Welcome once more to Death’s Door, Hellions. Wipe your feet on the mat and pull up a bone throne. Death metal had one doozy of a month in June.
Every time I write one of these my initial thought is to comment on how this month has surpassed each subsequent month this year in quality. Once again, I find myself in that same headspace as we compiled our favorite release of June. There is a world where I could see each of these records making my yearly top 10, and for one month’s worth of releases that’s no small feat. There’s an absolute glut of high quality death metal in this edition of our column, and I couldn’t more strongly suggest that you check these releases out if you have yet to do so. Nothing but bangers.
Scott and Simon join me this month to detail our thoughts on these exceptional releases, and we would love to hear from you as well. What records blew you away in June, and what are you most looking forward to in July? Leave us your thoughts and observations in the comments. It’s been a tough year so far, and we deeply appreciate your continued readership and engagement with this amazing community. Stay safe and healthy out there.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Pyrrhon – Abscess Time
One of life’s most frustrating, insipid, and outright stupid phenomena is the fact that there are people who genuinely get nothing out of the films made by directors like Paul Verhoeven or David Cronenberg beyond that they “look crazy” or “are cool.” Routinely, I drive myself into anger remembering that there are hordes of myopic, popcorn-munching fucks who love the shit out of Videodrome and Starship Troopers, Scanners and Robocop, and never once are hit by the inherent politics of these movies, even as they are slapped across the screen, oozing blood and bubbling with tepid chunks of gore.
Pyrrhon function on a similar level, musically, for me. To be fair, Doug Moore’s vocal performance, the most poignant thematic vehicle for the group, is rarely easy to parse; even still, the idea of someone not understanding the political bent to an album like Abscess Time strikes such a deep and caustic chord within me that I had to step away from my computer for a few minutes after writing this sentence. The sense of grinding futility that characterizes the day-to-day life of the politically-conscious member of the working class – the unending erosion of resistance from a thousand psionic floods emanating from our bosses, our colleagues, our phones, our media, our leaders, every poisoned facet of our lives – this pulverizing aura of banality in the face of constant fucking dread is so tightly woven into the quartet’s DNA that I think you would have to be either staggeringly dumb or willfully ignorant to not recognize how political this band is. Pyrrhon make anthems for the psychologically besieged.
That isn’t to say Abscess Time doesn’t have enough to excite on a purely musical level, oh no. Sonically, this is a monumental record. In the wake of 2017’s What Passes For Survival, which displayed the group at their most sinewy and lean, a bedraggled and mangy beast snapping and howling at the world, Pyrrhon have run the other direction: Abscess Time finds the group exploring their indulgences to the fullest, excavating their enormous breadth of influences and plucking at each new piece of debris inquisitively. The connection that songs like “Abscess Time” and “State of Nature” have to death metal – the band’s primary genre, if such categorizations are to be believed – lies almost entirely in Moore’s vocal performance. Behind his yelps and gurgles (and make no mistake, his palette too is certainly expanded from previous outings) are a trio of musicians who have an endless amount of creativity. “A square peg for a round hole” might be a good enough analogy to fit a band like Ulcerate, but at this point in their evolution, calling Pyrrhon a death metal band is like saying you can draw an accurate tesseract on a piece of lined paper.
The instrumentation on Abscess Time is more precise than its forebears by a matter of degree: the term “controlled chaos” feels particularly apt here. Dylan DiLella, somehow the sole guitarist of the band, operates somewhere in the space between Larry LaLonde and Terrance Hobbs (not to say that his approach is solely informed by metal guitarists, of course), as focused on unspooling long, perverse bits of feedback-laden free improv for textural purposes as he is on writing anything resembling a riff. Bassist Erik Malave and drummer Steve Schwegler are given an incredible amount of room here: multiple tracks are led almost entirely by the titanic lurch they pull off as a duo, and each on their own has some absolutely stellar moments. It’s certainly nothing new to hear Pyrrhon working as a true group, but the arrangements on Abscess Time, coupled with the precision and clarity of Colin Marston’s production job, makes it startlingly obvious just how much each member of the quartet is an active and essential collaborator.
