in working the tight spaces of tempo, always feeling like they know exactly where they’re going and at what speed to get there. It’s a testament to some fine songwriting chops that, with any luck, will only improve with time.
For a debut in the overcrowded space that old school death metal has become, Odious Descent into Decay stands out as a particularly fine specimen of how to execute this style with skill and vision. A thoroughly solid release.
Eternal Storm – Come the Tide
There’s little that surprises me in music anymore. Listening to as many records as I do in a given year leaves me feeling fairly insulated against the shock of any curveballs that may come my way. Which makes Eternal Storm’s debut Come the Tide particularly special. This record came out of the blue and impressed me so thoroughly that I felt that rare (and coveted) sensation: Pleasant surprise. This record’s got the goods folks, and if you are even moderately interested in melodic death metal I would strongly encourage you to give it a spin.
Existing somewhere between the general epicness of Insomnium and the morbid aggression of Dark Tranquility, Eternal Storm dive into the deep end immediately with their two-part behemoth “Through the Wall of Light”. The mixture of harsh and clean vocals (performed ably throughout the album by trio Jaime Torres, Mateo Novati, and Daniel Maganto) adds significant texture to the proceedings, which are chock full of soaring guitar passages, fantastic drumwork, and blistering riffs. Which is all standard fair for melodeath, but Eternal Storm take their songwriting one step further by incorporating saxophone (yes, you read that correctly) into this two-parter’s second half, creating an intricate and expansive sound that just hits the emotional nail on the head.
After such a unique and uniformly excellent opening statement, one might expect the rest of the album’s tracks to pale in comparison. Not so, as subsequent track “Detachment” displays the band’s expertly honed craft at developing a damn good riff. “The Mountain”, by comparison, feels almost blackened in its intensity, adding further diversity to the album’s already multitudinous delights. In all, it’s one of the most assured debut records I’ve heard this year. Full stop.
There isn’t a single reason I can think of to avoid this record. Front to back, Come the Tide is an absolute stunner that I cannot recommend highly enough. One of the year’s best and most accomplished death metal releases
Foredoomed – Chaos and Beauty
Many of us have experienced musical reversals over the course of our listening experience; a complete 180° on a subgenre or entire style that one largely disinterested us. Personally, there have been three prominent metal subgenres – melodeath, power metal, and prog – that I’ve only recently started to explore. Sure, I enjoy Slaughter of the Soul as much as the next guy, and a few prog and power-leaning bands have appealed to me over the years (mainly Iron Maiden, if I’m being honest). But I’d unfairly classified all three genres as excessively cheesy and never gave them proper consideration until the last year or so. Fortunately, I happened to discover Foredoomed at the exact right moment, as the band perfectly synthesizes all three of these genres into absolutely stunning compositions.
In describing Chaos and Beauty, I’ll have to limit myself to one use of the word “epic.” Even if you can’t vibe with the incredible things Foredoomed accomplish on the album, there’s simply no denying how absolutely massive and mystical the band’s songwriting is on every track. The guitarwork is exceptional throughout and somehow manages to balance dueling harmonies and crunching riffs in equal measure. The surrounding arrangements fit alongside the guitars perfectly; I honestly can’t remember the last time synths and orchestral arrangements were incorporated into a death metal album as well as they are here. On top of it all, Atte Kymäläinen’s growls and singing truly do balance chaos and beauty and lead to some memorable choruses in the process.
It’s genuinely difficult to pick specific tracks to highlight. Proper opener “Blood Red Sun” acts as a perfect mission statement for the album, with an infectious chorus and melodic theme. Personally, after listening to just this track before the album came out, I was immediately hyped to hear the full release more so than almost any other metal album this year. “Worldfire” is another excellent highlight; the melodic guitarwork that opens the track is some of the most gorgeous playing on the entire album. The band also prove they can turn up the heaviness, with some mild death-doom traits defining how “Feed” develops.
Even just a year ago, this album would have summarized pretty much all the traits I try to avoid in metal. Today, it’s one of my favorite albums of 2019, regardless of genre. Chaos and Beauty is an ambitious record that proves Foredoomed are a band capable of delivering on the sky-high expectations they set for themselves. If you’re at all a fan of melodeath or epic music in general, do yourself a favor and spin this record immediately.
Mylingar – Döda Själar
While I always take Jonathan’s opinions seriously, his review of Döda Själar and direct recommendations to me were as spot-on as ever. Falling somewhere between blackened death metal, war metal, and the sonic manifestation of damnation, Mylginar is one of the most unapologetically evil-sounding bands in modern death metal. The band’s self-description as “savagery in musical form” is totally warranted; this is some of the most aggressive metal you’ll hear this year.
