Welcome, friends, to the new and improved Death’s Door! As you have probably noticed by now, things look a little different around these parts as of late. Our retooling and reconfiguring of Heavy Blog to a monthly content curation format has created a greater amount of flexibility for all of us to continue doing what we love in a manner that ensures we can continue bringing you quality content in perpetuity. So, how does this impact Death’s Door?
Over the coming months, we are excited to bring you a more robust slate of content for each edition of the column than we have been able to before. Each month, we will be bringing you:
- In-depth analysis on genre/industry trends
- Classic album showcases through Death’s Vault
- Interviews with death metal bands and artists
- Our classic monthly record and cassette review coverage
We couldn’t be more excited about this broader focus on the genre as a whole and all of the amazing content that we will be able to bring you. So let’s get to it. This month, we have as always a veritable stream of incredible releases to cover, in addition to an in-depth deep dive into death metal’s recent triangulation around the cosmic (with a bonus review from one of space-based death metal’s true pioneers!) and an interview with one of the most exciting new voices in death-grind. So pull up a bone throne and grab yourself a goblet of an alcoholic nectar of your choosing. It’s on.
Death metal forever.
The Meteoric Rise of Cosmic Death Metal
In more than a few ways, 2020 has proven itself to be a fairly unprecedented year. Not just in the lifetimes of most living people on the planet, but also in the larger context in history. The biblical idiom of their being nothing new under the sun may apply to my categorically narrow understanding and interpretations of events, but over 7.8 billion people can’t be wrong, can they? Regardless of the constant buffering of our collective mental and physical health that 2020 has presented, it appears that there are a few things that stand resolute in quality and health regardless of external circumstances. Death metal, bless it, happens to be one of those things. But like most art forms that survive longer than their initial combustible burst into the popular consciousness, it took a fair bit of evolution to get here.
A few years ago, I wrote a long-form piece detailing death metal’s stylistic and thematic evolution. Since that time, little has changed in regard to the sound’s extensive growth. Records from bands centered around social issues (Fit for An Autopsy), mental health (An Isolated Mind), and other more explicitly political realms like climate change and the environment (Gojira) have become not only a common occurrence, but a mainstay in how fans of the genre perceive and speak to and about death metal. The music has moved a long way from its earliest manifestations of gore and violent excess popularized by bands like Cannibal Corpse and Carcass, but this branching out stylistically and thematically has begun to circle around a few particular concepts and settings with some form of regularity. To find it, all you have to do is look up…
Cosmic death metal has become an unwavering staple of the genre’s modern output. Just a quick search of the title will land you in a veritable inky black sea of bands who have used the cosmos as a backdrop to their music. Over the past few years, Blood Incantation, Artificial Brain, Wormed, Outer Heaven, Gorephilia, Nucleus, Spectral Voice, Obscura, Gigan, Vale of Pnath, Tomb Mold, and a veritable host of others (literally dozens more) have made called the outer reaches of space and the cosmic horror (real or imagined) contained therein their conceptual home. 2020 alone has brought us premium releases in this starry vein from Ulthar, Sxuperion, Cosmic Putrefaction, Afterbirth, Wormhole, Atrae Bilis, and Cryptic Shift, and that’s just what I can recall off the top of my head. It’s obvious that death metal of all styles bent firmly toward the cosmic is no longer an outlier, but a full-blown movement within the scene at large. Which, for the science fiction geeks among us, is as grand a thing as has happened to death metal in a very long time. When most think of death metal in its contemporary context, they aren’t thinking of the gore-obsessed bands of the past, but many of the above entities. As I relayed in my previous column on the subject, when it comes to stylistic and contextual diversity there’s never been a better time to be a death metal fan. But it’s not like such themes are unprecedented in the genre’s history.
