I’m hard pressed to think of a better time for death metal ruination than during an election cycle. Tensions run insanely high, anger seethes, and the need for healthy outlets for explosions of emotion and primal rage run at an unusually high level. Thankfully, the Death’s Door gang is here to meet your every demand. We live to serve.
October was an absolutely fantastic month for death metal. In my estimation, the spookiest month perennially tends to be a time period where death metal unleashes some of its finest offerings of the year, and 2020 proved to be no exception. There are multiple entries in this month’s edition that I feel very strongly about and many that will make their way onto most of our year-end lists. It was a good month for death metal.
In addition to our coverage of kick-ass records that dropped this week, we will take a look into a regional scene that has been rocking the death metal world for the past several years, as well as an interview with one of its most vicious practitioners.
So join us as we vent our rage at the system, life, the universe, and everything. Let’s go.
The Dirge: Death in Denver
Given the universal appeal of extreme music, it has always struck me as curious that so many individual pockets of style and sound exist within each of metal’s rotting branches. Take, for example, the historical and contemporaneous differences between black metal from Norway or the US, or death metal from Florida and its counterpart in the upper reaches of the east coast. While the foundational aspects of the music may remain the same, there are flavorful distinctions between scenes and regions that are both easily recognizable to the attuned ear and, in my completely subjective opinion, essential to the reach, health, and growth of a brand of music. These specific sounds are often the breeding grounds for new directions and perspectives in what can often become a tired list of tropes, and the metal world is better off for them. But there are some scenes that, for a host of different reasons, produce an insane amount of high quality bands that don’t necessarily adhere to a stylistic consistency. One of those scenes will be the focus of this section of Death’s Door.
It’s hard to have a conversation about relevant death metal and not include the monster that Denver, Colorado’s scene has become. Since the early 2010s, Denver’s metal scene has experienced an explosion of growth and influence that few regions both within the United States and globally can rival (with Icelandic black metal being a notable and amazing exception). There are literally dozens of bands that have laid down their roots in the grime of doom and sludge (Primitive Man, Green Druid, In the Company of Serpents, Khemmis, The Munsens, The Flight of Sleipnir, etc.), the ethereal vibes of progressive metal (Dreadnought), or the western-infused stylings of Colorado black metal (Wayfarer, Cobalt) and thrash (Havok). But with all of the influential bands and styles that dominate the Denver scene, there are few that have had as wide and powerful a reach on their genre than the city’s death metal bands, led with gusto and an appropriate amount of strangeness by the dudes in Blood Incantation.
You don’t start a conversation about this scene without first mentioning these titans of the cosmic strange. Releasing their first full-length record, the now legendary Starspawn, in 2016, and with demo and EP material spanning from back in 2013, there is arguably no single band that has had a more direct and powerful influence on their style of music. Which is certainly saying something, given the magnitude of success experienced by Khemmis, Primitive Man, and Dreadnought in particular. Showered with accolades and an unofficial coronation as the best death metal band on the planet (I’d say that claim is highly debatable, but I’m pretty biased), they have served as the cornerstone of denver death metal which includes such excellent acts as Allegaeon, Vale of Pnath, Glacial Tomb, Noctambulist, Necropanther, Spectral Voice (which shares almost all of its members with BI), and Of Feather and Bone, whom we will discuss more in a bit. It’s a diverse and powerful scene that mixes doom, technical, progressive, and old school elements into a boiling stew of death metal goodness that is shockingly free of a distinct identity. This both serves as one of Denver’s unique attributes and also one of its strengths.
There are a plethora of reasons that can be pointed to regarding why Denver’s metal scene is so diverse and lacks a uniform sonic identity. Some of the most potent explanations can be attributed to the layout of the city and state themselves, which have seen rapid growth and explosive cultural change over that past decade. According to the Denver Post, the city’s population has grown by 21% since 2010, making it a much more densely populated area and a more influential breeding ground for creative and artistic expression due to an influx of transplants to the city. Additionally, the legalization of recreational marijuana consumption in 2012 directly coincides with this explosion in population, and coupled with a tech boom that persists to today has made Colorado’s capital city a haven for business and general transplant relocation. All of these elements have congealed to make the city of Denver and the state of Colorado in general a delicious blend of artistic expressions that make the extreme music scene both incredibly diverse and infused with an influential reach that many cities’ music scenes do not possess. It’s a great time to be a Coloradan and lover of extreme metal (both of which I consider myself with pride).
