Welcome, fellow disciples of depravity! Grab a chalice and pull up a bone throne; we have a LOT to cover this month. The year may be winding down, but the quality death metal keeps on flowing like…well, an everflowing stream. Along with our usual roundup of the month’s best releases, we have an interview with Aseitas, one of my favorite new tech death bands. Oh, and I share some…thoughts on the new Six Feet Under album, and how it ties into the oversaturation vs. renaissance debate surrounding old school death metal revival. There’s no more time to waste, so let’s fling open death’s door and embrace damnation (or something like that). Onward!
Alright, we’re going to talk about Six Feet Under, so feel free to scroll down if you’re so inclined. Go ahead, I’ll understand.
Still here? Cool. If you’re somehow both a fan of death metal and unfamiliar with the genre’s enduring inside joke, then here’s a quick recap. Chris Barnes of Cannibal Corpse fame started Six Feet Under as a side project with Allen West of Obituary, and it ultimately became his full-time gig when the rest of CC gave him the boot. Since then, the band have released 13 decent-to-mediocre studio albums, somehow only rivaled in quality by not one, but four (yes, four) covers albums. I’m not sure what constitutes “too many” covers albums, but if you’re approaching the need to count them on two hands, then that seems…excessive.
Needless to say, the band’s new album Nightmares of the Decomposed was not well-received by the death metal circles I run in, as was the case with all of their recent output. Call it a hivemind effect, or just a correct grasp of reality, but the latest offering from Barnes and Co. was dead on arrival. I hesitated to share a link, so as to spare your ears, but you need to feel the same disgust and anguish I felt:
Gross (and not in a good way).
But all of this sent me down a rabbithole, burrowing right in the middle of the debate about old school death metal revival. For starters, why exactly is this track (and Six Feet Under in general) “bad”? I mean, this isn’t totally an open-ended question; I think it’s pretty obvious this isn’t the best death metal has to offer these days. But makes it so terrible? In all honesty, the only thing I think is truly awful are the horrendous vocals, which sound like Barnes trying not to vomit all over himself. His growls sound awful, they’re off-time, and it just doesn’t match the modern sound of the music. I actually preferred his vocal style on early Cannibal Corpse albums to the Corpsegrinder era, because he fit the brutal, primal nature of the music. Not so much here…like, at all.
But what about the music itself? In all honesty, it’s not nearly as off putting as whatever Barnes is doing on vocals. Yet, it’s not especially interesting either. Put plainly, it’s very…generic, like an AI simulator pumping out a serviceable rendition of the death metal formula. And if you’re the type of person who would choose to listen to that over the insane number of fantastic new death metal releases that come out each month, then I imagine you’re not the type of person who would read this column.
Even so, this made me pause and consider the concept of “generic” songwriting when it comes to death metal, and specifically the old school revival we’ve been enjoying (or decrying) for the last several years. Depending on your vantage point, we’re either in the midst of an OSDM renaissance or oversaturation. Regardless, no one can deny that new bands trying to emulate old sounds are a dime a dozen these days, for better or worse.
Personally, I’m in the “better” camp, but where is the inflection point? When will we see the trajectory of deathcore and djent from the 2000s and 2010s, when labels encouraged a seemingly endless wave of bands essentially copy/pasting the same formula with slight variations? To bring things full circle, when will today’s new-old sound start to hit like Six Feet Under do today: fine, but generic and forgettable.
For some folks, we’re already there; every Xeroxed album cover and caverncore riff collection only serves to embolden their point. On the other hand, there’s a crowd of ardent supporters who feel like they’re being served dessert three meals a day every time they hop onto Bandcamp. So with that, allow me to throw a bone to both sides.
This column is meant to capture a snapshot of everything death metal has to offer each month, from across the subgenre landscape. Behind that is a decent amount of curation, to sift through the “bad“ and “decent” to find truly great releases. For death metal fans entrenched in the current wave, take the opportunity to discover a new melodeath album once in a while, or any other style outside your wheelhouse. And for those that scoff at caverncore, take the time to actually listen to what the trend has to offer. In many ways, it’s simply the genre working in cycles, like every style of music does. Even in the ’90s death metal heyday, you had as many clunkers as you did genre classics. The same can be said for today’s crop, which include plenty of releases worth diving into.
