The hype of a new year is a powerful thing, especially after such an incredible crop of death metal came out over the preceding twelve months. Blood Incantation‘s latest future classic headlined a year that included fantastic new death metal from Teeth, Tomb Mold, Vitriol, Wilderun, and countless others (which you can read about in our Death’s Door 2019 in Review post). For many fans of the genre, the most pressing inquiry certainly revolves around anticipation for what 2020 will offer, and more importantly, whether or not it will stack up to the sheer quality 2019 had to offer.
Yet, in my view, that’s an inherently flawed mindset. Most death metal fans weren’t even aware of modern staples like Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold until a few years ago, when the bands broke onto the scene with Interdimensional Extinction (2015) and Primordial Malignity (2017), respectively. Now, I foresee a future where fans view years without a release from one or either of them as a “down year.” There will naturally be new names added to this sacred list as the genre continues to progress and garner more mainstream interest than ever before; “next big things” commonly grow into infallible entities.
And yet, this process is precisely why I urge death metal fans to keep an open mind. As I mentioned above, it was only a short time ago when the two torchbearers of the genre were lurking in the underground releasing limited pressings of early demoes. I elaborated on this with my “Demo-lition” piece in our “2019 in Review” post (yes, I’m still proud of that pun). Fantastic death metal demoes drop every year, a trend that seems to be picking up in pace. Inevitably, bands like Cerebral Rot, Fetid, and Superstition will leap out of obscurity and begin their incline into the death metal mainstream, which is exactly what happened last year. All these bands released full-length debuts in 2019, and in 2020, that’s bound to happen for a band who released an excellent demo within the last couple years.
So the point of all this? Keep digging. For all the subpar demoes, EPs, and splits you’ll sift through on Bandcamp, you’re bound to find a band bursting with potential that could very well become the next genre great everyone will be raving about. There’s no such thing as a “bad” year for a genre, just like a style is never truly “dead.” There are just different concentrations of quality in every subgenre from year to year, and as long as Jonathan an I helm this column, we’re dedicated to finding the best of the best from across the death metal spectrum.
‘Nuff said. Let’s get to some death metal. Ough.
Cream of the Crop
Snorlax – II (blackened deathgrind)
If I were to guess the chosen genre of a band named Snorlax bereft of context, I would have to assume that it would be doom metal. No one names their band after one of the slowest, laziest Pokémon of all time and plays blisteringly fast music. Except sometimes they do, apparently. Australia’s own blackened death dealer Brendan Auld has been scorching the planet under this moniker for the past few years, and misnomer aside the music Snorlax creates is titanic and vicious in tone and execution. II, another oddly comic title given that this is the project’s first full-length, is replete with the kind of blackened death metal that obliterates souls through audio violence that is as dark and punishing as it comes. But that could be said about any number of bands peddling this brand of sonic punishment. Where Snorlax shines is in balance, melody, and memorability, which work together to catapult this release from a nothing more than a quick, enjoyable listen to a regular rotation mainstay.
II is chock full of outright bangers, which makes jumping into the record a relatively easy feat. Opener “Infernal Devourment” kicks the proceedings off smartly, featuring retched, cavernous vocals, an almost warm and oddly full production and mix, and enough excellent and memorable riffs to hum at work to drive your colleagues insane. It’s a bruiser of a track that sets the tone for the record, which honestly just gets better from here. “The Resin Tomb”, which clocks in at a seemingly measly one-and-a-half minutes, is a shockingly fully developed composition that showcases Auld’s exceptional talents as a songwriter. It’s rare that a song of this nature feels neither too long nor too short, instead feeling like a track that needed to be exactly as long as it was. There’s little to no fat on II, and over its all-too-brief 22 minutes listeners will enjoy nothing but compact, certified bangers.
But for all its short excursions, the album’s three longest tracks are nothing to ignore, either. “The Chaos Ov Iron Oppression” and “Mind Ov Maggots” take up about half of the album’s runtime, and are the record’s two most diverse and interesting tracks, further highlighting Auld’s ability as a songwriter to excel in both short- and long-form styles of composition, which is not something that many bands in the metal do this well this quickly. II is an absolute masterclass in blackened death metal goodness, and I couldn’t be more obsessed with it.
While the project’s title may mislead, Snorlax’s II is as far in pace and tone from its namesake as is possible. This is a distinguished and violently brief burst of kinetic and deeply enjoyable extreme metal that is as enjoyable on first listen as it is the fifteenth. If you have yet to give Snorlax a go, I strongly recommend getting started here. A masterful and aggressive debut.
