We have returned, fellow heathens! Fill your favorite chalice and pull up a bone throne; it’s good to be back. While conventional wisdom says that new releases slow down come December and pick back up in the spring, that certainly hasn’t been the case for death metal so far this year. We have a ton of excellent new music to get to, after we take a look back at 1991 and Immolation’s Here In After. Grab a torch and prepare to descend!
The Dirge: Marking the 30th Anniversary of Death Metal’s Breakout Year
Where were you in 1991? I was three years removed from existence, but in an alternate universe, I’d like to think I was listening to an insane crop of new death metal. I mean, let’s just take a moment to revel in the classics the year gifted us:
- Asphyx – The Rack
- Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
- Autopsy – Mental Funeral
- Bolt Thrower – War Master
- Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious
- Convulse – World Without God
- Darkthrone – Soulside Journey
- Death – Human
- Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream
- Entombed – Clandestine
- Funebre – Children of the Scorn
- Gorguts – Considered Dead
- Grave – Into the Grave
- Immolation – Dawn of Possession
- Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments
- Massacre – From Beyond
- Master – On the Seventh Day God Created… Master
- Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick
- Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients
- Ripping Corpse – Dreaming With the Dead
- Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
- Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
What. The. FUCK. I’ve long held the controversial belief (in my view) that 1991 is the most important, well-rounded year in the early history of death metal. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Let’s start with the ’80s. Rate Your Music doesn’t even list any death metal releases before ’84, when Poison (no, not that Poison) released their raw, blackened, thrashy maelstrom Sons of Evil. A year later, we have Possessed’s seminal Seven Churches, as well as a split between Sepultura and Overdose. Then in ’86, Possessed followed up with Beyond the Gates, Sepultura dropped Morbid Visions, and Morbid Angel released their death/thrash debut on Abominations of Desolation. With ’87, Death finally comes to the table with Scream Bloody Gore, kicking off an insane run that featured Leprosy (’88), Spiritual Healing (’90), and of course, Human (’91). Also, shout out to the crusty grind on Bolt Thrower’s In Battle There Is No Law! (’88).
Clearly, from ’84 to ’88, we had some foundational death metal releases but not a torrent of bands in the genre. That started to change in ’89 and ’90, when the floodgates truly burst open thanks to some of the biggest names in the genre. The genre closed out the ’80s with classics from Morbid Angel (Altars of Madness), Pestilence (Consuming Impulse), Autopsy (Severed Survival), Terrorizer (World Downfall), Bolt Thrower (Realm of Chaos), Carcass (Symphonies of Sickness), and Obituary (Slowly We Rot).
The ’90s then started out with a bang, thanks to groundbreaking releases from Entombed (Left Hand Path), Atheist (Piece of Time), Obituary (Cause of Death), Nocturnus (The Key), Carnage (Dark Recollections), Deicide (Deicide), Napalm Death (Harmony Corruption), Winter (Into Darkness), Master (Master), Cannibal Corpse (Eaten Back to Life), and Paradise Lost (Lost Paradise). Let me know if I forgot any in the comments, but I think I’ve made my point (and filled enough space with band and album names).
Let’s review. If I play devil’s advocate, you could arguably make a case for ’89, ’90, or ’91 as the most important year for death metal. My top five from this period, in terms of impact, would be (no order): Altars of Madness, Left Hand Path, Cause of Death, Human, and Effigy of the Forgotten. Clearly, this three-year run was an exceptional stretch for death metal.
And yet, I simply have to tip my cap to ’91. For starters, there’s no contest if you play a numbers game. I combed through RYM to compile my essential picks from each year, and at the end of the day, ’91 simply has more albums with a lasting impact. Of course, the “impact” argument is a bit harder to quantify, but let’s give it a try by looking at RYM’s all-time list for death metal. I know, I know, that risks giving in to a popularity contest, but I think that’s lss of a concern given how much death metal fans know their shit. Just sticking with releases from these three years in RYM’s top 20 (as of Feb. 24, 2021), here’s where we land:
2. Death – Symbolic (’91)
8. Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (’89)
9. Dismember – Like An Everflowing Stream (’91)
11. Autopsy – Mental Funeral (’91)
12. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence (’91)
17. Entombed – Left Hand Path (’90)
19. Pestilence – Consuming Impulse (’89)
20. Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious (’91)
It’s not even close. We have five ’91 albums in the top 20, including the second overall release that’s only beaten out by another Death album (Symbolic, 1995) for the top spot. So…case closed? In my book, absolutely, though I’m open to counter arguments in the comments.