There are some parallels to cavernous death and black metal bands that can be drawn here, with Skáphe and Portal immediately coming to mind. The production is both suffocating and expansive and remains unrelenting on every track, regardless of the tempo. On that point, a key aspect of Döda Själar is how odd the pacing is on each track. The guitars and drums both poke through the murk with a discernible wall of sound, but they’ll often play at their own pace. An atmospheric death-doom riff will ring out over consistent blasts, or speedier riffing will play over doomier drumming. It’s an intriguing stylistic choice that adds to the off-kilter allure of the album.
Döda Själar is a hard album to parse out on first listen, especially 10+ minute closer “Förlusten.” Yet, as dense and chaotic as the album might be, Jonathan and I emphatically recommend you take the plunge. Mylingar are onto something special and will continue becoming a more prominent voice in the modern death metal landscape. There’s nothing out there quite like what the band are doing, and I’m anxiously awaiting what new twisted path they’ll tread down next.
Witch Vomit – Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave
These crusty Texas firebrands have been at the forefront of 20 Buck Spin’s relentless release barrage of utterly filthy death metal for the past several years, and with good reason. Delivering a blistering assault of riffs and blast beats stacked and layered in such a way as to never feel overly simple, Witch Vomit are fast perfecting a style of death metal is equal parts sonically brutal and infinitely interesting. Their sophomore full-length, Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave, delivers further refinement of the band’s established sound, and may be their most accomplished release to date.
It’s hard to go wrong when choosing tracks that are most emblematic of the band’s sound, as they strictly adhere to their chosen lane throughout. But opener “From Rotten Guts” should give listeners enough ground to stand on. Witch Vomit’s choice of guitar tone reveals itself immediately in all its exquisite nastiness, giving these compositions a mixture of feral fuzz and razor-sharp violence that is utilized to perfection throughout. The riffs fly by in a veritable assault on the senses, never overstaying their welcome but always sticking around long enough to make an impact. “Despoilment” highlights the band’s mastery of pacing as well, moving through passages of more meticulous and patient songwriting that allow the band to flex their muscles in unique ways. Drummer Filth is a particularly strong presence throughout, dictating the proceedings with precision and skill.
If you’ve enjoyed any of Witch Vomit’s previous material, there’s plenty to love in Buried Deep In a Bottomless Grave. It’s a sterling continuation of the band’s sonic vision, avoiding the pratfalls that often take bands following up a great debut by offering a plate of disgusting songs that are as oddly accessible as they are definitively revolting.
WRVTH – No Rising Sun
Behold! These are the last days of WRVTH. Or, at least, so we’ve been told. No Rising Sun, the band’s exceptional fourth (and final) record, is a stirring testament to both the band’s growth as songwriters and musicians, as well as a sterling example of why they became so beloved in the first place. Expansive, epic, and intimate in the same measure, it’s a fantastic record that should delight fans of the band’s previous material, as well as those who are (unfortunately) engaging with the WRVTH’s work for the first time.
The expansive comment is most fitting when discussing No Rising Sun. To my ears, this is the band’s most widescreen release yet, delivering compositions that feel as spacious and intense as they ever have. Opener “Eventide” kicks off the proceedings with a heavy, progressive, and technically astute bang, laying the foundation for the delights contained throughout the remainder of the record.
Atmosphere is wielded with particular potency due to some great songwriting and equally commendable production, getting the opportunity to shine most brightly in the album’s second track “Pirouette of Hysterics”. Post-metal and slightly blackened elements swirl and rush around the track’s technical death metal foundation, creating a delightful mix of elements that never feel out of place. In all the instrumental and technical pyrotechnics on display, it’s particularly laudable that the band never lose their emotional core. “House of the Centenary”, on top of being one of the album’s more vicious tracks, is utterly beautiful and emotionally resonant, giving listeners fodder for the neck and the soul simultaneously. In short, it’s everything I hoped it would be. “House of the Centenary”, on top of being one of the album’s more vicious tracks, is utterly beautiful and emotionally resonant, giving listeners fodder for the neck and the soul simultaneously. In short, it’s everything I hoped it would be.
As a swan song, I’m having a hard time thinking of a more apt farewell than No Rising Sun. While containing all of the band’s standard touchstones, there’s enough here to generate curiosity in even the most die hard or WRVTH fans, culminating in a record that feels appropriately retrospective without ever sacrificing moments for innovation. It’s a delight to listen to, and a fitting conclusion to a stellar discography. No Rising Sun. It’s a fitting conclusion to a uniformly solid discography, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.