Welcome, Hellions, to Death’s Door. We’ve reached peak faux happiness around the world, and quite frankly I’ve had just about enough of it. Good thing we have some fresh and crispy death metal to get us through these disgustingly cheerful times.
There’s no way around it at this point. What started as a fairly bland year for the best genre in music has slowly and steadily morphed into another triumphant trip ‘round the sun. November not only contained some of our favorite releases of the year, but gave us at least one that belongs in the best of the decade conversation. The glut of premium releases last month (as well as some surprising turns from bands reaching their max potential) was just insane, and we couldn’t be more excited to talk about them. As is tradition, Scott joins me in writing about some of the best death metal we’ve heard this year, and we’d love to read about your favorites in the comments. That’s all I’ve got. Onto the good stuff.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Did anyone think another record would earn our top spot this month? Despite only coming out in late November, no other death metal record has received nearly as much (well-deserved) attention and praise this year. What’s perhaps more impressive than Hidden History of the Human Race itself is how Blood Incantation were able to navigate one of the most intense hype cycles we’ve seen in the modern metal community. Considering how throughly excellent Interdimensional Extinction (2015) and Starspawn (2016) are, it’s no real surprise that death metal fans have been chomping at the bit for the band’s next release.
Even still, Blood Incantation have returned during a death metal renaissance of sorts. The genre has arguably never been as popular as it is right now, to the point where mainstream music outlets are starting to take notice (they’re a few decades late, but better late than never, I suppose). While that wasn’t a guarantee Blood Incantation where destined to watch their latest release get lost in the shuffle, it’s undeniable that the November release for Hidden History of the Human Race followed 10 exceptional months of new death metal, with bands honing and expanding every stylistic corner of the genre.
Within the first moments of “Slave Species of the Gods,” Blood Incantation blow all of this context into the deepest confines of the cosmos. Not only do the band tighten their grasp on the modern death metal torch, they continue to chip away at the marble that will make their throne in the genre’s pantheon of all-time greats. Hidden History of the Human Race is a career-defining statement from a band with a discography comprised almost exclusively by releases deserving of that designation.
Longtime fans of Blood Incantation can once again fawn over the band’s unique brand of death metal, combining the sci-fi tendencies of Nocturnus and Timeghoul with the exceptional guitarwork of Immolation and Morbid Angel. The more savage side of this sound is on full display across “Slave Species of the Gods,” which feels like a collection of the best segments from an Immolation set covering select tracks from Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick, and Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The band then take a page out of Nile‘s book on “The Giza Power Plant.” The tracks’ funereal, death-doom foundation creates the perfect soundtrack for an ancient Egyptian ritual attempting to make contact with celestial life.
“Inner Paths (to Outer Space)” is an instrumental cut that reimagines Mastodon‘s Crack the Skye as a death metal album. It provides the perfect type of sonic intrigue to set up the album’s cornerstone statement, “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul).” It’s as perfect a comprehensive mission statement as you’ll ever hear from a band. Every aspect of the band’s sound up to this point is on display across the track’s 18-minute runtime, which they keep consistently engaging throughout. It’s such an enthralling, dense listen that’s surprisingly effortless to experience again and again with each new listen.
The only real critic I might levy at Hidden History of the Human Race is that it’s too short, which is both a good problem to have and one fo the weakest criticisms a review can levy against an album. It’s natural to wants a couple extra tracks on the album, because that means more new music from one of the greatest death metal bands of our time. Given the diversity of styles in metal these days, it’s rare to label an album as “mandatory listening.” Yet, I truly believe this is one of those cases. I wasn’t alive to experience the late ’80s or the Class of ’91, when so many of the death metal classics we revere today were completely new and awe-inspiring. Of all my years listening to death metal, Hidden History of the Human Race emulates that experience more so than any album I’ve heard in recent memory.
Best of the Rest
Casket Huffer – Filth Ouroboros
2019 has been peppered with records from bands who are taking their own interesting twist on old school death metal sounds. Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation infused the genre with proggy/spacy sounds, and even the mighty Gatecreeper brought a significant amount of refinement to their own distinct flavor to the music, and it’s been a veritable feast for we death metal fans. Casket Huffer, while still clinging to a few unique characteristics of their own, are more interested in the most violent and primal components of death metal. Their second record, Filth Ouroboros, melds absolutely filthy death metal with just enough classic black metal elements to keep things chugging along at an alarmingly swift clip, and the results are nothing short of fantastic.