Death’s Vault: Immolation – Here In After (February 1996)
There’s a mantra around Heavy Blog’s death metal fans that I agree with wholeheartedly: Immolation are the genre’s most underappreciated veterans. When you look at all the established bands that have maintained their popularity through the years, Immolation clearly have the largest and most undeserved gap between the quality of their music and the acclaim they receive.
Cannibal Corpse have settled into their niche as the AC/DC of death metal; Incantation have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as more young bands low key copy/paste their sound; Suffocation still have a comfortable legacy spot on the Summer Slaughter-type tours; Morbid Angel bounced back with Kingdoms Disdained (spoiler alert: not really) and received acclaim from the metal journo establishment; and Deicide have kind of just…faded into the backdrop, which everyone seems to be cool with? I’ve glossed over some big names, but you get the point, hopefully.
Meanwhile, Immolation have continued chugging along for the last 30 years, dropping excellent slabs of OG death metal channeled through their signature lens. So, in honor of two noteworthy anniversaries from their discography in 2021, I thought I’d show them a little love, specifically their fantastic sophomore album Here In After (turning 25 this year).
It’s a little ironic I didn’t pick Dawn of Possession, given my diatribe above about 1991 being death metal’s most important year. But firstly, Jon and I make the rules, so fuck off. And second, I think Here In After is the crowning achievement of their career. Sure, Dawn of Possession kicked off their career and established their sound, and in the grand scheme of things, Close to a World Below (2000) might be their most acclaimed release among critics and fans. But when I think of that classic, Immolation sound, my mind instantly conjures the riffs that thunder throughout Here In After.
What is that classic, Immolation sound, you might ask? I’m glad you did! The riffs on Here In After look to the genre’s past and present, with plenty of old-school flavor intertwined with whining, dissonant flourishes. The midsection of “Nailed to Gold” is a prime example, with the midsection revolving around rolling double kicks and squealing guitar cries. We’re not talking about angular chaos in the vein of Ulcerate, but the guitar work shines with a kind of character and creativity unique to Immolation.
I also love the way the band eases into compositions. On “Burn with Jesus,” the 0:30 second mark is likely where most OSDM bands would kick things off. But Immolation builds toward the ripping death metal punishment with finesse, with rumbling, slow-building percussion and ominous riffing. These elements resurface throughout the track and enhance the entire composition, something that continues throughout the rest of the album.
The title track is perhaps the most memorable moment for me; every time I think about the album, the song’s central groovy riff automatically pops into my head. It’s straightforward and heavy, but with a certain depth that only Immolation could add to a quadi-breakdown. But then again, there are so many highlights on the album. The interplay between whining riffs and booming kicks and toms on “I Feel Nothing” is just, *chef’s kiss*. And I can’t help but bang my fucking head every time Ross Dolan sneers: “In the name of the Father/In the name of the son/Where is the Holy Spirit/I feel nothing,” or better yet, “I don’t want his kingdom/My Kingdom is here.”
At this point, I’m halfway through a track-by-track, so let’s do it. The compounding guitar shrieks on “Away From God” add a manic air to another excellent, dynamic track, while the recurring breakdown on “Towards Earth” acts as a heavy focal point to one of the album’s most intense, chaotic tracks. The band takes a similar approach on “Under the Supreme,” before “Christ’s Cage” serves as a triumphant finale. It’s a brooding, atmospheric dirge that erupts into a bunker busting death metal assault.
By the time the final notes ring out, I truly don’t know how anyone can remain unimpressed by Immolation’s approach to their craft. Their signature style includes everything a death metal fan might love about the genre, packaged in a way unique to them. I still don’t know why they receive less acclaim than their more stale peers, but at least that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying their stellar back catalog, highlighted by albums like Here In After.
Oh, and there are some awesome vinyl pressings out there.
