Welcome once more unto Death’s Door, ye mortals. Grab a goblet and perch upon a bone throne. June releases are upon us, and the blood floweth ever red.
Seriously, though. What a month. Though, as you will come to read in the subsequent paragraphs contained in this month’s entry, time is a lie and sometimes we don’t find out about awesome releases until a month or so after their release. Thus is the case with Atvm, which will be receiving a not-insignificant amount of coverage this month even though their stunning debut was unleashed in May. But given our collective penchant for rule-breaking and genre-blending, such a minor bending of the rules seems a small concession.
So kick back, relax, and enjoy some of the hottest shit on the planet from the months of May and June. As always, it’s death metal. Forever.
Death’s Vault // Cynic – Focus
Listening to Atvm’s latest release has been a fairly mind-bending experience for yours truly. The blend of death, thrash, free jazz, and progressive metal contained in Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless felt eerily reminiscent to me of that feeling of whiplash that I first experienced with the work of bands like Death and Atheist as I first began to cut my teeth on the foundational releases of more progressively focused death metal bands. But there are few records that cut as deep and splattered as much brain matter as Cynic‘s Focus. It’s a release that any fan of progressive metal should know infinitely well (if not, please… for the love of god… change that immediately), and a staple in the conversation of best and most influential death metal albums of all time. It’s also, strangely, a release that saw the light of day early on in death metal’s ascendence.
For a genre that became famous for its obsession with obscene violence and gore, it’s intriguing to me that its focus on progressive elements from a very early stage gets largely ignored. Bands like the above mentioned Atheist and Death, as well as Gorguts and Cynic were making technically astounding, genre non-conforming death metal from as early on as the genre’s seminal recordings. The avant-garde has always had a place in death metal’s history, where genres like black metal and heavy metal tended to introduce such elements a bit later into their evolutions, death metal was weird and adventurous essentially from day one. Focus, while just one of many progressive death metal records from the genre’s formative years, is worthy of special consideration for just how out there it was, and how its influence has only grown with time.
It’s pretty difficult to listen to the work of any progressive death metal band and not hear the influence of Focus. Its wide range of sounds, instrumental proficiency, and riff-centric heft can be heard influencing releases as wide ranging as Obscura and Alkaloid‘s winding prog to the brutal death metal of Afterbirth‘s Four Dimensional Flesh. It’s a ubiquitous record that has stood the test of time by impacting nearly every record in its sonic headspace that came after it while, shockingly, remaining in and of itself as vibrant and unique as ever.
There are practically zero things that Focus doesn’t do well. The riff writing is memorable and superb (“Celestial Voyage” being a prime example of the band’s penchant for catchy and hefty riffs), while the instrumentation is as good if not better than almost anything being released today from the genre’s most gifted bands. Each song tracks along a sonic trajectory that feels equally varied and consistent. Its breaks into more jazzy territory (like in “Uroboric Forms” and “Textures”) never feel jarring, but instead integral pieces of a unique whole that never fails to surprise and delight. Adding to these songwriting and performative decisions, the band’s vocal focus is fundamentally unique, blending harsh vocals with beautiful singing and synthetically enhanced, nearly robotic passages feels incredibly unique in a way that has seldom been duplicated. It’s the complete package of death metal proficiency and progressive transcendence that has rarely, if ever, been matched.
Listening to modern manifestations of progressive death metal always brings me back to this masterpiece of a record, and for good reason. Focus has stood the test of time and is widely considered one of death metal’s most influential and captivating releases, and I cannot for a moment disagree with these assessments. Each new listen brings to the fore new passages and perspectives for chewing on, and thirty years removed from its initial release that’s a peak seldom reached by any record. Let it be known that Focus is a magnificent record that continues to command a great level of respect and attention in the songwriting of new bands yearning to capture the magnificence of their progressive forebears. It’s truly something special.
Deadly Discussions // Atvm
As plainly stated above, we’re pretty big fans of London’s Atvm. So much so in fact that we brought them from the release graveyard of May and into the blinding light of June. Heresy, you say? A pox on ye! We would be remiss in our duties to not include such an essential and thoroughly captivating release in our coverage of each month’s death metal (even when we are late to the game). But more on the album in a bit. For now, we are pleased to introduce the band to our audience in their own words. Atvm graciously fielded some questions from the Heavy Blog team about their new record, songwriting process, and beyond. Partake in the goodness below!
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us! For those who are unfamiliar with your work, would you mind giving us a quick background on the band? Who is Atvm, and how did the band come together?
Atvm: Atvm is Harry Bray on vocals, Tom Calcraft on guitar, Luke Abbot on bass, and Francis Ball on drums. The band was founded in 2012, when Tom met our former guitarist Max at university and decided to add some riffs to their evening spliffs agenda. Pretty soon, Francis was invited to come and jam through some covers. Luke—who Tom knew from high school back in Essex—joined the band a bit later, replacing our first bassist. This was the Atvm lineup for a few years, including the writing and recording of our debut EP, Out Of Chaotic Waters (2015). Max wanted to hand over vocal duties to focus on ripping the guitar, so Harry—another Essex scumfuck gutterbag who moved to London—stepped in soon after OOCW dropped. We started to take things more seriously as a band and got into a good routine of rehearsing and gigging. Max left Atvm a few years ago after he fathered a child, got married, and moved to Manchester—fair enough! After that dreaded departure, it’s just the four of us delayed adolescents left, pushed together in new creative directions as we adapted to having one less guitar. ‘Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless’ is just the start!
