Welcome, as always, to Death’s Door. Good infernal underlords, what a month for death metal. April was not unkind to me in the death metal department, with bands old and new coming out swinging with some of their best material yet. There are some heavy hitting contenders to discuss this month, and we look forward to hearing about the releases that stuck out to you. 

In terms of our bespoke content, sci-fi is the name of the game for April, as we cover classic releases from one of death metal’s most underrated and underappreciated titans, as well as hear from one of the genre’s most exciting new voices in this space. So strap in and prepare for face melting cosmic nastiness. 

As has been the case for a good while now, we hope you and yours are staying as healthy and safe as you can in a time of continued crisis. 

Death metal forever. 

-Jonathan Adams


The Dirge // Imitation: The Highest Form of Flattery?

Like most genres within the metal world, death metal has its fair share of derivation. There are only so many unique notes a band can hit within the strict confines of genre expectation, and while there most certainly is a large selection of working bands that have carved a very singular and unprecedented death metal path, a great deal of modern death metal bands can give direct credit to their influences for shaping the fundamentals of their sound. This is neither an inherently good or bad thing, but on its face sheds some light on the state of the genre as a whole, as well as how some bands and records are perceived and received in the critical space. 

The crux behind this post is the coverage I’ve been reading about Altarage’s superb new record Succumb. Those familiar with the band are aware of (in my mind justified) comparisons to Australian disso-death masters Portal, and those comparisons continue unabated through the blogosphere’s coverage of Succumb. While these points of comparison aren’t necessarily inaccurate to some degree, they do point to a general trend in the coverage of extreme music, namely that comparison is the foundational name of the game when it comes to identifying not only similar sounds, but the quality of music. Comparison will always be a staple of metal reviews in particular, as the confines of genre bring certain expectations for what listeners can expect from a given release. But in the case of the Altarage/Portal dynamic there are a few nuances worth discussing. 

While I understand that the definitions of terms like “derivative” and “inspiration” are complex and based on context, I think there is a notable difference between the two that points both to whether a death metal album or band’s affinity for a particular sound profile is flattering or lawsuit worthy. In the case of Altarage, the comparisons they’ve drawn to their spiritual predecessor are, in my mind, a bit too simplistic. While there are definite similarities in both aesthetic and production-oriented values between the two, if I were blindly presented with two tracks, one from each band, I would be able to tell them apart pretty much immediately. The dissonant songwriting structures, hellish howls, and murky guitar tones and suffocating production are all there, but the approach that each band takes to this style is markedly different, with Altarage focusing much more heavily on atmospheric, almost doom-like overwhelmation than the blackened pyrotechnics that have come to define Portal’s sound. There’s a rhythmic order that separates these two bands fairly cleanly, and with each new release those differences become more distinct. Far from a carbon copy, I would consider Altarage a band inspired by their contemporaries, working within the confines of a tight genre space with more than enough differentiators to make them immediately distinguishable from their strongest points of inspiration. 

But this “inspired by” approach isn’t always the MO of modern death metal bands. Derivation is a word that for myself tends to hold much more negative connotations, given that it implies some level of direct imitation that at beat indicates a lack of creativity and at worst feels like straight-up plagiarism. The band Gruesome comes to mind here in this category, and their attachment to the work and style of death metal legends Death cannot be ignored. Reaching a point where your music feels like it’s directly lifting compositional integrity from your influences rather than using their blueprint to carve your own niche is a type of hero worship that feels far from flattering in my eyes, and pigeonholes bands into a sonic world that is completely limited by the work of their forebears. It makes for stale, uninspiring music that I honestly wish would just go away, which is a far cry from how I feel when listening to Succumb for the umpteenth time. 