Deadly Discussions: Aseitas
A few years after bursting on the underground death metal scene, False Peace saw Aseitas embrace the spotlight and double down on everything that made their sound great. With a blend of technicality, groove, and dissonance, the band’s unique style of tech death is as dense and complex as it is downright vicious and bludgeoning. I was stoked to chat with the band about their compositional style, the theme running through album and single art, and how they connected with Translation Loss.
You leverage a lot of elements found in modern tech death, but I’ve always loved your groove-centric approach. What influences and stylistic interests helped develop your sound?
Gage Dean (Vocals, Guitar, Bass): Our sound has been developed over nearly a decade of playing and listening to music together – I’d say we take as much from the playbook of extreme metal as we do from jazz, noise, or ambient music. Inspiration can come as anything from a complicated, disgusting breakdown to a meditative drone. Improvisation and playing off one another are both important techniques we incorporate, both as writing tools and as finalized parts. The more “groove-centric” parts of the music usually sprout from when we’re all collaborating in a room together – whereas the more dense and frantic passages are often byproducts of isolated writing, or when Zack [Rodrigues – Drums, MS2000, Percussion, Piano] and I really sink our teeth into an idea.
Your self-titled turned heads in underground metal circles, and your acclaim has only grown with False Peace. What has your journey as a band been like over the last few years?
Gage: It’s been a period of introspection and evolution. Asides from the occasional live show, most of that time was just spent toiling over False Peace. I think we underestimated the enormity of the record – we engineered and mixed it ourselves (like the first album), but this time the process really kicked our asses. We came out of it considerably stronger though. The reaction to both albums has been absolutely unprecedented, and we are endlessly grateful for the enthusiasm and support.
The lineup also underwent some changes – Travis [Forencich – Fretless Guitar, Guitar, Noises] moved out of state to finish school shortly after our self-titled was released, so Jonah [Badden – Guitar] stepped up as our second guitarist. With the amount of different writing input, our roles in the studio were fairly fluid for this record (besides drums and vocals); but since Travis has moved back, we’ve restructured our live lineup. Nathan [Nielson – Vocals, PIPE, Organelle, Lyra-8, Guitar] now just focuses on vocals/noises, while Travis and I split lead guitar/bass duties.
It feels like you set out to take a lot of risks with False Peace, and your ambition really paid off. What were you aiming to achieve with False Peace?
Gage: Our perpetual goal as a band is to outdo ourselves with every new release. False Peace was always intended to be more extreme and refined than its predecessor. It pushed us to our absolute limits as composers and musicians, which now means nothing as the next album is already presenting us with new and welcome challenges.
Besides the music, I loved the roll out for False Peace. I’m a big fan of single-specific artwork, and I thought all the pieces you used are so emblematic of their respective singles. What was your vision for the album art? Did you give Noah any prompts?
Gage: Our artist Noah Cutter Meihoff is an old friend whose artwork we rediscovered right when we started tracking False Peace. All three single covers were pre-existing works of his that we were particularly blown away by. He was pleased to reformat them for our use and it quickly became clear that he was the long-term artist we’d been searching for. As far as the album art goes – in the past we’ve typically given our artists a visual concept to reinterpret, but all we gave Noah for this cover were rough mixes and lyrics. The result speaks for itself.
What was it like signing with Translation Loss? How did that relationship come about?
Gage: Translation Loss reached out to us directly saying that they loved “Scalded”, which was the only track released at the time. It was a huge surprise as we hadn’t contacted any labels about releasing False Peace. We were a little over a month out from the official release, but when we sent TL the full album, they immediately expressed interest in putting it out on vinyl. The timing really couldn’t have been more perfect, as vinyl was the last piece of the puzzle and we were about to order it ourselves; plus, the color variants they came up with are brilliant. We’ve signed on for another two releases with them, one of which is well underway and can be expected next year.
Album of the Year (so far)
Gage: VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel
Zack: Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus
Nathan: Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
Jonah: Evilyn – Inside Shells
Travis: Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
Album of the Decade (2010s)
Gage: Vitriol – To Bathe From the Throat of Cowardice
Zack: The Books – The Way Out
Nathan: Nails – Abandon All Life
Jonah: Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows
Travis: Car Bomb – Meta
Favorite Album of All-Time
Gage: Guided By Voices – Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia
Zack: The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Nathan: “Honestly impossible”
Jonah: The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Travis: Frederick Thordendal’s Special Defects – Sol Niger Within
Album/Artist that Most Influenced You
Gage: Guided By Voices
Zack: Car Bomb (w^w^^w^w)
Nathan: Disfiguring the Goddess (Black Earth Child)
Jonah: Gorguts (From Wisdom to Hate)
Travis: Mike Patton
Cream of the Crop
Skeletal Remains – The Entombment of Chaos
(My sincere apologies for committing the ultimate music journo cliche of starting a glowing recommendation with a confession. But, hey, if the shoe fits, right? Anyhow.) To be perfectly honest, I have to start with the admission that none of Skeletal Remains’ previous outings had yet won me over, and it was only when I saw a few friends and the review of this album by the always-impressive death metal librarian terraasymmetry at grizzlybutts speak of this album’s obvious reverence for some of the most creatively fertile and underappreciated periods in the career of the illustrious and nigh-untouchable Morbid Angel that I decided to give The Entombment of Chaos a listen.
