Welcome to Death’s Door, gang. Not gonna lie, not the loudest or most epic death metal month for me when it comes to breadth of listening. Nevertheless, we’ve got some absolute hitters to share with you that are well worth your time! We also have Scott bringing us all of the good words on the essential nature of physical media as well as some much-needed love for old school death metal with a review of Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes. It’s good stuff. So enough chit chat. Enjoy!
The Plunder of Sullen Eyes: In Praise of Physical Media
This editorial is probably going to have “old man yells at cloud” vibes, so let me make one thing clear: no matter how you consume music, it’s great that you do! Digital downloads or overpriced vinyl are both equally valid ways to support artists. But personally, I’ve always gravitated toward physical media. There’s just something about physically owning and playing a record…the way certain genres like jazz sound on vinyl, the feeling of sitting at my desk and seeing shelves of CDs and records in my office, the ability to look at album art and liner notes as I listen, and so on.
A key component of this is the conquest of finding and purchasing physical media, whether on Discogs or one of my favorite record stores. With digital downloads, buying (or “acquiring”) an album is as simple as firing up your laptop. But the process of adding to your physical collection is a hobby in and of itself. From comparing shipping costs on Discogs to scouring through bins of records at a brick and mortar store, the process of active curation is one of my favorite things about being a music fan. I never know what I’ll find when I go into my local record store, but nothing compares to the feeling of walking out with a great haul.
By this point, you’ve probably muttered some version of, “I thought this was a death metal column.” Indeed it is! Let me bring things full circle. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I were visiting my (fully vaccinated) in-laws in Connecticut, which means I had the opportunity to make a (masked) trip to my favorite record store, Redscroll Records in Wallingford. I’ve found countless gems here over the years, but this trip in particular might be my favorite haul I’ve ever had.
The headliner of the trip was finding Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes (1992) among the $3 used CDs. For the uninitiated, Demigod are at the top of the “deep cuts” tier of essential ’90s death metal. My self-education on the genre is indebted to Decibel’s Top 100 Death Metal Albums of All-Time, which inspired countless hours of listening. Many of the albums and bands were at least familiar to me, and a few were already in my collection. But albums like Demigod blew my unscathed ears away. It opened up a vault of infinite possibilities; dozens upon dozens of underrated death metal albums laying dormant, waiting to be discovered.
So clearly, as I held an actual, original CD copy in my hand, this wasn’t my first exposure to the album. But my time spent with the album was on Spotify, as was the case with most of the ’90s death metal I’ve listened to over the years. Many of these albums are out of print, available at a premium on Discogs, or repressed as expensive vinyl reissues. And yet, there I was, only $3 standing between me and a death metal classic I’d been hoping to add to my collection since college.
And THAT is the exact point of this column. The countless hours I’ve spent flipping through vinyl and CDs is all meant for moments like this. If I had a digital collection or only streamed music, I would have purchased Slumber of Sullen Eyes years ago. But I wouldn’t have felt the satisfaction of actually owning an original CD from the heyday of the genre, nor the feeling of striking gold after sifting through countless musical soundtracks and Barbara Streisand collections. Some folks might call this inefficient and time-wasting, and I can’t argue they’re wrong. But in the end, having these kinds of experiences will always be worth it.
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes (1992)
I feel like Finnish death metal has been slightly overlooked in the annals of history, at least compared to its Scandinavian counterparts in the Gothenburg and Stockholm scenes. But some of the genre’s best pioneers hail from the Land of a Thousand Lakes, namely Adramelech, Amorphis, Convulse, Demilich, Funebre, and – you guessed it – Demigod. If you skipped over my ode to physical media in this month’s Dirge, all you need to know is that the band are responsible for one of the best hidden gems in the genre: Slumber of Sullen Eyes. It’s one of those albums from a genre’s heyday that can easily stack up against any of the period’s obvious classics, yet doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. So let’s try to rectify that in the limited space we have in this column.