A quick scan through the annals of death metal’s storied past offers more than a few hints at foundational tenets that heralded its modern development. Central characters to death metal’s development like Cynic, Demilich, and even the almighty Death were pushing the boundaries of what the genre could be both conceptually and stylistically well before Starspawn launched its cosmic wares into deep space. But there are few bands that heralded the coming age of death metal’s obsession with intergalactic darkness quite like Timeghoul, perhaps the greatest death metal band that never was. Their all-too-short discography will be highlighted below in our Death’s Vault segment, and for good reason given the topic at hand. More than any other band in the early days of death metal, Timeghoul established science fiction and cosmic horror as key elements of their lyrical and thematic template, setting the stage for the explosive growth that we see in this style today. Even the black metal juggernauts Nocturnus can be partially credited with setting the groundwork for popularizing metal that approaches these topics. Space has become the present frontier for death metal on the backs of its notable forebears, but beyond the trappings of this explicit content, perhaps the most important contribution these bands collectively made in death metal’s evolution is their exemplifying through their songwriting and themes that one of the most sonically violent genres in music history could be something that few of its initial detractors expected: artistically diverse.
Death metal has become a sound that covers as many sonic ranges, tempos, and aesthetics as the multitude of themes it now includes. Far from the churlish brutality that became its infamous calling card in the late 80s and early 90s, death metal in 2020 is a nuanced, sonically diverse, and infinitely creative space for musicians to push, pull, and shape musical extremity in their own unique image, making it one of the most thoroughly interesting stylistic branches on the metal tree. While up-and-coming bands in this musical space may be pushing the cosmic horror angle more and more, there’s enough room in the death metal tent for innovators and non-conformists, constantly pushing what the genre can say and how it can present it. That, in as shitty a year as 2020 has turned out to be, is a cause for celebration. As a fan of the genre, its history, and its ever-expansive present, I for one welcome our alien overlords. Long may they reign.
The next two segments of Death’s Door will be highlighting two of these trailblazers, the aforementioned Timeghoul and an interview with death-grind luminary Nick Stanger of Xythlia. Both of these groups provide further proof of death metal’s long road of evolution both in style and lyrical content, and we hope you enjoy interacting with their records as much as we have.
Timeghoul – 1992-1994 Discography
It’s one of the more unfortunate stories in death metal history that this may be the first time some of you are hearing about Timeghoul. Heralding from Missouri under the initial moniker Doom’s Lyre, Timeghoul released a set of demos in the early 90s that pioneered the cosmic death metal sound that would eventually become a genre mainstay. Resurrected from the pit of legend by Dark Descent Records a few years back, Timeghoul’s two original demos are now available for widespread public consumption, marking a very unique and prescient resurrection of one of the genre’s sonic and thematic pioneers.
Sonically, Timeghoul are an interesting bag of sounds and styles. Employing a demo-standard production aesthetic that only enhances their cosmic horror appeal, Timeghoul unleash a veritable riff-fest throughout their two demos (Tumultuous Travelings and Panaramic Twilight respectively) that is as delicious as any conjured by death metal’s earliest progenitors. Their first offering is a bruising, generally fast-paced and punishing affair, with “Gutspawn” representing about as emblematic a track as you’ll find of the band’s earliest work. Filled to the brim with blastbeats, punishing progressions, and speed changes whiplash listeners through the vast emptiness of space that Timeghoul are only too eager to guide us through, Tumultuous Travelings is a jolt to the system. But songs like “Infinity Coda” highlight the uniqueness of Timeghoul, pulling in more Demilichian elements into their sound. Off-kilter guitar melodies mix with their established punishment, adding further flavor to their stew of death metal oddness that’s as appetizing as any released in the early 90s/
But it’s during the band’s second demo where their most ambitious explorations came to fruition. Comprising two much longer tracks (clocking in at 8 and 10 minutes), the band take their time exploring a more doom-laden and explicitly sci-fi approach. The opening moments of “Boiling in the Hourglass” drink deeply from the well of death-doom that would eventually become popularized by Incantation, bleeding atmosphere and sci-fi gloom through every note. But it’s the final track of their career, the opus “Occurrence on Mimas”, that cemented their forward-thinking aesthetic most ambitiously. Kicking off with a winding sequence of notes and guitar pyrotechnics that eventually shift into a choir of ethereal voices, opening the door for some of the band’s most brazen experimentation yet. The track vacillates between punishing riffs and soaring choir arrangements accompanied by some effectively presented instrumental passages that accent and never overwhelm the track’s most interesting components. It’s this balance that makes Timeghoul’s music so incredibly engaging and easy to love, while also making it infinitely more tragic.