But infusions of new and exciting talent are only as impactful as their music, and without significant longevity most of the above mentioned Denver and Colorado bands will fade quickly into obscurity, taking one of the nation’s most exciting scenes with it. Thankfully, newer bands to the scene, like the aforementioned Of Feather and Bone, are paving the way for continued success of the death metal scene through sheer power of will. The band’s latest album, Sulfuric Disintegration (which I am reviewing for this month’s drop), is without question the best thing they’ve released, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite death metal releases of the year. Alvino Salcedo, lead guitarist and vocalist for the band, chatted with us about this release, the impact of COVID-19 on their recording process, and the influence of the Denver scene on their music in our interview below. While the Denver scene may have an amebeous identity, it’s bands like Of Feather and Bone that give great assurance of its continued relevance. Enjoy!
Deadly Discussions: Of Feather and Bone
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us! We’ve been fans for a good while and are incredibly excited about your new record. For those who may be unfamiliar with the band, would you mind giving us some background? Who is Of Feather and Bone, and how did the band come to be?
Thanks a lot. We worked incredibly hard on this record and thanks for checking it out.
We are a three piece death metal band from Denver, CO. We started this band in 2011 and since then we have released a lot of material and have been on the road relentlessly. What we consider to be the catalyst for the current incarnation of Of Feather and Bone would be the self- release of the “Pious Abnormality” demo from 2016. That was when we finally coagulated into what we truly are and where we wanted to be. Everything prior is dead and buried and cannot nor will not ever be exhumed again. We released our first full length for Profound Lore in 2018, “Bestial Hymns of Perversion”. Alongside that release we did a US tour with Tomb Mold and a European Tour around Killtown Deathfest with Tomb Mold and Ritual Necromancy. After returning home from that tour we started the preliminary writing for “Sulfuric Disintegration” and completed everything during quarantine and recorded the album in July of 2020.
Given the relatively extraordinary times that we live in, I’m curious to hear more about the recording of your third and latest full-length record Sulfuric Disintegration. With constraints on space, travel, and other significant factors to the recording process, how did the recording of this album differ from that of your previous work?
When the first wave hit, we took some time away from one another to see where the world was going. At that point some skeletons of the songs had been created but nothing finite. We sat down together to discuss if we should hold off on finishing the record with keeping in mind that touring was probably out of the equation for the foreseeable future. After some debate, we decided to trudge forward and finish the record. We were originally set to fly to the east coast and record the album in Philadelphia with Arthur Rizk and then play a fest in the NYC the following weekend. Up until a month before our deadline, we decided it would be best to stay in Denver and track locally and have Arthur mix and master remotely. We turned to our friend Ben Romsdahl at Juggernaut Audio. Me and him had gone to school together and known each other from shows. We commenced practicing twice to three times a week to prepare. During that time, all any of us did was go to our jobs and practice. So we all felt pretty safe being around one another. As July approached we went into the studio and recorded the record in 6 days. Not much was too different from previous recordings. We all take time away from life to solely work on the record when we’re in the studio usually, so that all felt very natural. The only uncertainties that arose that were new to us were when was the record actually going to release and what would the state of the world look like at that time.
Let’s talk about the music on your new record. Anyone familiar with Of Feather and Bone knows that you approach death metal from a fairly grind-influenced and exceedingly harsh lens, but to my ears Sulfuric Disintegration ups the sonic violence in every way. What factors influenced your songwriting on this record? Did any particular bands or records serve as sonic or stylistic influences?
When we approached the thought of writing the follow up to BHOP, we took some different ideas and constructive criticisms we had about that record. A little more attention to tempo changes and vocal approach were my main focus. But as always, when naturally writing, keeping the onslaught of blasts and unrelenting punishment was starkly and obviously present. We can’t deny what we’ve always done and how we do it. The main different influence on this record for myself since I can’t speak on behalf of DG and PW; is some old school influence moving away from Sweden and other death metal classics and honing in a little more on black metal and thrash. Bands like Bathory, Mayhem, Sodom, Mercyful Fate, and Slayer were on constant rotation for myself as I tried to contribute rhythms and ideas and vocals to the writing process. We didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a band that can only do OSDM and nothing else. We’re a versatile band with diverse backgrounds in music so we always set out with the one goal of playing and writing the music we would want to listen to. With that said, old school death metal and newer bands will always be with us in regards to what we listen to but never really turn to for direct influence, except for maybe Morbid Angel, haha.