Deadly Discussions: Fractal Generator
As you’ll read below, I’m a big fan of the sci-fi themed tech death Fractal Generator released on Macrocosmos. So I couldn’t think of a better band to kick off Deadly Discussions for 2021. We dive into their influences, sci-fi and death metal, the Candaian metal scene, and more!
Macrocosmos has quickly become my favorite death metal album of the year thus far. Take us through the writing/recording process over the last five years. What was your goal with the album?
102119200914: Our goal is to create a certain type of sound that we don’t think exists. A dark death metal sound without too many limitations that can be open to incorporating many different styles and ideas.
040118180514: There’s nothing too fancy about our writing/recording process. Each member brings their own unique qualities to the table and we work really well together. We recorded the album in our home studio and it was mixed and mastered by Stefano Morabito at 16th Cellar Studio.
Sci-fi has always been an influence in death metal, but it feels especially prominent in recent years. Why do you think the genres work so well together? How does sci-fi influence your lyrics and music, specifically on Macrocosmos? What sci-fi media has been particularly influential for Fractal Generator and Macrocosmos?
102119200914: For me personally, I grew up loving sci-fi. Shows like the X-Files, The Outer Limits, Stargate, Babylon 5, and Star Trek all had a big impact on me and I’ve definitely taken inspiration from the stories and worlds they created.
040118180514: It’s hard to explain exactly why death metal and sci-fi go together so well, but it’s definitely there. In my experience, death metal fans have always been pretty interested in technology. Then there’s the sound of modern tech death albums, which have a robotic-like precision which, lets face it, is complimented by the use of a lot of technology. Plus, the darkness of death metal compliments the deep, terrifying darkness of space perfectly. The same could also be said of black metal, which the more sci-fi leaning death metal bands seem to dip into as well.
Personally, cover art can enhance my enjoyment of an album, which is definitely the case with Macrocosmos. It captures the vibe of the album perfectly. What was your vision with the cover? What was it like working with Erskine Designs?
040118180514: We came up with the basic idea of what we wanted and sent it to Mark (Erskine). We were fans of his art style and thought he’d be a good fit. He liked the ideas and came up with something even cooler than what we had pictured. He was great to work with, very professional. Can’t recommend him enough.
Canada has a well-established metal scene, particularly when it comes to death metal (Archspire, Augury, Beneath the Massacre, Beyond Creation, Gorguts, Neuraxis…to name a few). What’s your perspective on the state of the Canadian scene, both locally in Ontario and beyond?
102119200914: The Canadian metal scene seems to have a good reputation around the world. We were lucky to see a lot of these bands come through our home town when we were growing up. We hope it continues to go strong!
Album of the Year (so far)
Black Hole Deity – Lair Of Xenolich
Favorite Album of All-Time
040118180514: Emperor – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Gorguts – Coloured Sands, Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao
102119200914: Death – Human, Myrkskog – Deathmachine
Album/Artist that Most Influences Fractal Generator
040118180514: Gorguts, Augury, Strapping Young Lad, Emperor, Mayhem, Timeghoul
102119200914: Deicide, Timeghoul, Myrkskog, Morbid Angel, Teleport
040114090512: Der Weg einer Freiheit, Ne Obliviscaris, the Faceless, Ulcerate
Cream of the Crop
Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (avant-garde death metal)
Every few years I hear a record for the first time and know immediately that it’s incredible. No repeat listens necessary. If I never heard it again I would state with conviction that it was an amazing record and would easily recommend it to just about anyone. Blood Incantation released one of those instantly esteemed records. As have Ulcerate, Imperial Triumphant, and a few others over the past decade. This past month, Ad Nauseam found their way onto that list with their sophomore revelation Imperative Imperceptible Impulse. I’ll cut straight to the chase: It’s one of the most batshit, impenetrable, audacious, and best death metal records I’ve heard in this vein in at least five years.