There’s an enormous difference between taking a confines sonic world and inhabiting it in your own way and trying to wear the same clothes and cologne as your heroes. These differentiators are key to unlocking the value of comparison in metal, and all-too-often I feel that the extreme music journalistic community does little to separate inspiration from derivation. Granted, most of this will come down to personal taste and breadth of knowledge regarding the hundreds of styles within any genre (which absolutely none of us can claim mastery over), but I think it’s a key distinction worth exploring. Not all forms of imitation are flattering, nor is drawing deeply from the well of inspiration laid out by your contemporaries an inherently bad thing. But defining our terms (and listening with intent) can go a long way to ridding ourselves of inaccurate and potentially damaging comparisons. Which, at all times, feels a worthwhile endeavor. 

JA


Death’s Vault // Timeghoul

Hard to talk about science fiction and cosmic elements in death metal and not mention Timeghoul. As a matter of fact, if you were to do such a thing, I may go as far as to ask what, exactly, is wrong with you? Given our guests in Deadly Discussions this month, I figured it would be an appropriate time to once again unshelve the old classic “forgotten band” of early death metal. With their entire career spanning a whopping 3 years (1991-1994) and no full-length records to their name, it’s not shocking that their music and legacy was unfortunately relegated into the dustbin of mainstream death metal history for decades. Thanks to a resurgence in science fiction-based death metal over the past several years, the influence and impact of Timeghoul has come into much starker relief, with their collection of three EPs now available for physical purchase and music available to stream on Bandcamp for wider consumption. Of all the early death metal bands that I have come across, there isn’t a single one whose scant discography fills my molten heart with more sadness. Timeghoul is the ultimate “what could have been?” death metal band, but thankfully we have about 45 minutes of material to chew on as their lasting legacy deepens and expands with the passage of time.

Timeghoul’s now legendary career spans two EPs, released in 1992 and 1994 respectively. The first of these, Tumultuous Travelings, brings in some heavy lo-fi vibes by way of early Bolt Thrower or Nocturnus, pummeling listeners with weird-ass riffs that both pulverize and discombobulate. “Rainwound” kicks things off with the sound of thunder, heralding back to the genre’s thrash-oriented roots, that eventually builds into an Incantation-like dirge that explodes into a galloping death metal odyssey replete with blast beats and nearly indecipherable guitar pyrotechnics. It’s exactly the kind of shit that sends old school death heads into a moshing frenzy, but never feels overly repetitive or simple. Timeghoul, more than many bands of their ilk, prized variety, particularly in their vocals, which vacillated between thoroughly disgusting growls and morbid, creepy cleans that feel disembodied from reality. It’s an epic combination of the familiar and foreign that would eventually become the band’s particular stylistic calling card. The remainder of their debut EP followed this formula to absolutely fantastic results, making for what has become one of my favorite EP releases by any death metal band, well… ever. But the bruising made available in Tumultuous Travelings was only a small sampler of the band’s ambition, and it was in their second and final release Panaramic Twilight that the full scope of Timeghoul’s sound became readily apparent.

The leap in production quality and songwriting potential between these releases is staggering. Where Travelings felt gruff, wild, and from-the-hip, Panaramic Twilight feels measured, premeditated, and much more nuanced in its approach. Where Travelings was content to throw its proverbial bowl of spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck, Twilight was constructed like a five-course meal, building on every single element that made its predecessor such a treat and maturing the band’s approach to death metal in the process. The more expansive, atmospheric approach to songwriting here is immediately visible in “Occurrence on Mimas”, which over 10 gloriously expansive minutes congeals every good thing about Timeghoul and distils it into one compact package. It’s an absolutely fantastic track that highlights the band’s ability to progress quickly and with obvious intention. “Boiling in the Hourglass” builds on these elements with an even more aggressive stew that’s somehow even better than its preceding track. The choral, space saint-like vocal portions of the track are a particular highlight of the composition, as is the absolutely insane drum work. Where Travelings came in with direct and varied punches to the face, Twilight opened an entire cosmos that, unfortunately, would not be further built upon.