Being a native of Denver, I’ve been privileged to see the city’s metal community (and particularly its death metal scene) explode over the past decade. What is your take on the health of both death metal and extreme music at large in the city, and how has this community impacted your music?
Denver is where we’re all from. We’ve seen the landscape of music change and evolve from venue to venue, band to band and promoter to promoter. It’s all we know. I credit the influx of creatives and upsurge of the quality of bands to a lot of transplants moving here. They brought their experiences and visions to the city and found others and created projects. Without them and us, our city would still be unknown and no one would look to here for any sort of heavy music Renaissance. I believe the bands we have currently are strong and diverse from one another. No two are completely alike. Which is something I love to see. The only downfall I currently see is not a lot of growth from newer younger bands that need to be present to help enrich the shows and scene. We all can only play so much in our city before we and others get burnt out. The younger newer bands are necessary to keep the wheels of the apparatus moving. So hopefully during all of this, there’s a bunch of kids sitting at home writing the next best Denver demo.
I saw you open for Oathbreaker at the Marquis back in 2017. Your set was hellacious, and I was incredibly impressed by the intensity you brought to the stage. 2020 has obviously changed a lot about how we consume music on a general level, not to mention how and where it’s performed. Apologies for another multi-part question, but how do you feel that the current crisis has impacted the music industry and its future? What has the band learned during this particularly trying time?
That show was cathartic for me. I don’t know how the other guys felt. But that was the set where we played any material prior to 2016 for the last time and laid it to rest. It felt like the chains of the past eroded away for me and we could start the evolution into what this band was always meant to be.
As for the current climate; I think it’s a solid test of all of us who tour, book, promote, etc etc. The same structure for what we do has always been applied: write->record->promote->release->tour->wash and repeat. With that all sent through a loop, bands have had to stay creative and show who truly has this and who doesn’t, which if this carries on for longer, who will outlast and who will still be here. Props to anyone who has found a way to maintain a following and stay relevant. It’s not easy. For us, virtual shows and streams is not us. When we play live we leave you wondering why you didn’t really care to watch us but then sit at home and wonder why you ever slept on us. That intensity is only captured in the most visceral setting with our true emotion and adrenaline. Anything else is a simulation and void of sincerity for us. With that said, we wrote and released a record because if the world ends tomorrow, at least these songs are out in the world to be what they need to be. All we’ve learned from this as a band is that we have solidified that we will continue to do what we’ve always done; write the music we want to regardless of the expectation. We’ll keep writing and recording and when we can play and tour again it’ll be time to do what we do best.
After the release of Sulfuric Disintegration, what’s next for the band? What should we keep on our radar?
After the release, we will resume writing again. A demo, split, full length? We don’t know yet. We’re just gonna let the writing session happen naturally and see what comes from it all. But regardless, expect more music next year.
Rapid Fire Round
What’s your favorite album of 2020 so far?
Atramentus – Stygian. The funeral doom album I didn’t know I needed in my life.
What is your favorite album of the decade?
Swallowed – Lunarterial
What is your favorite album of all time?
At this moment in time; Slayer – Hell Awaits
Cephalic Carnage – Anomalies
Given the love given to Denver and its many metal bands in this month’s column, there’s no greater band to highlight in this section than the band that (arguably) started it all for the Denver extreme music scene: Cephalic Carnage. Founded in 1992 during what many consider to be the peak of death metal’s most significant surge of classic material, Cephalic Carnage infused their death metal with a hefty helping of grindcore, which was taking off at this point in the metal world thanks to the work of bands like Napalm Death and Carcass. While their first two albums, Conforming to Abnormality and Exploiting Dysfunction, are not what I would consider genre classics, their work from 2002 onward can easily be considered some of the most creative and consistently excellent death-grind put to tape. Their masterpiece, Anomalies, slapped 2005 with the band’s most nuanced and punishing work yet, cementing their reputation as one of the most important grindcore acts of the new millennium.