This isn’t my first exposure to the band, either. Their striking debut record, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, left an indelible impression upon its release in 2015. A genuinely harrowing display of technical dexterity and songwriting madness, it has with time grown to be one of the best modern examples of how to do avant-garde death metal right. But I’d be lying if I said I had revisited it much over the past few years. The release of the record’s first single was honestly the first time I’d even thought about them in at least a year or two. But that single, the album’s title track, was more than enough evidence that this record was going to be titanic. The track’s orchestral opening sets the scene perfectly, setting an ominous and ever-so-slightly off-kilter vibe that the track latches onto and doesn’t let go of throughout its duration. The guitars are a sinuous, serpentine mass of writhing chords, riffs, and tremolo-picked passages that feel like they couldn’t repeat a phrase if there were a gun to their head. The drums are no less erratic, flying through tempo and beat changes with an absolute fury. If all of this sounds like a total mess, you’re at least partially right. The barrier to entry for Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is higher than most records I love so unabashedly and instantaneously, and the album’s title track is emblematic of its overall inaccessibility and strangeness. But, as one would expect, there’s a great deal more to this record than simple songwriting insanity.
Opening track “Sub Specie Aeternitatis” is a pure brain-melter of an opener, jumping straight into its own brand of audio madness without even a second’s hesitation. The bass, jangling guitars, and jazz-heavy drums slither beneath Andrea Petucco’s brutal and varied vocals in ways that are only achieved by the angriest and most deranged of musical monsters. It’s a bludgeoning opening, but a few more nuanced aspects of Ad Nauseam’s approach become evident with careful listening. The first of these is the production, which allows for each instrument to be heard with an enviable clarity. In similar fashion to last year’s Imperial Triumphant masterpiece Alphaville and Defeated Sanity’s excellent The Sanguinary Impetus, the roiling chaos is presented in vibrant technicolor, allowing each individual component of a track to sing through loud and true. I genuinely question how successful this record would have been without such pristine production, because its crowning glory may have been tarnished otherwise. It’s nearly impossible to judge great songwriting if you can barely discern the proceedings.
That’s where Imperative Imperceptible Impulse crushes all competition in its field over the past few years. These songs are very far from completely random assortments of chord progressions and avant-garde bullshittery. There is method, precision, and deep intentionality embedded in these tracks, and it shows in subtle yet powerful ways. There are few moments where the general madness of any given track becomes too much to bear. Displaying themselves as masters of pacing, Ad Nauseam know exactly when to pump the breaks, allowing a composition room to breathe and explore less noisy space. Examples of this pattern can be found strewn across the record. “Inexorably Ousted Sente” contains two such sections, both encased in the middle of the track, and serving as a borderline perfect sonic bridge between two fundamentally brutal halves. The connective tissue here exists outside of simple repetition of melodies or chord progressions, but also in tone, tempo, and intensity matching. Ad Nauseam are very much not thinking of their songwriting in terms of most traditional structures, and use an array of tricks for listeners to latch onto to make sense of the dissonant chaos that permeates the record.
The second half of the album brings all of these elements into an even tighter focus, and presents the most unique and distinct sounds the band have created thus far. “Horror Vacui”, perhaps the most electrifying and thoroughly excellent track on the record, brings all of the most essential elements of Ad Nauseam’s aesthetic home to roost in one blistering, nuanced eight minutes. Equal parts sheer dissonant brutality, jazz club horror, doom-laden ass kickery, and intensely atmospheric, it’s the complete package, and one of my favorite tracks of the year. Nothing else sounds like it. Yet for all of this album’s pure madness, it ends not with an expected bang, but an intense and hushed whisper, giving listeners a few minutes to contemplate nervously what they’ve just experienced. It’s an oddly perfect ending to an oddly near-perfect record.
I don’t have anything negative to say about Imperative Imperceptible Impulse. It’s as epic and grand a statement as I can remember hearing in the world of death metal, and is at least on par with similar releases from Ingurgitating Oblivion and Gorguts on the sheer sonic madness scale. But the band’s uncompromising vision, extremely inventive songwriting, and extreme technical proficiency elevate this record to a status of near-perfection that I rarely feel in this genre. It’s not only the best death metal album to see the light of day in a very young 2021, but the best album I’ve heard in any genre so far this year. I seriously cannot recommend it highly enough. Whether or not you enjoy avant-garde, dissonance-drenched death metal, I strongly encourage you to give this record a listen. It may just alter your perception on what death metal is and can be.
Best of the Rest
Altered Dead – Returned to Life (old school death metal)
Entering the hallowed halls of death metal is always an exercise in balance. How should a band approach traditional genre structures? Should they be revered, lightly incorporated, or perhaps shunned entirely? The past few months alone highlighted several examples of bands approaching these songwriting facets differently, but on their crushing sophomore record Returned to Life, Altered Dead opt for the former approach to blistering effect.