Other than usual ’90s era demos and a couple albums in the 2000s, Demigod’s career revolves around their debut full-length. While 1992 wasn’t as fecund as death metal’s unbelievable run from the late ’80s through ’91, Slumber headlines a crop of impressive releases during the year. Incantation and Deicide dropped Onward to Golgotha and Legion, respectively, both personal favorites. Yet, while Incantation has enjoyed a sustained reputation and a revival movement in their honor, Sullen is arguably the best all-around death metal album from the year.
I’m sure cavern-core Stans are ready to trade blows with me, so let me clarify. Sullen is a much more dynamic and borderline progressive album than the two aforementioned records, and especially by early ’90s death metal standards in general. Demigod combine the ripping, buzzsaw aggression of Swediwsh stalwarts like Carnage and Entombed, tempered with the forward-thinking approach of Finnish peers like Demilich and progressive stylings of Nocturnus and Pestilence. It’s a relatively long album at around 50 minutes, but the band use every minute to craft dynamic, engaging death metal.
To highlight this, I’d actually like to fast forward to the end of Sullen (unless you have an edition with the bonus track “Darkend”). In an era of relatively compact albums of straightforward ripping death metal, Demigod chose to close their debut with “Perpetual Ascent,” an instrumental slab of spacey death. You have vintage, ’90s metal synths bookending riffs and double kicks galore, creating an ominous atmosphere for snarling riffs to peer out from. In some ways, it feels like a triumphant finale, fitting the diverse death metal display that preceded it. But it also serves as a quasi-intro that encourages you to circle back to the beginning. It’s an instrumental summary of everything Demigod are capable of as a unit. And that’s not even including Esa Linden’s menacing growls.
I could go on, but I’d rather turn over the reins and allow anyone who hasn’t heard Sullen to seek it out promptly. I’m shocked Demigod aren’t more highly touted in the death metal pantheon, but glad they made their way into my rotation.
Cream of the Crop
The Beast of Nod – Multiversal (progressive tech death)
Well… wow. Talk about a shift in sound. I first heard The Beast of Nod back in 2018 with the release of their debut record Vampira: Disciple of Chaos, and was immediately impressed by their unique sound and obvious ambition. While that forward-thinking aesthetic didn’t always directly translate into pure enjoyment for me, I was more than pleased to give the album several spins in the months following its release. The band’s sophomore record, Multiversal, is another beast entirely. There isn’t another record in the death metal sphere that sounds like it to my ears, expanding the band’s already established penchant for unique sounds exponentially and in the process becoming one of the most enjoyable and flat-out impressive death metal records of 2021 thus far.
Take “Flight of the Quetzalcoatlus” as a prime example of the band’s sonic evolution. Right out the gate listeners are greeted with a cacophony of synths that feel more fitting for an anime intro than a death metal record. The progressive-leaning guitar works only further confounds, propelling the track forward with an epic sequence of riffs that culminate in vocalist Paul Buckley’s manic and definitively death metal gyrations. It’s such an odd combination that should not work under any circumstances. But here it does, and to brilliant effect. “Contemporary Calamity” continues the progressive metal-heavy aesthetic established in the opening track, providing a slightly more downtempo assault that’s no less incredibly odd.
Then “Intergalactic War!” hits, and the record starts to feel just a bit more like a traditional progressive death metal release. That is until about one minute in, where the whole track grinds to a halt in favor of a beautiful key and guitar melody that eventually morphs again into a gargantuan, epic sequence of synths and riffs. It’s all over the place in the best way possible, which is one principal piece of praise I feel compelled to emphasize. However insane this all sounds (and it is), it never feels random or disjointed. This is Multiversal and Multiversal only, building a self-contained world that pushes boundaries of genre and sound without ever feeling purposelessly erratic. It’s a delightfully dense monster that I’ll have more of, please.
There are few if any major complaints to stack against Multiversal. It’s an album that’s either written precisely for you or it isn’t, and I deeply suspect that there will be some real hate for this record over the coming years. But you can firmly place me in the fanboy camp. This record is fantastic, this band is fantastic, and I cannot wait to see where they go next. Impressive and captivating stuff.