From the very start, Entombment engages in what I would have previously imagined to be an impossible task: reaching into the stars and pulling the work of mid-period Morbid Angel back down to Earth. All of the same blindingly fast polyrhythmic riffs, the slow rolls of scorching power chords over tumbling drums, the comet-streak solos. Holy shit, the solos. You could pretty much swap out any solo on Gateways to Annihilation for something here and I’m not sure I would notice. It’s shocking how much Skeletal Remains have tapped into the same well of creativity that Azagthoth and Rutan were drawing from back in the late 90s. Even more impressively, they’ve come up far from empty-handed; there is a panoply of great ideas on every track on here and at no point does the impression emerge that they were running low on material.
So how do I square the circle of calling Entombment great while remaining convinced that a band like Gruesome is just essentially an elaborate parlor trick? Well, there’s two factors at play there: first, Skeletal Remains have something of a holistic view towards the contributions of Azagthoth et. al.; their sound isn’t necessarily just focused on replicating Covenant or Domination or Gateways to Annihilation as much as it is on understanding the mechanics at play in Morbid Angel’s general riff-writing process and replicating those. Yes, it’s obvious who they’re influenced by, but they’re not aiming to sound like a period in a band’s history, they’re just working from the same base theories of sound. Second, Skeletal Remains are clearly influenced by bands beyond Morbid Angel, which is obvious from the fact that, well, they have other records that don’t sound nearly as much like those Tampa juggernauts. Even on Entombment, not everything is all Trey, all the time; there’s a clear reverence for the salad days work of Gorguts and some kill riffs that are only traceable to the Swedish camp. (Also, there’s a Disincarnate cover, and that’s a band that just isn’t Morbid Angel.)
I’d place Skeletal Remains firmly in the same camp as compatriots Necrot and Vastum: the emphasis is placed not on any sort of novelty factor or innovative approach to the genre, but on taking a long, hard, critical look at the classics and finding opportunities for pruning and grafting that elevate what would constitute mere worship from lesser acts into something decidedly timeless. Sure, Skeletal Remains wear their influences in the most obvious of manners here – not so much on their sleeve as on a giant flashing neon sign over their heads – but their clear reverence for the work of 1993-2000 Morbid Angel is only an augmentation to the phenomenal songwriting chops they display all over Entombment. This record is classic death metal par excellence. If you don’t like The Entombment of Chaos, you probably just don’t like death metal.
Best of the Rest
Carnation – Where Death Lies
I love it when great young death metal bands don’t miss a beat with their sophomore effort. The concept of a sophomore slump in general is a bit unfair, since it largely has to do with external pressure and hype than solely what a band does or doesn’t do on their second go around. Thankfully, there’s no stumbling to be found on Where Death Lies, yet another punishing crop of death metal from Belgium’s Carnation. I raved about their debut Chapel of Abhorrence back in 2018, and the band’s follow up only expands upon everything that made their debut a highlight from the year.
Belgium isn’t really close enough to Sweden for me to label Carnation after the country’s non-Gothenburg scene. But nonetheless, the sonic comparison carries where the geographic parallels don’t. Carnation draw from the traditions of Carnage and Dismember to craft some savage, driving death metal that isn’t afraid to throw in a blast beat when the moment calls for it. On Where Death Lies, there music feels leaner and meaner than ever, galloping through violent bouts of death metal with ease and relative finesse.
The unifying force behind all of this is vocalist Simon Duson, who delivers one of the most intense, commanding vocal performances I’ve heard on a death metal record this year. He takes each track to another level with his full-throated roars, which somehow manage to remain deep and guttural without losing clarity. It’s the kind of rage any good death metal record needs, and it serves as the cherry on top of an incredibly successful sophomore outing.