If you are a fan of the old school death metal revival that has rocked the genre for the past several years, Altered Dead offer you perhaps the single best re-interpretation of those classic sounds so far this year. This is ugly, putrid, fetid death metal in the vein of Incantation or Autopsy, dripping with doom and gloom and a more than fair amount of disgusting riffs. The performances here match the aesthetic perfectly, lurching and pummeling with a relentless verve. Fans of modern osdm twists from Ascended Dead, Father Befouled, and Ulthar should feel right at home in the clutches of “Mental Suicide” or “Thrawing in Agony”. But the whole record is a beat down of epic proportions that most fans of the genre should enjoy.
The osdm revivalists may not have dominated the first few months of the year with the same volume as we’ve come to expect, but the beginning of 2021 is definitely a quality over quantity situation, and we have Altered Dead to thank for that. This is an impressive, robust, and full-bodies death metal release that honors the genre’s past in a manner that feels both vital and individually arresting. Quality stuff here.
Asphyx – Necroceros (old school death metal)
Speaking of 1991… Old dogs, new tricks, yada yada. Asphyx are one of those early death metal bands that don’t need cliches. They’re perfectly fine taking the same jagged sonic bone that they’ve been chewing on for the last thirty years and stabbing you in the eye with it. Their 10th full length record Necroceros presents very little that feels new in the world of death metal, but as with all Asphyx records, it’s far more interested in beating listeners to death than innovating. Here, the legendary Dutch destroyers accomplish their mission in spades.
Necroceros is exactly the kind of death metal record that a band whose been working for 30 years is expected to release. The quality of each track is high, and points back to more classic sounds that made the band the institution that it is. No flash, little experimentation, just mad riffs. This is typically the type of thing that pushes me away from new releases from classic artists, but here it just works. “The Sole Cure Is Death” opens the record with a pummeling maelstrom of death metal riffing that doesn’t relent from that moment through the album’s bludgeoning, doom-laced finale and title track. There’s not a whole lot to dissect here. Just classic, premium grade death metal start to finish.
If you’ve been a longtime fan of Asphyx, Necroceros should check all of your boxes. If this is your first go-round with one of the band’s records, prepare your body. It’s a crushing affair.
Celestial Swarm – Gateways to the Necroverse (brutal death metal, blackened death metal)
Want to guarantee I’ll check out your album? Use a kickass cover and drop it on the fourth day of the year, when the pickings are historically slim. How do you guarantee I’ll keep it in my rotation? Deliver “slamming black metal from outer space” that’s as awesome as that tagline suggests. I’m not sure how to teleport into the necroverse, but if I ever find a gateway, I hope Celestial Swarm is blaring overhead as I sink into the void.
Ok, so given you’re not reading Kvlt Kolvmn, you’ve probably assumed that Gateways to the Necroverse is more on the “slam” than “black metal” end of the spectrum. But that’s the thing: Celestial Swarm do so much more than your typical slam band. Matter of fact, they bring a little bit of everything to the table. Blistering tech death? Check. Bone-crushing slams and breakdowns? You got it. Blackened atmospheres? Why not. And it all fits beautifully (er, brutally) into a tight, 8-track package that pummels from start to finish.
That’s it. That’s the blurb. That’s all you should need to know to press play. Go on, the necroverse is waiting.
Eximperitus – Sahrartu (technical/brutal death metal)
You are not going to get me to write out this band’s full name. I refuse. Eximperitus they shall henceforth be to me. Because I am lazy and who on earth makes their band name this ridiculously complicated? These folks, apparently. But when the music is this good, they can call themselves whatever they like. Their debut record was a deeply enjoyable affair, and their follow-up, Šahrartu, is even better. I don’t need 51 letters (unlike the band’s name) to explain why: Great riffs, great performances.
Fans of the band’s debut album should be pleased with the direction Šahrartu takes from its opening frame. The band’s particularly brutal and sometimes doomy take on death metal remains intact and as technically beguiling and punishing as ever. “Utpāda” blends an almost Hooded Menace-esque tempo with the sheer brutality of Disentomb, melding heft and sheer brutality in a manner that feels natural and is overall insanely effective. The band also aren’t afraid to throw in some acoustic passages to sweeten the deal, leading to an overall experience that is deeply thematic and quite varied for an album in this sonic space. Throw in an excellent production job and you have yourself a clear winner for fans of brutal death metal.