Opening track “Altars of Despondency” gives you just about everything you need to know about the band as a whole. The guitars flay skin from bone with manic speed and relentless, knife-like precision that’s just nasty enough to feel disgusting. The drum work on this track is a battering ram of blasts that is consistently and thoroughly punishing. The vocals feel roared from a deep pit of hell, only adding to the general filthiness. The remainder of the album attempts valiantly and, for the most part, succeeds in reaching the heights of “Altars”. “Oblivion Serpents” finds the band taking a slower, more methodical approach to their OSDM, adding some doom elements that, interspersed with speedier and more aggressive passages, serve as a distinct and effective sonic counterpoint. All of the albums most fascinating elements converge in final track “Harrowing Mysticism”, which serves up just under eight minutes of delightful audio torture. A fitting end to a vile album.
If you’re a fan of the most depraved elements of death metal (think Triumvir Foul or a slightly less insane Pissgrave), you’ll find plenty to love in Filth Ouroboros. One of the better examples of how death metal can still be effectively filthy in 2019.
Despised Icon – Purgatory
I wrote about this bad boy earlier in the month, but it bears repeating: Despised Icon should not still be this good at this juncture in their career. Coming off an extended hiatus, Purgatory is the second record to be released following their reformation. What’s most surprising about it is that it may be the best album of the band’s career. Which is saying something, given the band’s legendary status in deathcore. So if you’ve yet to be introduced to the band’s latest offering, strap in. Things are about to get brootal.
There are few things to complain about regarding Purgatory. Even the Metallica, “One”-esque intro “Dernier Souffle” rings true, adding diversity to the band’s deathcore sound that’s refreshing and throws listeners for a bit of a loop before the album’s title track melts faces. From this point on, Purgatory is a blistering dual-vocal assault on the senses, replete with enough breakdowns to satisfy even the stingiest of deathcore fans. But, as always, Despised Icon’s brilliance lies far beyond its ability to generate the chugs. The technical proficiency these musicians bring to their work is better than it’s ever been, vacillating between chugs and warp speed in the blink of an eye. Aptly titled “Light Speed” exemplifies their skills masterfully, delivering absolute punishment. The remainder of the album is no less diverse and effective, culminating in some of the band’s best music.
Deathcore has had an incredible year in 2019, and Purgatory is without question near the top of the pile when it comes to deathcore releases on this trip ‘round the sun. Give it a go before you write your year-end list. This one demands your attention.
The Drowning – The Radiant Dark
Death-doom and I get along fairly well, all things considered. Hooded Menace is one of the most underrated bands in all of metal, and the influence of dISEMBOWELMENT on the metal world as a whole cannot be disputed. But one aspect of this genre combination that has always bugged me is the lack of adventurousness in melodic songwriting. Focusing more on the brutal side all too frequently, music that is capable of reaching incredibly epic highs seldom does. Which is one of the many reasons why The Drowning’s The Radiant Dark is so utterly captivating.
I wasn’t even finished with my first listen of this record before chucking it enthusiastically into my pile of records I love. This band’s creativity, songwriting chops, and performative capabilities have been a known commodity for years, but the greatest self-contained example of their ample talents is The Radiant Dark. From the achingly beautiful instrumental intro “Alpha Orionis” to the melody-drenched “The Triumph of the Wolf in Death”, if you don’t find yourself moved by the band’s utterly sincere and magnificent interpretation of death-doom you may actually be dead. Talking about the rest of this album almost feels like delving into spoiler territory, and I want listeners to experience this album with as little knowledge as possible. But let’s just say that the album’s quality dips not once throughout its runtime.
Quit reading and go listen to this record right now. Not even kidding. This is the death-doom record I’ve been waiting years for, and I couldn’t give it a heartier recommendation. The Drowning habe releases their crown jewel, and I don’t see it being topped by any other death-doom releases for quite some time.