It’s one of my greatest sadnesses as an avid death metal listener that we were never gifted a Timeghoul full-length record. The band broke up soon after the release of their final demo, and much to our great misfortune we’ll never know what could have been. But the material contained in these two demos was more than enough to set the stage for cosmic death metal’s eventual ascendence within the genre. If you have yet to give Timeghoul a listen, I suggest in the strongest of terms that you change that immediately. Timeghoul is a death metal treasure, and cosmic death metal couldn’t have developed without their outsized influence.
An Interview with Xythlia
In our blog Slack group, we like to post comps when we recommend new artists. When one of our writers posted about Xythlia, he said, “What if Car Bomb, but also Genghis Tron?” Needless to say, that piqued my interest. But obviously, how a listener might interpret music is very different from how the artist would. What was your idea behind the album and the project in general?
It was really more a product of circumstance than it was necessarily like, “I want to specifically create this sound.” I wrote the first couple tracks sometime over the winter and they just stayed on my hard drive for a while. When the whole lockdown shit first started happening, I was put on temporary leave from my job, so I had nothing but free time. And I knew that I would be really upset at myself if I didn’t have anything to show for that when all was said and done. So I ended up opening that session again and just busting it out song by song until I had a full record. I started off with just guitar and drum programming and just started writing, and then I went back and wrote and recorded all the bass parts and vocals.
I love the record overall, but I think my favorite tracks are the shorter songs like where you just kind of freak out.
Those ones are fun. They took about as long to make as they take to listen to.
What’s that like to just sit down and record those kinds of tracks? I imagine you’re not necessarily writing something ahead of time, but just kind of letting things flow. How does that differ from actually composing a track in advance?
Obviously I’m not actually sitting down and meticulously writing anything for tracks like “Post-Ironic Indoctrination” and “Mutagenic Growth.” For the former, I took MIDI samples of the drums from all the previous shit on the record and just copy/pasted it into some amalgamation and sped it all way the fuck up. Then I just noodled on my pedalboard, no guitar in hand. “Mutagenic Growth” is based on the same thing with the drums, and then I just mindlessly made shred noises on my guitar. That’s basically how those two were approached.
We’re doing this interview for a death metal column, but I think there are a number genres at play on the album beyond deathgrind. What are your thoughts on that label specifically, and on genres in general? I’m especially curious since you have a number of different projects that cover a span of sounds.
I tend to embrace the ”hyphenation“ until it gets to a point of weird infighting and gatekeeping bullshit. I’ve always found subgenres to be an interesting topic to explore, especially with my projects. For me, the different projects I do are based on different emotions or circumstances, rather than like, “I’m going to write a cosmic tech deathgrind album,” which is what people are calling the album in this case. That’s not what I was necessarily thinking when I went into it,, but when I hear something like that, I’m like, “I guess that’s technically accurate, so I’ll take it.” All the music I make tends to get the whole ultra-hyphenated subgenre bullshit, and that’s alright with me. I think that’s fun. As long as people don’t get in fights and act like gatekeepers about it, then I’m good.
From a reviewer perspective, we don’t have people’s attention spans for that long. So being able to say, ”this is X genre” is helpful, as long as it doesn’t get too ridiculous.
Yeah. And with Bandcamp, I usually put 10 different labels on there. When I put something out, I boil it down to the different things that I think could most accurately describe it. So it’s not something I don’t think about, it’s just more of an afterthought for me.
Like I mentioned earlier, you have a number of projects that we’ve actually covered on the blog before and we’ve enjoyed quite a bit, including Ashbringer. When I was looking into Xythlia, I was particularly surprised to see that you were part of Wishfield. The self-titled album you put out was one of my favorite “blackened” releases of the last few years. I thought it was awesome to see that; you know, small world I guess.
That has to be the polar opposite of the shit I just did with Xythlia.
How does that work through your creative process? Obviously those projects are wildly different from one another.