Their name might be ridiculous, but their music most certainly is not. Following in the Sumerian god-worshipping footsteps of Nile, Eximperitus are steadily and swiftly carving out a name for themselves through thematic consistency, instrumental prowess, songwriting heft and sheer force. A band to continue to watch over the next few years. This record will give you plenty to chew on as we eagerly anticipate subsequent releases.
Fractal Generator – Macrocosmos (brutal tech death, progressive death metal)
As a card-carrying non-believer, I’m fine with all the anti-theism and spoopy satanism rampant in death metal. But doesn’t all that get just a little old after a while? There are only so many ways you can reposition the same diatribe. That’s why the recent embrace of sci-fi has been a welcome change of pace, led of course by Blood Incantation and their alien-adorned Hidden History of the Human Race (Gigan is a personal favorite, too). I’d like to enthusiastically add Fractal Generator, both for their dedication to sci-fi themes and excellent, celestial approach to brutal tech death.
First, on the sci-fi front, Macrocosmos “tells the story of future humans travelling a distant solar system who discover evidence that the universe is a simulation.” The concept helps frame some pretty choice lyrics. “Contagion” outlines the onset of “darkness. only husks remain. Lifeless giants consumed by advancing beings. evolve, infect, rearrange. planet eaters conquering their cosmic domain.” Meanwhile, “Aeon” dives into Baudrillardian themes, explaining how humanity is “reaching into the darkness. seeing with mechanical eyes. machines we built to withstand the vacuum. feed information into our minds. expanding our knowledge of the void.” Less “to hell with God,” more, “embrace the void,” please.
Things only get better on the musical side of the equation. Fractal Generator sound like some mad, metalhead scientists sealed peak Morbid Angel and Nile in a capsule and launched it directly into the depths of a black hole. The result captures the nimble but aggressive speed of Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and basically every Nile record, while splicing Trey Azagthoth’s multifaceted riffs with modern, tech death sensibilities. Of course, it wouldn’t fit with the sci-fi themes if there weren’t subtle, well-placed samples, synths, and symphonics, all of which adds to the scope and grandiosity of the music.
With Macrocosmos, Fractal Generator position themselves as a key player in the rich history of Canadian death metal. This is about as good as it gets in terms of sophomore albums that obliterate any notion of an inevitable slump. If you enjoyed Apotheosynthesis (2015) or just discovered the band from this column, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (old school death metal)
Modern death metal, much like any other genre in the internet age, has become a slave to the hype. Bands like Undeath, Tomb Mold, Horrendous, and whole host of others have been summarily crowned as “saviors” of a particular brand of sound sometimes before they even released a debut full-length. Texas’ Frozen Soul found themselves in a similar situation prior to the release of their debut Crypt of Ice, but despite insane expectations, the band pulled off one of those rarest of artistic endeavors: Output that meets lofty expectations.
It should be noted that Frozen Soul are operating exclusively in that realm of osdm-worship that, as mentioned earlier in our write-up of Altered Dead’s latest, hasn’t been as prevalent at the beginning of 2021 thus far. But in similar fashion to that record, Frozen Soul deliver the goods. That punk-ish vibe that pervades many of death metal’s early releases is here in spades, and can be easily picked out in tracks like “Arctic Stranglehold” and “Merciless”. Melding straightforward aesthetics with sterling execution is the calling card for many osdm revivalists, and here Frozen Soul succeed with aplomb. If the album’s first three tracks pique your interest, keep going. It only gets better from there.
I’ll be curious to see how the osdm revival handles 2021 as a collective entity, but even if Frozen Soul was one of the last records we received in the movement this year it would be worth it. It’s a fantastic and confident debut from a band that I fully assume will be sticking around for a good while.