At the risk of trivializing everything that’s happened in 2020 – from the failure of an impeachment process that started the year on a low note, to the laughably corrupt and downright depressing Democrat primary that has left us with a pair of shambling blobs as our presidential candidates, to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, to the monumental uprisings against police brutality and the bloated carceral state and the sheer indignant fury mixed with a brazen disregard for humanity with which police forces nationwide have responded – it is hard to imagine an album that better represents the stultified, tumorous, filthy environment that we are living in right now. Abscess Time is an enormous middle finger to the machinations of the bourgeoisie. It is the sound of dredging a world marinating in its own bile and feces for any shred of emotion. If you aren’t angry, you aren’t listening to Pyrrhon.
Best of the Rest
Fornicus – Sulphuric Omnipotence
As writers, we are often tasked with finding interesting ways to describe the same phenomena over and over again. Albums that contain particularly abrasive or intense riff passages are often described as “brutal”, “punishing”, or a slew of other tired tropes that we all know and love to despise. I find myself shaking my head frequently at my own overuse of such descriptors for death metal, especially when I’m tired and barely have the brain power to formulate coherent sentences let alone a stirring soliloquy about an old school death metal record. But as I’ve been listening to Kentucky-based Fornicus’ deeply impressive and unsettling third full-length outing Sulphuric Omnipotence, my attempts to conjure up a slew of tropes to describe the album boiled down to one single word, which I think is most apt: Hateful.
Give the blackened, hallucinatory violence of “Perdition’s Guiding Winds” a listen and tell me that you can’t feel the disdain dripping from every lecherous note. This is primal, vicious music that positively bleeds abject loathing for mankind and life in general, and its unrelenting violence is an incredibly fitting soundtrack to the times we’re currently in. Vocalist Scott Briggs’ otherworldly howls and screeches add a hefty amount of menace to each track, while the guitar work is absolutely splendid throughout, vacillating with unending energy and efficiency between black metal tremolo madness (like that found in the album’s title track) and bludgeoning death metal riffage (particularly the Incantation-esque vibes of “The Abhorrent Path”). It’s a veritable smorgasbord of sonic delights for those who enjoy their death metal blackened, and Sulphuric Omnipotence doesn’t offer a single moment of relief through its 42-minute runtime, which culminates in the absolute world destroyer “Usurping the Throne”, which is violent enough to toss you straight from your seat and into a pile of flailing limbs and headbanging insanity. It’s that kind of record, and with performances this sharp and effective screams to be revisited.
One of the most intensely enraged records I’ve heard in the death metal genre this year, Fornicus strike blood-spattered gold with Sulphuric Omnipotence. If you are looking for a record that balances black and death metal elements in their most insidious and merciless forms, there’s little about it you won’t enjoy. Highly recommended.
Goreworm – Prodigy of the Grotesque
When the dudes in Goreworm sat down to decide what style of death metal they’d write, I imagine the conclusion to that band meeting was, “All of them.” Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. Prodigy of the Grotesque is self-described as “a high-paced blend of melodic, technical, and brutal death metal,” which is one of the most accurate reflective labels I’ve seen a band use.
At its core, the album feels like a spiritual successor to Miasma, with the technical flourishes of Decrepit Birth thrown into the mix and a penchant for heavier excursions. Similar to The Black Dahlia Murder, don’t feel like your father’s melodeath bands either, as the soaring riffs and guitar melodies carry a sinister edge that flows nicely with the more brutal passages.
This allows for tracks like “Homemade Mortuaries” to fit so well in the track list. Goreworm take “evil melodeath” formula to the extreme, with virtuosic solos being the only melodic respite for ripping brutality. Likewise, “Ditch Pig” offers some fittingly filthy moments, including one of the most well-placed and executed breakdowns I’ve heard in a melodeath song in some time. It’s a testament to Goreworm’s ability to give listeners exactly what they’re hoping for and then some.
Obscene – The Inhabitable Dark
There’s nothing like mean-and-lean old school death metal. Sure, I love caveman riffs and OUGHs as much as the next guy. But I’ll always have a soft spot for bands that throw it back to the genre’s heyday, when the line between thrash, death, and black metal hadn’t yet been drawn. Besides the fantastic songwriting, that’s what I love most about The Inhabitable Dark. It sounds like Obscene were air-lifted from the late ’80s, given time to acclimate themselves with modern death metal trends, and then ultimately said, “Fuck it, we’re doing it our way.”