The above referenced bands are a good starting point when thinking about sonic comparisons, but quite encapsulate the sonic strangeness employed to scintillating effect by Cephalic Carnage. Particularly in Anomalies, the band presents listeners with a sequence of tracks that bend and contort the standard subgenre tropes of death-grind into a far more experimental and engaging effort that feels deeply emblematic of the experimentation that has made Denver’s metal scene so diverse and engaging. Rather than focusing on the staccato bursts of abject sonic violence that made up the trademark sound of most grind bands, Cephalic Carnage were notoriously unafraid to spread their songwriting wings and write compositions that not only incorporated a significant amount of variance in style but also bent the rules of traditional grind song lengths. Give their discography a quick scan and you’ll find tracks that clock in between five and 10 minutes regularly popping up. Stretching the borders of what grind-influenced music was always known as and expected to be, Cephalic Carnage used Anomalies to stake their claim as true grind pioneers, and as a group completely unafraid to mess with convention and tradition.
Anomalies kicks things off right away with “Scientific Remote Viewing”, presenting an absolutely blistering opening salvo of death-grind aggression that should please fans of Beaten to Death’s more punishing work. There’s just enough off-kilter melody included to keep the proceedings from feeling like nothing more than a wall of noise (though it certainly is that), which is throughout the record one of Cephalic Carnage’s principal strengths. The punishment they deal always comes with a heaping plate of catchiness, and this penchant becomes even clearer as the album progresses. “Wraith” utilizes many of the same elements present in the album’s opening track, but takes them a step further with the inclusion of progressive metal elements that add distinct flavor and color to an otherwise thoroughly punishing track. After two blistering affairs, the mid-tempo death march of “Counting the Days” comes almost as a relief, but by its end serves up plenty of audio punishment. Three tracks in and Cephalic Carnage have combined definitive elements of death, grind, and progressive metal into a brooding stew of unpredictable and thrilling music. Things only get more strange and wonderful from there.
Of all the tracks covered so far, none present quite as thorough a left-turn as “Piecemaker”. Opening with a doomy desert rock swagger that could fit nicely on a Kyuss record, this cut is also the longest of the record so far. Vocalist Leonard Leal delivers his most diverse performance on Anomalies, channeling the militant bark of Barney Greenway interspersed with some thoroughly disgusting growls for a unique mixture of punk aesthetics and death metal brutality. Tracks like “Dying Will Be the Death of Me” and “Inside Is Out” only further accentuate the band’s incredibly diverse range, melding finally into the nearly 10 minute opus of a finale, “Ontogeny of Behavior”, which dirges with a spacey weirdness that feels both completely foreign to the rest of the album yet also perfectly fitting as its unexpected end.
There are few records in the death-grind world that cover as much sonic ground as Anomalies. Cephalic Carnage are an entity, a sound, a little subgenre all to themselves. Contorting and morphing death-grind into something thoroughly intoxicating and incredibly weird, Anomalies is in my mind their most successful and accessible iteration of their very peculiar brand of extreme metal, and one of the most diverse and entertaining albums the subgenre has to offer. If you are looking for an album that exemplifies the diversity and sonically inclusive nature of Denver’s metal scene, let Cephalic Carnage and Anomalies serve as your gateway to a truly unique and incredible slice of weird.
Cream of the Crop
Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind
As anyone who reads this column regularly is aware, the past decade brought with it a renaissance of quality death metal that hadn’t been seen since the early 1990s. Bands like Necrot, Gatecreeper, Tomb Mold, Blood Incantation, Horrendous, Revocation, and a veritable host of others brought death metal back to a public recognition that hadn’t been seen since US senators were pulling lyrics from Cannibal Corpse records to show evidence of the satanic descent of America’s youth. There has been a near-constant churn of new bands creating great death metal over this time as well, with bands like Vitriol taking the genre back to its most primal and vicious basics. Death metal is in as healthy a place as it has ever been in, and the hits just keep on coming. In a long line of incredible records and bands in this revival, we can safely and securely place New York’s Undeath among the most hallowed ranks of the old school death metal revival. Their debut album, Lesions of a Different Kind, is a beast that’s worth your time and attention.