I’m always coming up with ideas for new projects that I can do. With Wishfield, it was like, “What if post-black metal, but all on fretless guitars?” And on Xythlia, I was like, ”What if I just sat down at my computer and made the most ridiculous bullshit that I can make with no limitations on my eight string.” I tend to just let my brain shit out whatever it wants. I get comfortable writing for a particular sound, and I’m able to get a better idea of what I want to explore and experiment on. I pretty much always write in the context of an album or a specific project. I very rarely write on a song-by-song basis. Pretty much every project I do, even if it’s something that never comes to fruition, I’m writing with the intention of it becoming a full-length record someday. When it comes to the narrative or the aesthetic or the lyrics, for me it ends up being a concept album. That’s just how I function, I guess. Nothing I write is in a vacuum. All the songs give context to each other, both musically and lyrically. I always try to lean into that side of my writing.
Do you find that your listening habits ultimately influence your creative process? Or do you just generally have a pretty broad palette?
I think it’s a little of both. I do listen to a lot of stuff, but generally, I kind of go through phases. I’m not someone who’s literally always writing music. I’ll go months on end without writing anything, and then I’ll write a whole record in a quick burst, which is basically what I did for the Xythlia record. Usually, I’m informed by what I have been listening to most recently. I’ll take a deep dive into a particular subgenre or whatever interests me. For projects like Wishfield, I had this idea for a sound that I haven’t heard before. And I decided I wanted to make that exist. I guess I kind of tend to make the music that I would want to listen to.
Earlier you mentioned obviously that this new Xythlia record was spawned by the pandemic and having to mostly stay at home besides work. Usually in my interviews, I ask a question about a band’s local music scene and performing live, but obviously that’s off the table right now. At some point, do you plan on touring or performing with Xyhtlia? Exactly. Obviously it’s a one man band, so I’m curious how that would work.
The answer to that is a pretty firm, “I don’t know.” Ashbringer actually started as my solo project, and then I got offered a tour and turned it into a band, and we’ve been a band ever since. I wouldn’t be opposed to something like that with Xythlia, but that being said, the nature of the music would be much more of an elaborate process to translate into a live setting.
You’d have to find a drummer that could play that fast consistently.
Those folks do exist, but some things would have to be changed. I very much went into the record knowing full well that I wasn’t going to find a live drummer, and I just leaned into the robotic elements of having programmed drums. It’s definitely something that might happen, it would just be difficult. I can play all the songs on guitar, and I can sing all the songs. But I don’t know if I could do those two things at the same time, so maybe I’d have to find another guitar player, too.
How have current circumstances generally affected you as a musician?
Ashbringer probably would have toured this summer. We wanted to play more local shows and more one-off Midwest shows, but obviously that didn’t happen. I don’t rely on any of my music for my income, so for me, it’s not financially devastating or anything like it’s been for some of my friends. It just would have been really nice to go on the road and see and experience all the things that come with that. But things are how they are right now, and even if that was something we could feasibly do, it wouldn’t be a smart idea right now. None of my projects have any intention of playing live until it pretty firmly confirmed that it’s safe to have crowds again. I know some people have decided that’s ok right now, but that’s definitely not correct.
You mentioned something that connects with another question I had. Not only is your music listsed as “name your price,” but you also have pricing tiers based on people’s budgets. Why did you choose that route?
Like I said, I don’t rely on the income that I make from my music to survive. Maybe someday I would like to be in that position, but where I’m at right now, the money I do or don’t make from my music isn’t going to affect whether or not I get to eat or pay rent or something like that. I’m a firm believer in the democratization of music. I want people to be able to hear my music in whatever way is most convenient for them. I have no problem with anyone downloading my stuff for free and never giving me any money for it. That goes for pretty much every project that I do that isn’t bound to a label. Any money I can get from the music I make is stuff that I can put towards facilitating these projects
As far as the tiers go, people have different incomes, and I’m not interested in restricting my music to people who can afford to pay $10 for digital downloads of records. That’s just me personally. I fully understand any band that wants to maximize on all of their downloads. That’s completely fair. It’s just for me personally, it’s not something I need, so it’s not something that I feel like I need to do.
You have “BLACK LIVES MATTER. NO TERFs ON OUR TURF. NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF” listed on your Bandcamp page for the record. We always like covering artists that share our general political beliefs. That’s something that we feel is lacking in the metal sphere and the metal blogosphere. It’s a little bit unique to be on the left. Why was it important for you to make your beliefs known?