Best of the Rest
Konvent – Puritan Masochism (death-doom)
There’s truly nothing to dislike about Copenhagen quartet Konvent and their excellent debut album Puritan Masochism. Beyond the band’s fantastic brand of death-doom, everything about their imagery and presentation honors the occult roots of doom metal with a distinctly modern presentation. And of course, you have to acknowledge that four women excelling in a genre dominated by men is an awesome sight to behold.
Interestingly enough, I’m writing this as someone historically underwhelmed by classic and contemporary death-doom alike. Despite being a fan of the subgenre’s base components, the often mid-paced average taken from death metal’s speed and doom’s dirges make for an equally middling listen. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I’m glad to add Konvent to my list of personal favorites like Evoken, Paradise Lost, and Winter.
What separates Konvent is the way they approach and balance the death-doom formula. Instead of waffling between the two styles, the quartet dedicate themselves to a doom metal core and bolster this low-and-slow foundation with all of death metal’s best qualities. Subtle gothic and funereal influences find their way into the mix as well, rounding out the band’s pummeling heaviness with some emotional heft.
In practice, the tracks on Puritan Masochism revolve around doom’s penchant for stellar, well-written riffs, something that remains a constant strength throughout the album. The darkness of death metal and melodic, gothic tinges help spawn some truly dynamic songwriting. Yet, the engine behind it all is a commanding vocal performance from guitarist Rikke Emilie List. Trading between a guttural roar and sinister, sneering howl, she defines the proceedings as a dark, dismal journey through the most treacherous Danish forests.
If you’re at all interested in any of the aforementioned genres, then Puritan Masochism is an early highlight and mandatory listen for metal in 2020. Konvent are a unique quartet for their genre that seem destined to continue carving their own path and leaving their mark in the process.
Read More: The Anatomy Of
Odious Mortem – Synesthesia (progressive death metal, tech death)
This month’s Death’s Door features a few new faces, which is always an encouraging sign to begin the year. But as has been the case in death metal at large over the past few years, a lot of the coverage of the genre as the year goes on centers around the old guard, which has been churning out albums of varied quality as of late. Thank our infernal underlords that tech death classicists Odious Mortem land on the right side of the enjoyability tracks with their third full-length record (and first in 13 years) Synesthesia. It’s fast, it’s technical, and it’s everything one might expect from long-dormant titans of the genre.
In a similar move to last year’s anticipated record from tech titans Nile, Odiois Mortem don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel with Synesthesia. Despite their long absence, Odious Mortem is keenly aware of what makes their music special, and double down on those elements in a fashion that feels organic to their established style without coming across as derivative or dull. Given the amount of evolution that technical death metal has undergone since they last released a record, Synesthesia feels like an energized retooling of some of the genre’s most classic sounds. “Dormant Retribution” is a near-perfect example of this approach, featuring light-speed drumming and a collage of premium riffs that feels simultaneously classic and oddly refreshing. “Ruins of the Timeworm” is a pitch-perfect mix of melody-heavy Instrumentation and old-school production that presents what is perhaps the album’s most complete and balanced statement of intent, and simply hits all the right tech death notes for me. It’s everything a fan of classic tech death could ask for and then some.
If you’re looking for an album that is going to reinvent the death metal world ala Alkaloid, Odious Mortem will Not provide you with the fireworks you desire. But if finding a record that honors the traditional sounds of technical death metal in a package that is superbly produced, excellently written and expertly performed, look no further than Synesthesia. It’s a record that will be blasting through my car speakers for many months to come.
Phalanx – Golden Horde (death metal, crust punk)
When I created Cassette Catacombs to round out Death’s Door each month, the idea was to highlight demos, EPs, splits in a way that accounted for the brevity of these formats. While death metal arguably produces the most “quality over quantity” releases of any genre, writing a full entry about a handful of tracks can prove difficult.
That is, unless that release sounds something like Golden Horde.
I jumped on the Phalanx train as soon as I saw Bandcamp had awarded them their “New and Notable” seal of approval; they’re selective with their metal recommendations and almost exclusively suggest top-tier stuff. Golden Horde reinforces this trend with a six-track onslaught of brash death metal coated with a rough crust punk exterior. Fronted by Keir Gilchrist of Atypical fame, Phalanx are the kind of young, voracious metal band that are easy to root for and have plenty of room to flourish.