There isn’t a band in existence whose early demise makes me more sad than Timeghoul. Every facet of their cosmic, sci-fi-drenched sound has influenced countless bands, and can be heard in the works of bands like Tomb Mold, Chthe’ilist, and Blood Incantation, who carry the sci-fi mantle in the absence of many of the genre’s great practitioners and occupiers of this space. If you have yet to give Timeghoul’s short and powerful discography a listen, I could not advise you more strongly to change that. Their work is superb in every way, and I feel utterly confident that you will not be disappointed by these tracks. While we may never see the like of Timeghoul again, we can rest in the knowledge that the genre’s spaciest elements are being rightfully and respectfully preserved by the likes of the above bands and, as will be detailed below, ATRÆ BILIS.

JA


Deadly Discussions // ATRÆ BILIS

Thanks so much for taking the time to correspond with us! For those who may be unfamiliar with your work, would you mind giving us a brief introduction to yourselves and the band? How did Atræ Bilis come together?

ATRÆ BILIS: Thank you for having us. ATRÆ BILIS came together after David (guitar) and I (Luka, drums) had a chance meeting at a local record store here in East Vancouver back in August 2018. We got to talking records and music and our unusual accents and soon realized that we both played instruments and worshipped at the altar of extreme music. We’ve organized a jam session the following week, which is when we came up with a song structure for what would later become “Sulphur Curtain.” Jam sessions became frequent after that and we started looking for other members. We tried out with a couple of different people until we found Brendan (bass). Jordan (vocals) found us a couple of months after and that’s the line up we’ve kept since.

Let’s talk about your first release, Divinihility, for a bit. As an opening shot across the collective death metal bow, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. One of the main reasons for that is the consistent quality of the songwriting, which blends technicality and straightforward brutality impeccably well and encourages repeat listening. With that balance in mind, I’m curious as to what your songwriting process looked like for this record? Do you collectively write the music and lyrics, or are particular components relegated to individual members?

AB: Thank you, it means a lot. Our philosophy is rather simple – No fillers, keep the cuts lean and mean, and create song structures that are interesting and fresh. Pertaining not only to DIVINIHILITY, but the new stuff too, we usually come up with a basic song skeleton and build from there. We revisit the song(s) a ton of times over the course of our 3-4 times a week jam routine. During those jams, we sometimes completely rearrange the structure and introduce a new idea, or totally cut from another. Often, we’ll experiment with taking a tail-end from a different riff to build interesting hooks (The white board is our friend).

DIVINIHILITY is packed with these and the new record… just wait. Strange timing in some of the tracks came to us rather naturally. Memorable moments on the new record include drum parts that pull a different rhythmic pattern from what the guitar and bass initially lead into sections with, with instruments ‘responding’ to each other, musically, until we all reach a syncopated movement into the next section of song. The majority of the lyrics on DIVINIHILITY were written by David, who also came up with the concept. Brendan supplied lyrics to one song.

Outside of the quality of the songwriting, it seems to my ear that there are more than a few science fiction, cosmic horror, and psychedelic elements that pop up throughout your lyrics. Such themes have always been popular in death metal, but seem to have gained particular notoriety as of late with bands like Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, Ulthar, and a veritable host of others making these themes a central component of their latest releases. Where does the fascination with this genre of material stem from for Atræ Bilis, and what works have influenced the thematic content of your music?

AB: Great bands, salute. As far as the themes in our lyrics go, we tread a somewhat uncharted territory. Surely, a plethora of literature is involved with a lot of research, alongside personal experiences. We mash these with pure feeling and determination to “where” we would like to take the listener, emotionally. We’ve briefly discussed this during the period where we were still getting to know each other and what drove us in that sense. Soon after though, David came up with a story concept and a couple of lyrics, which completely resonated with me and the rest of the band. I believe that it was there and then that we decided to present a story on each of our following records, and to tie-in all the songs in to make a single, cohesive piece. Here, I would concentrate on the spiritual, the bleak, the mystical and the unfathomable. (Just to give you a sense of what the listener can experience if he or she chooses to read along).