Cult of Lilith – Mara
When one thinks of metal from Iceland, it’s understandable for minds to focus on one particular genre. Black metal, with all of its icy goodness, dominates the metal scene in Iceland with an iron blade, and has churned out some of the best music in the genre over the past several years (Sinmara, Misþyrming, Wormlust, Svartidauði, the list goes on and on). But rarely do I hear quality death metal from the small island nation. Which makes Cult of Lilith somewhat anomalous in their scene of Reykjavik. But if their debut full-length Mara is any indication, they will be an institution in the metal scene in Iceland for years to come. Balancing the thrumming intensity of progressive deathcore with a symphonic take on melodic death metal, Mara is a triumph of style and execution that eclipses most of the records released in these subgenres this year.
Fans of the band’s 2016 EP Arkanum have been waiting patiently for the band’s first full-length to drop, and thankfully it does not disappoint. If you wanted to see the band double down on both sonic diversity and sheer death metal intensity, Mara is mana from heaven. Opening track “Cosmic Maelstrom” kicks things off with a harpsichord that could fit well on an Igorrr record, only to combust into a death metal tirade that reminds me of peak The Black Dahlia Murder or even a slightly-less-technical Necrophagist, vacillating all the while between dramatic operatic vocals and nearly deathcore growls. It’s a disorienting combination that only becomes more appealing as the track and record proceeds.
From the get-go, it’s clear that Cult of Lilith are pulling in influence from across the extreme metal spectrum. “Purple Tide” feels like a mix between synth-heavy 1980s heavy metal and progressive rock era Opeth, while “Atlas” and album closer “Le Soupir Du Fantome” reach the dramatic heights of Fleshgod Apocalypse or Septicflesh. It’s an almost overwhelming bag of recognizable motifs, but one of the principal factors of this album’s success is that it never allows its influences to overshadow its uniqueness. While there are certainly plenty of influences to hang one’s hat on, never does Mara feel like a simple retread of better ideas. Cult of Lilith are defining their own voice, and by bringing these disparate elements together in such a complete and cohesive package they have set a strong foundation for all of their future work.
If you like any of the bands mentioned above, there’s a high likelihood that Mara will be a record you relish. Iceland may be dominated by its black metal scene, but if the melodic death metal of Cult of Lilith is any indication, we may be on the cusp of another branch of metal breaking out into a much more visible influence. Mara is fun as hell, and I can easily and strongly recommend it to fans of the more symphonic side of death metal.
Madrost – Charring the Rotting Earth
There’s nothing I love more than a well-rounded death metal album; the kind of release that makes you name drop a slew of adjacent but distinct bands as points of comparison. That process whirred in my head during my first playthrough of Charring the Rotting Earth, which has easily become one of my favorite death metal releases of the year. Is it more a blend of Death and Morbid Angel? Or for a contemporary example, Revocation and Decapitated (minus the criminality)? Whatever formula Madriost had in mind, it produced one of the most exceptional releases from the genre so far this year.
Similar to Revocation, what Madrost achieve so well is a blend of technical death and thrash metal, so much so that the examples of each style flow together seamlessly on Charring. In general, old school tech death was essentially “more aggressive thrash,” an approach Madrost embrace wholeheartedly. You have double kick rolls, dueling guitar harmonies, and straight up shredding riffs all working together in harmony, all while snarling vocals roar over the top. Each new track absolutely launches into being, and while some albums flow together naturally during a full listen, each new song on Charring forced me to sit up in my seat and pay attention as soon as the initial hook kicked in.
Not only is Charring well worth your time, I genuinely think this is an essential listen for 2020. On top of everything I just mentioned, the band even manages to perfectly incorporate keyboards into the mix, courtesy of Sam Meador from Xanthochroid. If you’re looking for dynamic, thrashy death metal bursting with energy, then I’m not sure why you haven’t already pressed play on the player below.
Proscription – Conduit
Excommunion’s Thronosis blew a hole through my brain back in 2017, and is an album that I still make journeys through to this day. Featuring founding members of bands like Maveth, Bestia Arcana, and Akhlys isn’t too paltry a pedigree for a death metal band, and to be frank most of the work that Terry “Christbutcher” Clark and Naas Alcameth have touched is pure gold. Knowing that the former was back at the helm for the debut record of his new band Proscription, I was pretty hyped to hear the results. Thankfully, they were very far from disappointing.