Granted, Obscene take advantage of modern production quality, versus the prevailing wisdom that bands should bring a tape recorder into a cave. Despite a relatively “cleaner” sound, The Inhabitable Dark still sounds vicious and vulgar, while also feeling coherent and with an extra punch behind each instrument. It’s an organic, rich production style that allows everything to pop and blend simultaneously; the drums are flashy and vibrant, the guitars have a hefty tone yet a versatile range, and the bass is even audible if you know what you’re listening for. As much as there is to commend from a songwriting perspective, I’m perhaps more impressed by just how good the record sounds.
But back to that “mean-and-lean” comment; this thing rips from front to back. band truly do strike a perfect balance between the dark, heavy palette of early death metal and the attitude of the ongoing thrash scene of the time. It’s basically the Goldilocks standard of OSDM revival. If you’re at all interested in a subtly modern twist on the golden era of death metal, then you need to make this album a priority.
Serocs – Vore
Any band that features an assortment of members from Chthe’ilist, Sutrah, Zealotry, and Punishment has my undivided attention. Thus has been the case with Serocs, a supergroup of sorts that blends the talents of its various members into a seething, brutal technical death metal whole that is often exactly what you would hope it would be. Through four full-length offerings, the band have grown more cohesive with each new record, culminating in 2018’s The Phobos / Deimos Suite, which was their most exploratory and thoroughly captivating record yet. Their latest EP, Vore, follows in the footsteps of its full-length predecessor by further expanding the band’s sound while never being anything less than interesting and thoroughly punishing.
With just under 30 minutes of material, Serocs cover in an EP what many fail to accomplish in a full-length record. Opener “Anthropic” kicks things off with a gloriously bleak slab of audio violence that should please fans of brutal death metal in the vein of Unfathomable Ruination and Disentomb, but where many brutal death metal records get stuck in their particular sonic lane, Serocs brings the murky nastiness of old school death metal into its sound with a fair amount of frequency, thanks in large part to the guitar and bass work of the talented Antonio Freyre and Antoine Daigneault, who imbue every inch of the record with a filthy lacquer that helps this release transcend beyond its brutal death metal tag. But brutality is, by and large, the name of the game, with tracks like “Building a Shrine Upon Vanishing Sands” and “The Temple of Knowledge” delivering brutal audio punishment on a nuclear scale. Finale “To Self Devour” does a great job tying the release’s initial offering of new tracks together in a gloriously violent end that also offers a fair amount of melody as it reaches its insanity-inducing climax. The EP’s final two tracks, demos from 2011, are also interesting additions that add character to the band’s already fairly impressive history, and are definitely worth sticking around for.
I love it when an EP packs the punch of a full-length record, and Vore most certainly does that. I would take a shorter record of this quality over a bloated hour-long opus 100% of the time, and for those hungry for a quick fix of brutal death metal violence you’ll be hard pressed to find a higher quality release than this one. Serocs continue to hit home runs, and here’s hoping their next full-length release maintains this level of quality and intensity.
Sxuperion – Omniscient Pulse
Space: The Current Frontier. At least for death metal. Blood Incantation, Cosmic Putrefaction, Outer Heaven, and countless other modern death metal bands call this hallowed void their philosophical and thematic home, and the genre has been all the better for it. Some of its best releases over the past several years have taken us on trips to the outer reaches, so as far as I’m concerned keep it coming. Sxuperion does just that with the project’s fifth full-length outing Omniscient Pulse. If you’re a fan of death metal (IN SPAAAAAACE), this one is a must-listen.
Blending titanic riffs and punishing drums with the type of all-consuming, hazy atmosphere that Darkspace has been peddling for the last decade and a half, Sxuperion’s latest is a show-stopper. Each track blends into the next in seamless fashion given the overwhelming atmospheric backdrop, giving the album a uniformity that will either serve as one of its greatest strengths or a glaring weakness depending on your enjoyment of this brand of music. The world building of Omniscient Pulse is exquisite, building on the previously established narrative that pervades preceding releases and generating a filmic feel that is both immediately captivating and stays compelling throughout. The instrumentation perfectly fits the mood that these peripheral themes are attempting to convey, providing ample elements of fear and chaos that couple with the album’s themes and atmosphere impeccably. It’s the complete package for those who are interested in narrative-driven death metal.