The narrative on DIVINIHILITY put simply, involves a profound psychedelic experience, passing through death’s gate and being reborn as a maggot inside the same, departed body. There are hidden details all throughout the lyrics, and a single word can be equally important as the paragraph it’s in. We chose to present our lyrics with the theme of book paragraph typed lyrics, instead of separating them into verses (thus keeping true to the “storytelling”). DIVINIHILITY was only a start though, and we can’t wait to reveal the next chapter.

Following up on that train of thought, I hear a lot of Morbid Angel and a hint of Bolt Thrower in your music. As each listener interprets stylistic influence and comparison differently, I’d love to hear about what music inspired you in the creation of Divinihility, and what records have served as a directing force for the band overall as you’ve carved out your own niche in a crowded space?

AB: Humbled to even be placed in the same sentence as the legends above. For us, death metal is a language, a manifestation that’s brought to life in many shapes and forms. It is a constant spring from which we derive our energy. But this is also true for other types of music, written word and art in general – It’s all equally integrative. One of us would come into rehearsal space after jamming Trading Pieces, from DEEDS OF FLESH, whereas another one of us may have just spent the whole afternoon with the early BURZUM catalogue, for example. This is how that middle section in “ECTOPIAN’’ may have come to be, for example. There is no direct influence on creation of our DIVINIHILITY, but then again, there were so many. And so many varied influences.

The cover of Divinihility is adorned by some crazy artwork by the legendary Adam Burke that fits the lyrical themes like a glove. It’s a striking piece of work, and I’m curious to hear more about why you chose this piece, and the significance of album artwork to your music’s themes and overall aesthetic?

AB: This art was contracted exclusively for DIVINIHILITY. All it took was Adam learning about the concept of the record. After that, he came up with a single sketch. We approved, and the next time we heard from him, that was it – What you see on the record.

Switching gears to your new record, this particular project brings along with it some significant changes for the band, including signing with 20 Buck Spin. How has the incorporation of a new label impacted the creation of this release?

AB: Shortly after recording DIVINIHILITY, we were already back in our space, writing. We were eyeing some opportunities for live appearances and made some plans and we played our first and only show here in Vancouver. Then COVID happened. So, we shifted gears and concentrated exclusively on writing our debut full-length. By the time 20 BUCK SPIN connected, we had almost an entire record worth of material. Safe to say, this inspired us even more to complete everything, and to make it the strongest record we possibly could. We’ll let it speak for itself when the time comes.

With all of these new pieces incorporated into the album writing and recording process, I’m curious to hear what you would consider your primary learnings from your first release as individual artists and as a collective. How did those lessons translate into the writing of your new record?

AB: Mostly what works and what doesn’t in the recording setting. We used the same studio for our recording, so that was more relaxed this time around. However, these were not our first ventures in recording spaces, individually. But they definitely seem most rewarding and for that I am grateful. We also wanted to challenge ourselves a bit this time around. There are mad sections on this new record and they’ve translated so very well in the mix.

2020 was an insanely difficult year for musicians (and the planet generally) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, and 2021 looks no less challenging thus far. How have the circumstances of the pandemic impact your creative and recording processes for this new record?

AB: If anything, it gave us plenty of time to concentrate on writing and come up with something different and, we hope, very unique to ATRÆ BILIS.

Canadian death metal has a storied history and rich contemporary culture, with bands like Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Chthe’ilist, Tomb Mold, Archspire (just to name a few) all carving out their own unique spaces in the extreme metal world. With the richness of Canada’s death metal history and the rise in prominence of the Quebec black metal scene, how do you feel about the current state of Canadian death metal going forward, and where do you see Atræ Bilis fitting into that larger context?