As is the custom with much of Clark’s work, the supporting cast on Conduit is nothing but exceptional. Members of Lantern, The Lifted Veil, and Sacrificium Carmen join in to create what is without question one of the most effective and harrowing blackened death metal records of the year. Dripping with atmosphere, insane amounts of aggression, and a metal veteran’s ear for unexpectedly catchy riffs, Conduit is a veritable feast for those who like their death metal oppressively dark with a side of black.
In a similar vein to bands like Desolate Shrine and Ascended Dead, the atmosphere of Conduit is as central to its identity as the technical execution of its musicians. Here, Proscription excels. Opening taster “Four Wings Within the Samiel” is a near-perfect kick-off, unfurling an orchestral intro wrapped in a forlorn darkness that sets the tone for the album in sublime fashion. For those who aren’t fans of dark instrumental introductions to records, you only need to wait about a minute for the sick riffs to kick in.
“I, The Burning Son” is an absolute banger from start to finish, and one of my favorite death metal tracks I’ve heard this year. Clark’s riff building here is that of a seasoned master, letting the best bits linger for just the right amount of time while building a main throughline that easily allows for arching solos and infernal drum blasts to weave in and out with ease. It’s this kind of songwriting maturity that permeates the record, culminating in an epic balance of moments of euphoric blackened death metal mastery (“Thy Nimbus Gate”) and straightforward audio violence (“Conduit”) that hit with equal ferocity and effectiveness. It’s blackened death metal done right from start to finish.
It’s always a beautiful thing when hype matches reality, and I’m happy to say that Conduit is every bit as good as the sum of its collective parts. If this is the dawning of a new long-term project for Christbutcher, count me all the way in. Conduit is one of if not the single best album in its particular branch of the death metal world that I’ve heard this year, and like Thronosis I expect I’ll be listening to it for years to come.
Sacrificer – Live From The End of the World
Are you ready for a blast from the not-so-distant past? I’m sure more than a few of you on this blog (who will vehemently deny it, of course) went through a similar trajectory of traveling up the dual paths of “true” death metal and the Myspace-era explosion of deathcore and adjacent acts as a teenager. Despite many claiming the contrary, 2005-2010 became a vital component in the evolution of death metal as a whole. The experimentation of young bands queering the genre (literally and figuratively) alongside hardcore musicians starting to dip their toes created some of the most enduringly unique records in the past twenty years. Many of those hardcore and early deathcore adherents naturally came full circle as they grew older, settling in to write “truer” death metal once the 2-inch plugs came out. Enter Sacrificer.
The Portland trio, composed of members from I Declare War, American Me, and Those Who Lie Beneath have released a “live” album as both a middle finger to COVID and to act as a comprehensive primer to their material. There is nothing technically new on this record, as it features re-recorded tracks from their first two EPs. The set was performed live in July (with bass being added to the mix later) and sounds just as good, if not better, than their actual studio material. Vocalist Jamie Hanks is a well known quantity in the world of deathcore, being a man often imitated and rarely matched. His blended tone, mixing the brutality of sweltering death growls with the diaphragm-pounding, urgent staccato of hardcore performance was celebrated as the pinnacle of the deathcore vocal sound in its heyday. While it sounds great in the studio, this style is much better suited to live performance, and Hanks absolutely nails the delivery across the entire recording.
Musically, Sacrificer are a tightrope act along the line separating death from core. The majority of the material would slot seamlessly into the catalogue of bands they were likely listening to when they started their own first bands: Bloodbath, Aborted, The Black Dahlia Murder, Hate Eternal, and the like. There are also clear allusions to the cult Myspace classic that could have changed the world had they stayed together, At The Throne of Judgment — especially on tracks like album opener “Fatal Circle”. The riffs are tight, dynamic, and will you to windmill against your better discretion. There are also a fair share of breakdowns, as to be expected, but they aren’t nearly as prevalent or prolonged as one might assume from the veterans of the bygone scene. To Sacrificer, it is a clear tempered approach balancing the breakneck speed with the natural inclination to drop the momentum off a cliff into mosh territory, and it’s a happy medium they wield with precision.
Whether you’re a true death metal supplicant or a wayfarer from a forgotten era only discussed in hushed whispers, Sacrificer have something for everyone. This is pure, clean-cut, no-frills brutality, with better live production than the majority of current OSDM revivalists have on a studio engineered record. I urge you to heed Scott’s plea in The Dirge and take some time to explore bands a little bit outside your wheelhouse on this one. You won’t be disappointed.