There was a time in my life where I probably wouldn’t have been so loud about my political beliefs, out of fear of being divisive or alienating people. But I’m at the point now, especially with all the shit we’ve seen in the last year, where anyone who has a problem with any of those statements that I have on my Bandcamp is just someone I don’t need to associate with. I don’t need you to support my music. I also feel like, for people in positions of privilege (and I fall into many of those demographics), I find it rather cowardly to be completely silent about all that shit, especially in times as dire as they are right now.
George Floyd was killed while I was working on the record, and I had to figure out what is the most appropriate way to release music right now. I wanted to give back to my community to some extent, and I ended up donating all the money I made from pre-orders to resources for one of our homeless communities out here in Minneapolis. It just felt weird in the current political climate to draw attention away from everything that’s happening without doing something to back it up. It just would’ve felt weird to just like put out a record with no acknowledgement of any of the socio-political stuff that’s going on right now in my community and in the world at large.
Rapid Fire Round
What album or artist most influences Xythlia?
I’m just going to flat out say Colin Marston. I think that probably makes sense to anyone who’s familiar with this project as well as his works. All the shit that he does, I kind of aspire to be like him; someone who just puts out new, different shit out of nowhere all the time. I respect that. And musically, there’s no question that I take influence from Krallice, Gorguts, and stuff like that.
What is your album of the year so far?
I think City Burials by Katatonia probably takes the cake. They’ve just always really clicked with me, their kind of gloomy approach, like Gothic alternative metal or whatever. I love Jonas’s vocals, and their guitar work is very tasteful. They did take some liberties with some of the shredding on this album, which I totally fuck with.
Favorite album of the 2010s?
Overall I really enjoyed The Afterman albums by Coheed and Cambria, and I think the first TesseracT album came out in 2011. Both bands are a big influence on me, musically and in general. TesseracT was my transition band between heavy shit and more atmospheric shit. They were kind of the band that introduced me to atmosphere being cool in metal, which is kind of my whole thing these days. I guess this project is somewhat of an exception, but yeah.
What’s your favorite album of all time?
Agalloch is my favorite band, and The Mantle is my favorite of theirs, so that probably takes the cake. My all-time favorite records, I like them for very different reasons. I say The Mantle is my favorite album of all time, but I listen to it pretty rarely, because I need to be in a very specific headspace. But when I’m in that headspace, it’s the perfect album.
Cream of the Crop
Faceless Burial – Speciation
Every so often an album enters my radar that I click with immediately. First listen, 10 minutes in, I know for a fact that I’m going to love this. Very rarely does such a thing occur, and even more rarely does that initial hunch prove incorrect. I knew that Faceless Burial’s sophomore full-length Speciation would be one of my favorite death metal records of the year before the first track was finished, and not at any point during the album’s 37-minute runtime did I doubt this assertion. An enormous leap beyond their already excellent debut, Speciation contains just about everything I look for in a death metal record: Expert instrumental performances, enjoyable songwriting, and a robust approach to production. This record checks every box, and is without debate one of my most enjoyable death metal listening experiences of 2020.
If you’re a fan of old school death metal and its modern reincarnations, there’s very little about Speciation that won’t make you want to headbang ceaselessly. The songwriting on this record is of premium quality, with Fuj’s guitar work providing constant sonic nourishment to those bereft of quality riffage in their life. Opener “Worship” sets the stage for the wonders to come brilliantly, with its opening blasts and some nifty guitar work that immediately piques interest. But what Faceless Burial do so well here, and throughout the rest of the record, is write memorable tracks with actual hooks that ride the line between old school grunginess and a more modern technical acumen. Far from a skronk fest and never a simple plug-and-chug bore, Faceless Burial achieve one of the most balanced approaches to style that I’ve heard from a death metal record in a long time.
This balance maintains itself throughout the remainder of the record, with tracks like “Irreparably Corpsed” and “Spuming Catarrhal Gruel” delivering riff after punchy and gruesome riff without losing a sense of fine-tuned craft. There’s plenty of melody embedded in these tracks, and it’s not very often that one can find themselves humming along to memorable passages of a death metal record, but here Faceless Burial create compositions that are as memorable as they are fierce. And let’s be clear, for all its balanced approach, Speciation goes hard from start to finish, churning out moments of sheer death metal abandon in every track. Whether you like taking a thoughtful and analytical approach to your death metal or just want to bang your head until it straight falls off, Speciation has more than a few moments for you.