AB: Few people told us that they feel the ATRÆ BILIS sound to be strangely Canadian, despite the fact that the primary songwriters are East European and an Australian. We’ll leave that for you to decide, haha. I more than feel that ATRÆ BILIS has its place here. Gorguts and Crypto are insanely big influences on us, naturally. (Eternal praise to Lord Worm and Luc Lemay). Also, bands like GORELUST, MARTYR, NEURAXIS, ORCHIDECTOMY and godlike OBLIVEON

CHTHE’ILIST are phenomenal, too. Also, the last TOMB MOLD record should’ve gotten more praise. A shout-out to Shawn and the AUROCH / MITOCHONDRION / the Covenant circle. Equally important influences to be considered are SACRIFICE, the first two ANNIHILATOR records (untouchable), DBC, Slaughter, (Megaton that is), None Shall Defy by INFERNAL MAJESTY, and what is possibly the best band of all time… VOIVOD.

What’s next for the band? Anything you’d like to make our readers aware of?

AB: As we speak, we’ve just sent out master tracks for our upcoming full-length record off to 20 Buck Spin. But by the time this comes out, much more would have happened as it’s a pretty fast-moving phase of the production cycle. We hope you’ll soon get the taste of things to come.

Rapid Fire Round

What was your favorite album of 2020?

AB: Maybe Devouring Ruin by WAKE, or Psychic Secretions by STARGAZER. Albums are close to perfect in my book. Also worth mentioning are the records from AKHLYS, SKAPHE, VOID CEREMONY, and PARADISE LOST‘s Obsidian. I’m clearly just remembering whatever came out in that cursed year, but these really stuck.

What is your favorite album of the decade?

AB: Ugh. Tough. I don’t remember repeatedly listening to anything as much as GORGUTSColored Sands. And all of TRIPTYKON‘s material, HATE ETERNAL‘s Phoenix…, ABSU‘s Abzu, MASTER’S HAMMER’s Vracejte..., Polish FURIA’s Księżyc… and MAIDEN’s The Final Frontier. Perfect, the lot of them.

What is your favorite album of all-time?

AB: MAIDEN’s Somewhere in Time. It can also be MERCYFUL FATE Melissa on any given day.


Cream of the Crop

ThronePestilent Dawn (blackened death metal)

Musical burnout happens all the time. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the amount of good music being released on any given week. I’ll skip around, giving things little skims to see if I should dedicate time to it or expunge it from my ‘to listen’ list completely. It’s my way of panning for gold, looking for that immediate spark in a song that hooks me and makes me want to check the rest of the album out. That didn’t exactly happen with Michigan’s Throne. The moment I heard “Beyond Malice”, I blacked out. My face contorted of its own volition, a violent, involuntary response to the pure blackened death filth that was holding hypnotic dominion over me. 

Throne’s debut album Pestilent Dawn is the kind of metal I need a constant IV drip of. Channeling some of the best practitioners of writing fast, heavy, catchy tracks without losing atmosphere like Bloodbath, Hour of Penance, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Hath, Throne sits comfortably among their pantheon. Once the album gets going, it never stops. Menacing palm muted riffs and blackened leads groove slickly over uncompromising grinding and fills for the entirety of its runtime. It’s nuts and bolts stuff; there are no deviations into uncharted territory or head-scratching surprises. Pestilent Dawn is just really fucking good death metal, perfected to a science and performed with malevolent glee.

It’s also well produced, much like their counterparts. No fuzzy HM-2 plugged into a PlaySkool tape recorder here, just pure, beautifully balanced brutality for those who actually like to hear their riffs and feel the rumble of double bass boiling beneath them. If death metal is a theme park, Throne are the sign saying “You have to be *this* good to ride, no posers allowed.” Given this is just their first full-length, I’m very interested to see if Throne go the way of all monarchs, or end up fashioning themselves a crown and scepter to sit confidently where they claim.