NaKhArA – The Procession (progressive death metal, avant-garde metal)
Death metal band names are such a tricky business. You want something brutal but subtle; evocative but avoiding kitsch. I mean, if you gave John Gallagher some truth serum, I’m sure he’d admit Dying Fetus might not be the greatest name. And what about one of the more sophisticated, respected bands in death metal being named…Gorguts? In this vein, I never checked out Pitbulls In the Nursery given their name. It’s intense, but kind of gross without “horror movie” appeal.
That said, if they sound anything like their new side project, then consider me intrigued. With NaKhArA, former PITN guitarist Saïmon crafts an eclectic blend of progressive death metal featuring plenty of avant-garde flourishes. Groovy tech death and dissonant, blast heavy passages are periodically highlighted by sitar, vocoder, accordion, and classical guitar, making for a truly wild ride. And the best part: NaKhArA is a cool-yet-weird name. I dig it!
But in all seriousness, I’m endorsing The Procession for it’s myriad of bold ideas that pan out. I mean, Saïmon opens up the album with “Commination,” which sounds like late-career Decapitated mixed with sitar, acoustic guitar, and strong Middle Eastern vibes. Talk about a tone setter. The title track brings the listener into more expected territory with some proggy, blast-laden tech death. “Until the End” follows a similar trajectory, until some vintage, prog synth lines appear alongside a call-and-response growl/vocoder combo. “All These Voices” dials up the prog timeline a bit, with some Psychotic Waltz era weirdness mixed with The Faceless’ stranger moments from Akeldama and Autotheism.
And this is all just on the first half of the album. As a whole, The Procession truly is a whirlwind of oddities swirling around a solid, progressive death metal foundation. There’s a lot to grab onto here, and I encourage strapping in for the ride and seeing what Saïmon has in store.
Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning (blackened death metal)
There’s a world in which Suffering Hour’s sophomore offering The Cyclic Reckoning occupies our Cream of the Crop section. That world is one that does not include Ad Nauseam dropping a year-defining atom bomb of a record on our unprepared asses. But if I’m being honest, Suffering Hour aren’t far behind them in terms of quality. In fact, if the more obtuse, avant-garde death metal route isn’t your thing, The Cyclic Reckoning may just be the best death metal record you’ve heard so far this year. A status that I wouldn’t be surprised maintaining itself throughout the remainder of 2021, either.
This record is absolute dynamite. There’s no way around it. After their already astoundingly good debut record In Passing Ascension, I’ve had high hopes for this band. The Cyclic Reckoning meets all of those lofty expectations while blowing several of them out of the water. The band’s almost psychedelic guitar tones are back with an even greater gusto, and add a unique sonic dimension that is rarely seen with this level of verve in this brand of music. But all of the sinister and woozy tones in the world can’t substitute for quality songwriting, and it’s here that Suffering Hour once again eclipse their debut. “Transcending Antecedent Visions” contains a riff with such a strong hook that I’ve found myself humming it at random parts of the day. Each of these tracks is an individual gut punch that works seamlessly as a whole, making The Cyclic Reckoning one of the most complete and truly exceptional death metal offerings so far this year.
I’ve listened to this record at least six or seven times at this point, and I plan on listening to it at least twice that many more times over the coming months. It’s an essential release in a year already chock full of them, and I cannot wait to see how many year-end lists it occupies. An exceptional collection of tracks from a band that I fully expect to become an institution in this genre. Extremely highly recommended.
Aberration – Aberration (blackened death metal, dissonant death metal)
This is one of the EPs where, after the final notes play, you say to yourself, “There better be a full-length in the works.” Massive, dissonant cavern-core featuring members of Void Rot, Suffering Hour, Tvaer, and Nothingness.
Demon King – The Final Tyranny (blackened tech death)
Who says tech death can’t be fun? A surprisingly seamless, energetic blend of tech death and…blackened thrash, I guess? Kind of like Obscura meets Skeletonwitch at times? Whatever it is, good times had by all.
Ingested – Stinking Cesspool of Liquified Human Remnants (brutal death metal, slam)
Did you know Ingested turn 15 this year? I’m too young to feel old, but this came pretty close. This is a remixed and remastered version of an unreleased EP, with two tracks that ultimately made it onto Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering (2009) and a couple true, unearthed gems. As someone who spun the hell out of SBHS in high school, this EP was an insanely enjoyable trip down memory lane, back when brutal slams, gurgles, and grotesque lyrics were all I craved.