Which is quite honestly a feat, given the insane amount of hype circulating around this band since early last year. Following a stream of demos, splits, and compilation recordings, there isn’t a death metal band in the scene that had as much hype surrounding it as Undeath. Reminiscent of the rabid following Tomb Mold gained after the release of their debut record, it was a bit hard for me to imagine Undeath living up to such lofty expectations before even dropping their first salvo of full-length material. It’s remarkable, given these circumstances, that Lesions of a Different Kind meets and in many ways exceeds those expectations. For those who love their death metal in the old school vein ala Outer Heaven, there are very few aspects of Lesions that you won’t love. The guitar tone is thick and absolutely filthy, and the riffs follow suit, boiling up a putrid stew of death metal nastiness that’s nearly impossible to resist for devotees. Taking opener “Suitable Hacked to Gore” as a generalized example of Undeath’s stylistic bent is a fairly good decision, as this track offers up a plate of OSDM goodness that bleeds over to the rest of the record. If this track suits your fancy, prepare to absolutely love the rest of this record. There’s a whole lot more where that came from.
There isn’t a whole lot of diversity on Lesions of a Different Kind, and quite frankly there doesn’t need to be. This is high octane, premium grade, exceptionally filthy death metal that is exactly what it is and makes no exceptions or compromises. On this level it works absolutely brilliantly, and is without question one of the best death metal debuts to drop this year and in some time. If you like your death metal basted in blood and served with a heaping side of dismembered body parts, Lesions of a Different Kind serves up the exact platter you’ve been yearning for in 2020. A fantastically depraved and ugly release.
Best of the Rest
Ceremonial Bloodbath – The Tides of Blood
Why do certain genres “have” to sound terrible? Specifically in the broader death metal realm, why does war metal have to sound like a mix of the unflattering elements that define lo-fi grindcore and raw black metal? Every production and compositional style has its place, of course, and some bands end up neutering the impact of their music with an overly pristine sound. But by and large, a lot of war metal operates like a high-speed roller coaster on a rusty track, which launches out of the gate only to gradually screech to a disappointing halt. All the aggression and speed ultilly rings hollow because the production homogenizes the impact.
Now, we could have an extensive debate on this topic, or whether “war metal” fits in a death metal column or more so on the “bestial black metal” end of the spectrum. But I’m much more interested in talking about everything Ceremonial Bloodbath excel at on The Tides of Blood. Call them war metal or blackened caverncore or whatever floats your boat; bottom line, these guys absolutely pulverize their instruments from start to finish every track. In doing so, they manage to avoid all the pitfalls of raw, abrasive black/death metal, achieving clarity without sacrificing quality.
As you probably guessed, a key component of this is the album’s production. Instead of a buzzsaw scraping over scraps of sheet metal, you can decipher everything the band is bringing to the table. More importantly, that they have to offer is far more dynamic and memorable than the vast majority of war metal adjacent offerings, with coherent, crushing riffs and varied drumming that prop up the exact style of unhinged roaring you’d expect from the vocals.
This manifests most prominently in the latter half of the album with a trio of extended, epic compositions. “Hammer Throne,” “Seven Wells,” and an eponymous track blend elements of dissonance, death-doom, and war metal ferocity that unfold over 7+ minute romps. In a way, the band sounds like Of Feather and Bone biting and clawing their way out of Portal’s vexovoid. It’s the perfect, intense finale for an album full of unrestrained abrasion, which should hopefully prompt war metal bands to rethink the necessity to forgo coherent production. Turns out, hearing what’s going on can be pretty neat!
Gorephilia – In the Eye of Nothing
Finnish stalwarts Gorephilia are a weird and tough band to write about in a venue like this: their sound is so primed to appeal to exactly the sort of cassette rack-plundering death metal archaeologists that certainly already know of the band that it’s tough to find ways to discuss them that straddle the line between accurately describing what makes them special and not losing relative newcomers in a panoply of unfamiliar references. That is to say, there’s a certain if-you-know-you-know side to Gorephilia that is infinitely exciting to those who do know but might leave those who don’t not understanding the group’s appeal without digging quite deep. That is to say: if you’re one of those folks who isn’t as hip to the more archival tendencies within death metal, I urge you to listen to Gorephilia until it clicks, because man, once they do, these guys are phenomenal.