Calder Dougherty

Best of the Rest

Altarage – Succumb (dissonant death metal)

While I already covered some general thoughts on this album in this month’s Dirge, I think Succumb is an album powerful enough to warrant its own entry. If for some reason at this point you are unfamiliar, imagine a sonic world that sounds like a swarm of wasps armed with jackhammers laying waste to your hometown, and you’ll come close to encapsulating the pain and violence you are about to enter into. Their records have thus far been nothing short of punishing and surprisingly nuanced disso-death juggernauts, and their fourth full-length is the best of the bunch. 

Starting off with the sputtering, stuttering “Negative Arrival”, Altarage kick things off right away with a track built to disorient and confuse. So much so that I legitimately thought my promo copy of this record was glitching on me. The breakneck starts and stops and wild changes in speed and compositional direction are jarring to say the least, and present one of the band’s most unique songwriting approaches to date. The tone is set for the rest of the record, which more than lives up to its opening track’s gripping approach. The hour-long journey Altarage lead us on here feels like both a continuation of their established sound and a much more adventurous leap forward, culminating in a 20-minute noise and drone opus that caps off the album in a fittingly punishing fashion. While I know many took issue with this approach to a finale, I personally found it both shockingly ambitious and entirely appropriate given the grueling nature of its preceding tracks. It’s a test of endurance that rewards and thrills as much as it brutalizes and punishes. Pretty much exactly what I want in my dissonant death metal. 

If any of the above sounds enjoyable, I strongly recommend giving this record a careful listen. The devil is in the details with Altarage, and this is by far their most intricately constructed monolith to death and misery yet. Shedding even further the Portal derivation perception, Altarage are striking an even more profoundly unique chord here that should lift their status even higher on the premier death metal spectrum. One of my favorite death metal releases of 2021 thus far, and one that I will be continually listening to as the year continues. 

JA

Biomorphic Engulfment – Incubation in the Parallel Dimension (brutal tech death) 

In a world of AI-recommended music (looking at you, Spotify), there’s something incredibly satisfying about stumbling across an under-the-radar gem on platforms like Bandcamp. The excitement that comes with discovering a talented new artist or band is just sweeter when it comes from random scrolling through an app at the end of the day. Plus these artist-focused apps and streaming sites allow you to support groups outside the traditional death metal strongholds. 

Biomorphic Engulfment’s debut album, Incubation in the Parallel Dimension, was easily the highlight of my April random finds. At nearly 6 minutes long, the opening song is a microcosm of fury and technical ability that sets a high bar right out of the gate. By the time an epic guitar riff hit halfway through the first track, I was hooked. The Bangkok-based band delivers though, with seven additional songs of relentless brutality in the style of Cerebral Engorgement and Analepsy that sink their hooks in and rip your eardrums out. It’s unafraid to nod at the goofier side of the genre, with the album opening with some very theatrical sound effects of women screaming and bestial growls. But after that, Biomorphic Engulfment wastes so time diving into savage guitar riffs and barbaric vocals that get your heart racing. It’s pure slam that refuses to compromise on any level, yet manages to get creative. Every time the blast of the drums lulls you into a false sense of routine, the tempo somehow picks up yet again or a catchy guitar riff breaks through, adding an impressive level of musicianship to a genre that’s often dismissed as simplistic.

Incubation in the Parallel Dimension is an impressive first release, though Biomorphic Engulfment did release a single in 2018. I shouldn’t be surprised, given the number of incredibly talented death metal bands that have emerged from Asia in recent years, such as Facelift Deformation and Neptunus. Though it was a long time coming, it’s exciting to see another wave of brutal death metal coming from an underrepresented part of the world. 

Bridget Hughes

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined (it’s Cannibal Corpse, man)

After a string of albums since KILL that have all more or less sounded like Cannibal Corpse going through the motions – not bad, mind you, just sort of “more Cannibal Corpse” and not much else – the number one bad boys of death metal are back in huge form with one of their best albums to date. Despite what you may immediately think, I am not exaggerating. Violence Unimagined sees Cannibal Corpse unleashing some of their most energetic and unhinged material of the millennium, with tracks like first single “Inhumane Harvest,” “Follow the Blood,” and the vaguely death n’ roll sounding “Surround, Kill, Devour” knocking it straight out of the fucking park. 