I’m so impressed by this record, and a physical copy can’t arrive to my doorstep soon enough. Faceless Burial have with their sophomore full-length transcended the “another death metal band from Australia” tag and elevated themselves to a class of their own. This is a potent, punchy, and thoroughly captivating record that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Best of the Rest
Atrae Bilis – Divinihility
First impressions are everything. Whether that’s fair or not is irrelevant in the world of modern music consumption. Your average consumer has a typically limited amount of time to listen to music, so bands that fail to make an immediate impression are often discarded before their records hit their second or third track. However restrictive it may be, band’s often need to come out of the gate swinging for the fences. Canada’s Atrae Bilis are a band that do just that, and don’t relent for a single second once they’ve established their dominance over your attention.
Divinihility is the most immediately captivating death metal debut I’ve heard this year. It’s an instantly likable and thoroughly punishing record that only takes about 30 seconds to throw its first haymaker. From that point on, it’s constant fists to the face. “Sulphur Curtain” offers up a plate of incredibly tasty riffs that build, devolve, and resurface with alarming levels of skill. If you like this track, you’ll love the rest of the record. The songwriting on this record is excellent, mixing technical, brutal, and old school death metal with incredible levels of effectiveness. Its sub-30 minute runtime doesn’t hurt matters, either. Each track is a banger, and easily consumable without ever feeling substanceless. “Ectopian” in particular shines as a clear example of the band’s ability to meld brutishness and cosmic atmosphere with expert levels of precision and effectiveness. It’s the track that to these ears offers the best indicator of the heights this band can (and most certainly will) achieve. It’s just amazing.
At this point, my suggestion would be to go over to Bandcamp and throw this band your money as soon as you are able. Death metal needs more bands like this in its ranks, and there’s absolutely nothing about this record that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a total banger. Get on it.
Cytotoxin – Nuklearth
I hate to be the one veering off topic seeing how it’s cosmic death metal month, but when the best nuclear holocaust themed band drops a new record (especially when they happen to be some of the best active practitioners of technical brutal death metal,) I am obliged to cover it. That’s right – Cytotoxin have finally released a follow up to 2017’s highly acclaimed Gammageddon. Our favorite gas-mask-clad Germans are back with the fourth punishing installment of what they brand “Chernobyl death metal” – an apt description in ways beyond the obvious. Sure, the masks and matching hazard t-shirts are fun gimmicks tying their lyrical and visual themes together with a neat little tangible bow. The real conceptual glue of Cytotoxin, however, lies in drummer Stephan Stockburger. The man gives new meaning to ‘nuclear blast’ every record, and his rolling double-bass patterns and machine precision are the single foundational reactor from which the rest of the band regularly explodes. Also, the fact that he rocks a secondary snare tuned tight like a nuclear waste barrel is both thrillingly dynamic and objectively fucking sick.
It’s no different on Nuklearth, though there is a marked divestment from Gammageddon’s infectious erraticism. Instead, the band have settled into a much more straightforward vision of brutality, shedding the constant time shifting and dizzying tapped leads for pure groove and buff deadlift riffs. This does take quite a bit of the ‘technical’ out of the equation, but the end result is a much heavier, cohesive throat-ripper more in line with deathcore godfathers Thy Art Is Murder than contemporaries like Wormed or Exocrine. Don’t let that line being drawn discourage you – this is still very squarely a brutal death metal record, and one that is solid from front to back.
Another easily compared outfit is Canada’s Beneath The Massacre, who lent vocalist Elliot Desgagnés for Nuklearth’s final single “Soul Harvester” – a guest spot so seamless it feels like just another row of teeth in Cytotoxin’s sonic chainsaw. Nothing quite compares to “Quarantine Fortress” however, which rises above the rest as the most well-rounded of the album. What opens in their older, more technical vein eventually builds into an epic harmonized solo finale that denotes maturation and songwriting prowess beyond rote dexterity.