At the most basic level of description, Gorephilia operate in the niche-but-growing territory where bands are fusing compatible strains of old-school Finnish death metal with the more popular (but no less experimental) American coastal death metal scenes of the early ‘90s. Think the thrash-inundated cracked whip riffs of Covenant-era Morbid Angel and their polyrhythmic hammer swings on Domination and Gateways to Annihilation mixed with the incendiary pummelings and bilious effluvia of Demigod and Rippikoulu and you’re on the right track. What elevates Gorephilia above their peers in this realm, though, is indubitably their mastery of tempo control: each riff is locked in at exactly the place it needs to be for maximum effect, crescendos come at the precise time they should, and each shift in speed from churning blasts of heat to swampy doom-murk (or vice versa) is perfectly demarcated. Although there isn’t much flair to his playing, Kauko Kuusisalo’s drumming on this record is particularly noteworthy, as he controls the tempo changes and accompanies the guitars with the expertise of a master craftsman. In the Eye of Nothing is a clinic for death metal drumming.
Even though their songwriting prowess is remarkable, In the Eye of Nothing’s biggest strength is in the unparalleled immersion Gorephilia bring to the table. This isn’t a novel factor for them – both Embodiment of Death and Severed Monolith were outstanding in this regard – but Eye truly ups the ante. It’s impossible to listen to this record and not get swept up in the anticosmic maelstrom of sound that Gorephilia create across the forty minutes and change here, which is an appreciably rare feat for death metal that is ostensibly old-school. The production certainly doesn’t hurt here; despite sounding raw and organic, the instrumentation is clear and omnidirectional. It’s easy to luxuriate in the audioscapes Gorephilia create, and once you’re in, it’s nigh impossible to get back out until In the Eye of Nothing is over.
Ultimately, the difficulty of recommending Gorephilia lies in the fact that everything that makes them special is tougher for non-aficionados to appreciate. However, this also lends them a special beauty, as I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know enough death metal lore to fully love Gorephilia could withstand the siren song of grave-robbing for long. If you’re an archivist, you know why you should listen to this already. If you’re not, let Gorephilia be your fantastic gateway to this world and let your appreciation of this stellar album unfold over time.
Wombripper – Macabre Melodies
As I sink deeper beneath the crushing, fuzzed-out, cavernous tsunami of OSDM revival waves, I cry out in anguish for someone to throw me a life jacket before I’m lost forever, never to return to the genre again. “I just need one,” I say, “just one single act to give me what I’ve been waiting for. Someone to distinguish themselves from the rest!” And finally, there among the turbulent seas, hope reveals itself in the form of Russian swedeath trio Wombripper to deliver me unto my salvation.
That salvation is, of course, some tasty fucking mid-90s proto-melodeath, which has been conspicuously absent in the uprising of bands clambering over each other to sound like Morbid Angel and Incantation. It’s been a long time since we got some earnest, honest-to-goodness At The Gates or early Soilwork worship, and buddy, it is long overdue. With Macabre Melodies, Wombripper have ripped open a tear in the fabric of space and time to prodigiously ransack the legendary Gothenburg scene, stealing away with all of its tasty riffs, thrash beats, and ostentatious soloing, leaving all the boring melodic bits for the birds. There is, expectedly, a good deal of Entombed threaded throughout as well, giving Wombripper that mordant edge that marries them, even just tangentially, to the greater OSDM revival scene at large.
While noticeably less pustular than their counterparts, Wombripper are pound for pound just as heavy and grimy. Tracks like “Devastation Into Waste” and “Already Dead” prove they can gravewalk with the big boys, hurtling through razor-sharp blast passages just to drop into dirty downtempo charnel riffs that turn you into a sneering knuckledragger against your will. In fact, the whole back half of the album relinquishes almost all pretense, sloughing away the showy, thrashy elements to play in the filth of doomy brutality before bringing it all full circle again on big album finisher “Fractures”.
I can honestly say I haven’t had this much fun with an OSDM release possibly ever. It’s just the right blend of the Gothenburg nostalgia I’ve been craving with enough modern revival mechanics to make it a surefire crowd pleaser to anyone with an ear for death metal. Macabre Melodies will be finding a happy home on my year-end list.