Hideous Divinity – Simulacrum
Italy’s Hideous Divinity don’t get the amount of credit they deserve. Four albums into what is shaping up to be a stellar tech/brutal death metal career, it’s a shame that we don’t hear more about them in the general subgenre conversation. Hopefully Simulacrum can change that. Because it very well should. This is one of the best albums to be released in this space this year, and is the best record of the band’s career by a wide margin. This is extreme music performed to near perfection, and I’m all the way here for it.
One of the most notable and commendable attributes of Simulacrum is Hideous Divinity’s obvious maturation as songwriters. While the album is chock full of death-defying guitar pyrotechnics and an utterly fantastic rhythm section, it never dips into technicality for technicality’s sake. Instead, these tracks consistently form full ideas that the band rides to their logical conclusions, regardless of what directions their speed and tone need to take to get there. Opener “Deleuzean Centuries” and subsequent track “The Embalmer” lay this foundation brilliantly, containing enough riffs to fill an album by themselves without ever feeling overstuffed. They consistently take their music to the brink of extremity without ever diving off into abject wankery, and this restraint results in an album as mature and calculated as they come. “The Deaden Room” is as diverse and devastating a track as the band have yet written, and serves as a seething testament to the band’s ever improving skill set.
If you’ve yet to jump aboard the bandwagon, there’s no greater moment to do so. Simulacrum presents the very best of the band’s prodigious talents in one complete package. One of my favorite tech/brutal death metal records of the year.
Necropanther – The Doomed City
Damn. It’s hard not to love death metal that’s fun. It’s not a descriptor that is often sought after among the death metal elite, but Denver’s Necropanther very obviously couldn’t give less of a shit about what those pretentious assholes think. Their excellent third full-length record The Doomed City is the very definition of a good time, and is made all the more amazing for its fundamentally excellent technical and performative elements. You’d be hard pressed to find an album that balances enjoyment and serious attention to craft better than this one, and it deserves every shred of the praise it’s thus far received.
“Renew” kicks off the proceedings with plenty of flair, dropping piping hot riffs in our laps with absolute aplomb. The vocal performance here is also captivating, jumping from guttural growls and phlegm-filled spitting that adds a hefty dose of variety to an already stellar salvo. “Death at Hand”, by comparison, gets real thrashy, utilizing speed and a blistering barrage by the band’s rhythm section to create another immediately engaging sonic experience. But it’s the melody here that steals the show, adding a trad heavy metal vibe that eventually melts into a classic death metal chug fest. All of these disparate elements just shouldn’t work together like they do here, and Necropanther should be commended for growing some stellar songwriting chops as their career matures. Sure, Eyes of Blue Light was the Dune concept album we’d all been waiting for, but damn if the band don’t come close to topping it here. It’s an absolute blast, without a single second wasted.
The more I listen to this album, the more I love it. There are few bands in the death metal sector that are operating on the level that Necropanther has reached, and such rarified air suits them well. I cannot wait to hear where they go next, but until then I’ll be banging my head to The Doomed City with glee.
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Technical death metal wouldn’t be what it is today without the peerless work of Nile. They’re an absolutely legendary band in this sphere of the metal world, and countless bands can (and should) name their unique brand of Ithyphallic tech death as a key influence. That said, the last decade has not been particularly kind to the band. At the Gate of Sethu is almost universally considered their weakest album, while follow-up What Should Not Be Unearthed felt like a too small step in the right direction. Compound this with the departure of long-standing member and death metal legend Dallas Toler-Wade, and Vile Nilotic Rites had “disappointment” written all over it. Thankfully, it isn’t. Not even close. In fact, just as the decade reaches its end, I would posit that Nile have released their most technically stout, musically diverse, and technically astute record since 2009’s Those Whom the Gods Detest. In short, it’s really good.
For a band with a deeply established sound, replacing cornerstone members is a daunting task. Tapping Enthean’s Brian Kingsland to assist with guitar duties proved itself to be a stroke of genius, as the man consistently fills Toler-Wade’s oversized shoes with admirable skill. These tracks are littered with expectedly fantastic guitar work, with “The Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare” and “Seven Horns of War” representing some of the band’s best instrumental work in years. The distinctly technical edge to Nile’s music is alive and well on Vile Nilotic Rites, and is only made more devastating by drummer George Kollias’ best work to date (just give “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy” a listen if you need convincing). Throughout its nearly hour-long runtime, Nile never once lost my interesting, displaying a knack for tech death songwriting that feels refreshed and re-invigorated. It’s a wondrous sight to behold, and I can’t get enough of it.