If any of this sounds up your sonic alley, I recommend Omniscient Pulse on the strongest terms. It’s a thoroughly uncompromising record that knows exactly what it is and how it wants you to feel. If you are willing to let it take you where it wills, you’ll find yourself in a world of cosmic dread of the likes only Sxuperion can create. A fantastic release.
Ulthar – Providence
It took me a bit to warm up to Ulthar’s excellent debut record Cosmovore. My first few listens left me feeling like there was an insane amount of potential to be realized, but that the record never quite fully reached the dizzying heights of its promise. But something kept me coming back to it, and the more I listened the more I realized that there were intricacies floating just below the surface that caused the album to grow in stature over time, leaving me hyped as no other for their sophomore effort. In that rarest of instances, my anticipation was rewarded in full with Providence, one of the most thoroughly excellent death metal releases of the year.
Everything that made Cosmovore the special debut it was is here in spades, with even greater focus and songwriting nuance this time around. From the opening riff of “Churn”, the band are operating at a peak of performative effectiveness that we could have only hoped for. The performances are punishing and honed to perfection, leaving little fat as they rip through passage after passage of insane death metal. But the band haven’t lost their sense of sonic adventure, with tracks like “Undying Spear” adding acoustic range to the bludgeoning onslaught, and “Through Downward Dynasties” bringing a hefty dose of atmospheric dread. It’s in all a more focused and direct effort that doesn’t lose sight of what made the band special in the first place, which is just about textbook when it comes to writing a great follow-up record.
In my estimation, Ulthar have eclipsed their already outstanding debut in every way, delivering one of the best death metal records of the year in the process. The performances are sharp, the songwriting is tight, and the production enhances every element of the record. I could not be more delighted by how well Providence turned out, and would not be surprised if it lands fairly high on my year-end list. A banger from front-to-back.
VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel
Debut albums in the death metal world are a tricky (and often essential) thing to nail. With so much good music coming out on the regular, many bands only have one real shot to make a lasting impression before the throngs of death metal fans have moved onto the next promising release. Dropping quality demos and signing to a prominent label can most certainly help a band get noticed, but are no guarantee of success by themselves. California’s VoidCeremony find themselves positioned for success with the release of their debut Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel, out on the always reliable 20 Buck Spin. After several effective demos, some of us death metal junkies have been waiting impatiently for this band to finally release a full-length. Now that it’s here, I’m happy to say that the band make good on their early promise by releasing a jaw-dropping display of instrumental wizardry.
Two elements stick out immediately on first listen of Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel: The absolutely insane bass work of Damon Good (Mournful Congregation, Stargazer) and the impeccable drumming of Charlie Koryn. While the instrumental performances are by and large fantastic, this is one of the first death metal albums I’ve heard give lead billing to its percussive section in some time. The bass work throughout is simply mind-blowing, balancing wild busy-ness with expert precision, with Koryn’s drumming keeping the proceedings from tipping off the rails. “Empty, Grand Majesty (Cyclical Descent of Causality)” is an absolute banger that gives the most thorough and organized example of the band operating at the peak of their powers, especially in the percussive department. Damian Herring’s (Horrendous) production work here also greatly helps these performances to pop, as each sounds an integral part of the whole while never fading too far into the background. Give this track a listen. If it suits your fancy, the rest of this album will delight you.
For all of its magnificence (and there’s plenty of it) Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel leaves room for growth, which can be expected from a band jumping into the deep waters of their first recording. But as a debut it stands as one of the more interesting and thoroughly engaging listens I’ve heard in a good while, and I cannot wait to see how the band continues to develop its songcraft. Until then, we have this record to blow our minds over and over again, and that’s worthy of celebration.
Somnium de Lycoris – Orbis Terrarum Revolution
Do you want some weird tech death with unhinged, zany solos and prominent organ and piano? Of course you do. With their debut EP, Somnium de Lycoris throw caution and pretension to the wind and remind listeners that death metal is supposed to be a fun genre.
Aversions Crown – Hell Will Come for Us All (tech deathcore)
Thætas – Shrines to Absurdity (brutal death metal)