You don’t need to do a lot of sleuthing to find out where this sudden jolt came from: in 2018, longtime guitarist Pat O’Brien was arrested for burglary and assaulting a deputy, and in the wake of his (possibly temporary) departure from the band as he served jail time while awaiting conviction (which, coincidentally, got delivered exactly one month before Violence Unimagined’s release), Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal and previously Morbid Angel and Ripping Corpse stepped up to take his place. While O’Brien is certainly not a bad musician by any means, the influx of new blood – and that blood being a proven riff machine – has reinvigorated the band. While Cannibal Corpse could hardly be said to stray far from their typical brand of pummeling, straightforward death metal on Violence Unimagined, it seems that Rutan’s presence and his penchant for outside-the-box approaches to the genre have prompted the band to reinvestigate their style and hone in even further on their sweet spot. 

Frankly, there’s not really much else to say about the record. The album beats ass and takes names, and it does so with an appreciable level of style and considerably less foot-dragging than was the norm for 2010s Corpse. If you like Cannibal Corpse, you will love Violence Unimagined. And at the end of the day, what higher praise is there for a new release from the most monolithic presence in death metal?

-Simon Handmaker

Universally Estranged – Reared Up in Spectral Predation (progressive death metal)

“Cosmic death metal” has become something of a subgenre in its own right in the past few years, with bands like Blood Incantation, Question, and Inoculation turning their heads skyward and finding true brutality amidst the unknowable infinite black. Universally Estranged, a new one-man project, tosses a gauntlet upwards into their ranks with Reared Up in Spectral Predation. The list of influences here regarding riffcraft is immediately familiar to anyone who’s paid mild attention to this burgeoning scene: the weirder Morbid Angel stuff and Demilich are obvious points of orientation, with another nod towards the Cronenbergian goop-death of Autopsy’s salad days and a bit of Death for good measure.

That’s all to say, Universally Estranged aren’t really breaking any molds that you haven’t seen established in the past few years when it comes to the riffs. Angular crunch, filtered through fast and lucid song structures, and ripping psychedelic lead guitars and solos that phase in and out of existence as they please. This is sci-fi death metal to a fault – to the point of almost being a formal parody of the genre – and if that’s all Reared Up was, this would be a good but pointless release. A band for real enthusiasts, but with little of the genius in arrangement or novelty factor that has allowed, say, Starspawn to hold up as a truly great death metal album.

However, Universally Estranged are holding a secret weapon that has not seen nearly as much exploration in this area of metal as it should: synthesizers. In the first moments of Reared Up, you’re greeted not by the jerky guitars of death metal kosmische, but by whirring, bright, atmospheric synthesizers laid atop washed out, blasting drums. After a couple tracks played fairly straight to prove the album’s heavy music merits, pretty much everything starts to become covered in layers of astrally-inclined synths that add a wealth of texture and some serious narrative propulsion to the affair. As the record goes on, their inclusion becomes more obvious; the amorphous black void completely consumes the terrestrial by the last fiery remnants of closer “Blistered Under the Blue Illusion” fades.

While plenty of death metal bands have paid homage to the terrors lurking beyond our firmament, Universally Estranged join a small cult that uses our most scientifically-advanced instruments to nail the sense of aimless existential dread. While this isn’t going to be the most advanced or novel death metal you’ve heard, Universally Estranged know what they’re about and they do it with aplomb and a serious sense of style thanks to their deployment of synthesizers. If you’re in need of that heavy, cosmic shit, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this.

-SH

Casette Catacombs

SEIN – The Denial of Death (melodeath)

To quote fellow writer Trent, “What if Converge wrote ’90s Swedish melodeath instead?” This truly does feel like vintage At the Gates filtered through a metallic hardcore lens, upping the energy and ferocity while keeping that signature riff style.

SM

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