Phalanx deliver on all the points of praise that have been dubiously awarded to Code Orange. The LA-quartet boast a three-pronged attack on vocals that roars over a genuinely fresh and energetic take on hardcore and its offshoots, with strong Swedish death metal underpinnings. If bands like Carnage, Dismember, and Entombed had been dropped amid the heyday of England’s crust punk, there’s a decent chance their output would have closely resembled Golden Horde.
So how does this fantasy manifest in real-life 2020? Unrelenting aggression delivered through chunky riffs, fast-and-loose drumming, and a hydra of vocalists with their own unique, complimentary styles. More importantly, each of the six tracks leverages these talents in slightly different ways. It’s common for young bands to churn out an early demo or EP with a handful of homogenous tracks. Golden Horde stretches its formula in a myriad of directions despite the EP’s tight, 16-minute runtime.
Opener “Sajo” is a trash-and-bash affair through and through, smashing through the gates to establish a thirst for blood. The title track and “Goliath’s Spring” employs some of the album’s most direct death metal influences thanks to high-end tremolos and whining, vintage riffs. Meanwhile, “Princess of Moonlight” and “Baghdad” lean most heavily on bone-crushing breakdowns as the listener’s only respite from the band’s crust punk assault. Finally, closer “Temüjin” bookends a fittingly violent finale and ripping guitar solo with some subtle, melodic passages, hinting toward the band’s potential for experimentation on upcoming releases.
And indeed, the band’s future is guaranteed to be a prosperous one. It’s not often young musicians produce such a polished, assured collection of tracks so early in their careers. Yet, with just an early demo and this latest EP, Phalanx have made me more excited for a band’s potential than I have been in quite some time. I can’t wait to spin Golden Horde countless more times as I wait to see what the band has in store.
Wormhole – The Weakest Among Us (brutal death metal, tech death)
Sometimes I want my tech death as progressive, forward-thinking and adventurous as possible. Gimme that Ingurgitating Oblivion, Pyrrhon, Obscura, or Gorguts when I’m in the mood to explore the far reaches of my psyche through some thoroughly insane and technically impressive music. Other times, however, I want my tech death to assist me in stomping around my house, punching the air like a crazed caveman. That’s where Wormhole comes in. Their second full-length record, The Weakest Among Us, has proven itself as perfect a soundtrack to such Neanderthal-esque activities as I have found in quite some time.
Which isn’t to say that Wormhole is making music that is less worthy of examination than the bands listed above. Wormhole is populated by insanely talented musicians that make technical death metal that’s worthy of deeper examination than a simple cursory listen. But the bent behind The Weakest Among Us isn’t to simply amaze and astonish with technical wizardry. It’s mainly to beat for face into the ground until it’s a mushy, bloodied pulp. In this, above all else, it exceeds splendidly. “rA9/Myth” and “Ultrafrigid” are two absolute bruisers that slam, bam, and cram their fists down our unsuspecting throats with all the force of a gigantic, mindless alien beast of war, and it’s a glorious thing to be subject to. There isn’t a track here that isn’t both thoroughly entertaining and utterly punishing, and if that’s how you like your slammin’ tech, this record may grace your best-of list come year’s end.
Melding excessive brutality with sneakily impressive technical acumen, The Weakest Among Us has fast become one of my most frequently enjoyed records of 2020 this far. Those in the mood to be pulverized won’t find a better record to accept just, righteous audio punishment from. A fantastic and ridiculously fun release.
Blood Ouroboros – Obfuscation of Hideous Ego (old school death metal)
Let’s hope Florida will always be an incubator for quality death metal. The state’s spicy swamps must be an inspirational parallel to the depths below, as bands like Blood Ouroboros consistently churn out balanced-yet-brutal slabs of death metal domination. On Obfuscation of Hideous Ego, you’ll certainly pick up influences from fellow Tampa natives Morbid Angel, specifically the fast-and-filthy approach of the Tucker years.
Putrid Tomb – Consuming the Diseased (old school death metal)
Inspired by veterans like Autopsy, Convulse, and (early) Gorguts, Consuming the Diseased is a notably more refined death metal demo than the format’s usual fare. Well, as refined as old school death metal can be. Putrid Tomb offer four fully (de)formed death metal monstrosities, all hovering around six minutes with plenty of riffs, details, and progression.
The Weeping Gate – The Woods (symphonic melodeath)
The Woods sounds nothing like the demos we usually write about for Cassette Catacombs. Unlike the old school filth that’s nearly synonymous with modern death metal demos, The Weeping Gates instead offer two ripping melodeath cuts with well-placed symphonic elements. Fans of The Black Dahlia Murder‘s Miasma and Unhallowed era should feel right at home.