For those who, like myself, were nervous about the direction the band would be taking in Vile Nilotic Rites, rest east. It’s one of the band’s most uniformly excellent outings in a long time, and is an album I’ve happily revisited over the past month many times with happy returns. It may not eclipse their greatest work, but it nevertheless reaches the high watermark of quality expected by a band of such prodigious talent. Hail Nile. May they live forever.
Teeth – The Curse of Entropy
“Every fucking track on this record is stankface.jpg.” – Eden Kupermintz, Editor-In-Chief, Heavy Blog Is Heavy
Honestly, I could probably just leave it at that and it should give you enough reason to blast The Curse of Entropy as loudly and frequently as possible. From the band name to the beautifully absurd album cover, I knew that Teeth had potentially made one of my favorite death metal albums of the year. What I didn’t predict was just how thoroughly the band were going to pummel me into the ground by the time I finished my first playthrough of The Curse of Entropy. By touching on multiple points on the death metal spectrum yet still playing their own unique style, Teeth have produced one of the most downright savage and memorable death metal albums of the year.
The best way to sum up Teeth’s sound is “balanced dissonance.” This might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s the key element that makes The Curse of Entropy. All of the core aspects of dissonant death metal are on display throughout the album, with tracks cut from the same cloth bands like Ulcerate and Altarage use to weave with. Listeners can expect plenty of off-kilter chord progressions, chaotic riffs, and menacing atmospheres played over blast beat after blast beat.
Yet, at the same time, Teeth never forget that they’re a death metal band through and through. While some bands can use these dissonant elements as a gimmick or crutch, Teeth instead compose in a way that allows these elements to enhance the quality death metal they’re already writing. The core sound running through The Curse of Entropy is established through soul-crushing riffs and breakdowns, bellowing guttural vocals, and a consistent brand of intense, violent energy.
Put this all together, and you have one of the best late-year gems you’ll find from death metal this year. I know a lot of folks stop keeping track of new releases by this time of year, but The Curse of Entropy is a must listen for anyone still interested in finding some excellent new death metal (which should be every music fan, in my opinion). The Curse of Entropy is one of my favorite releases of the year, regardless of genre, and I can’t recommend what Teeth are doing highly enough.
Unfathomable Ruination – Enraged & Unbound
It should come as no surprise that Unfathomable Ruination would release another incredible record. After all, the band has failed to release a bad one yet. 2016’s Finitude remains one of my favorite death metal albums of the decade, so needless to say expectations for their follow-up to that masterpiece came with high expectations. What is surprising is that Enraged & Unbound is not only a great record, but one that rivals its vaunted predecessor pound for pound. Ratcheting up the progressive elements of their sound while staying true to the dynamic technical onslaught they are known for, Unfathomable Ruination have unleashed upon the unsuspecting world another stone cold classic.
One key aspect of Unfathomable Ruination’s success lies in their keen abilities as songwriters. The performances are airtight and top notch throughout, but what separates them from the technical/brutal death metal pack is sheer listenability. I’ve been through Enraged & Unbound just about ten times now, and I haven’t gotten bored of this record once. This engagement factor can be pinpointed to multiple facets of the band’s music, but is found primarily in their growing penchant for progressive metal dynamics. Amid the maelstrom of riffs and unreal drum blasts lives a keen sense of melody and progressive song structures that allow these tracks to feel both dense and open, bringing memorable passages to the surface on the regular. “An Obsidian Perception” does a masterful job of blending these elements into a seamless rage monster that’s an absolute delight to listen to. If you dig this track, the rest of the record will give you nothing but joy.
The more I listen to this record, the more I love it. Unfathomable Ruination have done the impossible by matching their best work by creating something a work of brutal art that stays true to its foundation while pounding down sonic walls that are normally left well alone by their contemporaries. It’s a masterful release by one of the best bands in the game.