It’s almost an unspoken rule in the world of super-niche subgenres that experimentation or deviation from what fans have come to love about you is heretical, borderline sell-out behavior. This album is exactly that – a definitively different look from a band already well-established in their sound. Against those odds, Nuklearth excels at being a pleasant wrench to listeners’ expectations, and succeeds without falling flat or relinquishing interest in the slightest. Cytotoxin may have switched things up, but the end result remains the same: total nuclear annihilation.
Incantation – Sect of Vile Divinities
The boys are back. The east coast’s preeminent death metal institution, Incantation, (yeah, you read that right… come at me, Cannibal Corpses) has unleashed upon a burning planet their 12th full-length record, Sect of Vile Divinities, and damn is it a doozy. As long-time readers of the blog are aware, we are less than enthusiastic about the constant adulation and coverage received by old guard death metal bands over their more innovative and equally (if not more so) talented disciples. But it’s hard to not get giddy when Incantation drops a new record. In the same vein of Immolation, Incantation are a late-stage of their career death metal band who with every release prove that their name belongs with the best in the business, and Sect of Vile Divinities is no exception to that rule. Frankly, it’s easily one of their best releases in the last two decades.
Fans of Incantation’s more pummeling, punishing side will find plenty to love in Sect. Where 2014’s Dirges of Elysium re-established the band as a death-doom institution, Sect pushes the band’s more aggressive, riffy side to the forefront. Which isn’t to say that they’ve abandoned their traditional doomy stomping grounds entirely. “Propitiation” contains some absolutely decadent doom-laden passages, and the band’s penchant for the low-and-slow pops up throughout the record. But it’s the heaviest, fastest moments on the record that provide its most thrilling moments. “Entrails of the Hag Queen” is an absolute beast of a track, while “Black Fathom’s Fire” bludgeons and beats listeners into full submission with a vigor that we haven’t seen Incantation display in well over a decade. It’s those moments of full-throttle, reckless abandon are as exciting as I can remember in an Incantation record, and make Sect an essential listen.
It’s been a while since one of death metal’s old guard bands pushed my buttons with this much success. Immolation’s latest was probably my last full-throated endorsement, and Sect of Vile Divinities deserves the same level of praise for their latest masterpiece. Three decades into one of the most legendary careers in metal history, Incantation prove that they can still destroy with the best of them. Highly recommended.
Necrot – Mortal
Necrot’s fantastic debut Blood Offerings was about as definitive and successful a statement of intent that a young death metal band could make, which was especially impressive in an already overcrowded OSDM revival. After placing themselves alongside contemporaries like Witch Vomit, Phrenelith, and Undergang as fierce new death metal bands to watch, it’s not hyperbole to state that expectations for their follow-up record were sky high. With the release of Mortal, fans of the band’s debut can breathe a deep sigh of relief: It’s a meaner, fuller, more mature manifestation of all the elements that made Necrot great to begin with.
Mortal, at its base, is geared to be one helluva good time for death metal aficionados. It would be a long review to list all of the influences that Necrot pull from in Mortal, so let’s just suffice to say that if you’ve ever loved a death metal band that made their best work between 1990 and 1994, you will love what Necrot conjures here. But in similar fashion to Horrendous, Necrot’s homage to the greats of the genre is not only tasteful and thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, but combines these elements in a manner that gives Necrot its own distinct sound and flavor. This is where Mortal excels, throwing in tasty references without ever feeling like a retread of greater music. “Stench of Decay” contains one of the most pernicious earworms I’ve heard in a death metal record this year, while “Sinister Will” gallops with all the verve of a thrash epic until opening up into a veritable death metal riff-a-thon beatdown. It’s this mastery in execution that continues to separate Necrot from the pack of OSDM worshipers, and Mortal is their most convincing statement yet.
It’s a great thing when promising bands continue to live up to their potential, and I can state with confidence that Mortal lives up to the impossible hype thrust upon it. As far as classic interpretations of some of the genre’s most foundational and fundamental sounds, Necrot are kings of homage and unabashed self-expression, balancing history and their own unique musical manifestations with a fierce level of energy and creativity. Hats off to these fine folks for dropping one of the most thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted death metal releases of 2020 so far.