Best of the Rest
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals (progressive deathcore, tech death)
Somehow, Blindfolded and Led to the Woods’ discography is proof that you can and can’t judge a book by its cover. If the band landed on my radar pre-2021, I would have written them off as a bunch of goofballs feeling nostalgic about the Golden Age of Deathcore. I mean, their debut EP is called Armed to the Teeth With Jellybeans and features a clown holding an AK-47. And while “Blindfolded and Led to the Woods” lacks the kitsch of, say, We Butter the Bread with Butter, it very much speaks of a specific era of attention-seeking “-core” bands.
So suffice it to say, I’m thankful for whatever happened between that period of the band’s career and what they have to offer on Nightmare Withdrawals. For starters, their cover art style went from “early 2010s memes” to unsettling, impressionist paintings. If not for their covers featuring the same name, no one would guess their releases belonged to the same band. With an improved presentation, and an undeniably br00tal name, I decided to dive in and see what Nightmare Withdrawals had to offer.
And let me tell you, I’m really glad I did.
I only use the “deathcore” label because of the general bouncy grooviness on Nightmare Withdrawals, very much characteristic of modern deathcore. But what kept me coming back to the album is how dynamic it is. One moment it’s a breakdown-centric affair, the next we’re careening through off-kilter melodies, before finally being cascaded by dissonant technicality — often all in the same song. It’s the kind of “progressive” death metal/core project that’s more adventurous than pretentious. The band are more experimental than their peers but always remain grounded in what makes the genre heavy and engaging to a wider audience. While I’m sure the band’s name and presentation might give some listeners pause, I hope you look deeper and give one of the best deathcore releases of the year a chance.
Oh, and Karl Sanders from Nile drops in on a track, so that’s another plus.
Brand of Sacrifice – Lifeblood (brutal deathcore, progressive deathcore)
Two deathcore albums in one column; what has Death’s Door come to? In all seriousness, Jonathan and I always feature what we genuinely believe to be the best releases of the month, regardless of what variant of death metal it might be. Deathcore hasn’t historically made the cut because of our own mixed histories with the subgenre. High School Scott had an obsessive deathcore phase, peaking in 2010 with an insane crop of releases — The Acacia Strain’s Wormwood (kind of deathcore, kind of not, but whatever), Carnifex’s Hell Chose Me, I Declare War’s Malevolence, King Conquer’s America’s Most Haunted, Suffokate’s No Mercy, No Forgiveness, Veil of Maya’s [id], Whitechapel’s A New Era of Corruption, etc.
But towards the end of high school, the beauty and the breakdowns of deathcore started to fade. My trve metalhead friends introduced me to all the biggest names in death metal (Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Suffocation, etc.), and the rest is history. Suddenly, all the appeal of deathcore started to melt away. The genre was too breakdown-centric to hold my attention, and the bands that tried to infuse some classic death metal into the mix ultimately lacked complex songwriting chops. The riffs felt like placeholders as the band prepared for the next breakdown.
That’s one of the main reasons Lifeblood caught me so off guard. Not only did Brand of Sacrifice transport back to that 2010 Golden Age, their approach to the genre is better than any of the records I held dear back then. Everything about Lifeblood is bigger, beefier, and just plain better than what deathcore sounded like to my young, uninitiated ears. Suffice it to say, this is easily the best deathcore album I’ve heard in years.
And what’s crazy about it is that Brand of Sacrifice don’t shy away from the elements that made me fall out of love with the genre. Instead, they tackle genre tropes head on and beat them into submission. There are plenty of breakdowns, but they all feel essential to the progression of each track, and it helps that they’re some of the most punishing heavy passages you’ll hear this year. The death metal sections feature top tier riffs and blasts, and any death metal fan would have to acknowledge their quality. Then there’s unique additions throughout, particular the use of choral and orchestral elements that compliment the album’s most sweeping, technical moments. Just bask in the epicness of “Animal” and you’ll feel as blown away as I was on first listen.
There was a lot of hype around Lifeblood within our Heavy Blog community, and Brand of Sacrifice delivered. This won’t just be a highlight for deathcore fans; I truly believe a decent chunk of death metal purists will hear this and raise an eyebrow or two. If you haven’t given this at least a cursory spin, rectify that ASAP.