HBIH: You’ve released a few EPs prior to dropping your debut album, Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless, this year. Listening through your discography is a treat for the simple fact that the band you were is quite different than the band you’ve become, particularly in the instrumental department. The growth you’ve made as musicians is marked and truly awesome. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned as musicians as you transitioned from EP to full-length material?
Atvm: The main lesson was that it would take some serious time and money to get a good impression of how we wanted this material to turn out. Hopefully, the rest of the progression between OOCW and Famine is down to our, ahem, considerable growth as musicians. We have been playing and writing together for a lot longer now, so everything gelled more easily leading up to the recording. We are also much happier to pull each other’s ideas apart and play around with the songs than we had been before. With that said, we massively underestimated the scale of making a full album. Another big lesson: don’t include 56 minutes of music for a debut full-length! We can’t even put our feet up now, as we’re balls deep in hand-making cassette and VHS tapes, animations (“Picture of Decay”), and filming our own music video (“They Crawl”, out soon… hopefully) along with shipping out orders. Famine has been 6-odd years in the making, with lots of detours along the way. We are now really in the mood to start shitting out new music with much less faffing about!
HBIH: On that note, to my ears your logical transition as musicians is equal to that of your songwriting direction. Out of Chaotic Waters had a distinct, blackened death metal vibe that I pick up much less of in your new record. Can you walk us through how this evolution in sound came to be?
Atvm: We just want to make music that we want to listen to.
Famine still bears the footprint of our former guitarist Max, who was the main songwriter back in 2015 when this material started coming together. Max’s departure turned out to be a positive step purely because this allowed us to radically reinterpret the material that he and Tom had written, now as a power trio + vocalist. It was brilliant to have that level of creative freedom as well as the vital necessity to rearrange our music to make sure it still sounded sick live. Atvm has never had a single leader or creative director, but the song-writing process for Famine was much more collaborative and much less rigid than with OOCW. We dissected every track to high fuck, so anything credited to any one person still has major input from everyone else in Atvm. It’s this combination that really shines through! We still think our music sounds like us, but just with way more freedom to prog out. If you thought Famine sounded different, wait until you hear our next release.
HBIH: Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless is an absolutely gobsmacking blend of styles and sounds. With this penchant for music diversity in mind, what bands or sounds have served as some of your principal sonic influences, and how did they impact the final product?
Atvm: We don’t really think about other bands at all when we are writing or playing, and we all listen to loads of very different things, like hip hop, jazz, prog and so on. What you hear is the result of us writing some riffs then getting really high at band practice and mucking about with them for 6 years. We think anything can be brutal if you just want to get creative with it.
HBIH: One of the most unique aspects of Famine is how seamlessly you’ve blended these disparate influences and sounds into a cohesive whole. I pick up hints of thrash, progressive metal, psych rock, lots of death metal, and just a tad of acid jazz in these tracks at various points. Which, if I’m being frank, could end up either as a total disaster or something unique and sensational. Since your record decidedly falls into the latter category, I’m curious to hear how you all approach the transitions between styles as you construct your compositions. What’s your methodology there?
Atvm: If it feels good, do it!
Generally, whoever writes any given song will present it more or less ‘fully formed’ as a skronking midi demo to the rest of the band. We then fuck with the structure and pull things around, changing the feel of a riff, removing some sections, completely rewriting certain parts… Everything is torn down and built up again rehearsal by rehearsal. A lot of these edits take us away from the more familiar territory of metal. What comes out at the end still works because we’re making changes to something that already had a coherence to it. In particular, the guitar usually provides the rock around which the rhythm section have the freedom to go more nuts. If something sounds good and we have fun playing it, we’ll adopt it. These tunes get refined until we’re completely happy with them; some of them have been kicking around since 2015 and the last five years have seen lots of different iterations come and go in the meantime! Famine is really a testament to how much we enjoy making music together.
HBIH: The title of the album itself is fairly evocative, particularly given the dark times we live in. The song titles carry a similar weight, creating pictures of decay that remind me of the work of Pyrrhon. On a thematic level lyrically and conceptually, what was your vision for Famine?
Atvm: Initially, we were working out a concept around the Old Testament plagues of Egypt. We moved away from how grandiose and cheesy this inevitably would’ve been, and the themes of pestilence and curse became much more about an emotionally raw connection to our own lives. Even where the lyrics remain quite descriptively mythical, we hope that people can relate the unhinged shrieking and batshit instrumentals to the violent and bizarre world that we all inhabit. Maybe Covid was the best thing to happen to this record? It clearly strikes a chord with worldwide putridity and the endless famine of lockdown. As the music disintegrates in the final passages of “Slud”, the vocals are mostly improvised. The very final howl—”Famine, putrid and fucking endless!”—jumped out as the perfect title, as well as a great finale, for the whole record. Our vocalist Harry would definitely have more to say about the underlying message and narrative, so give him a video interview and get him to spill his guts.
HBIH: We here at Heavy Blog are huge fans of the production work of Colin Marston, who mixed and mastered the record if I’m not mistaken. Your new record falls squarely in the camp of recent releases from equally technically astounding bands like Defeated Sanity and Afterbirth that bear his crisp, clear handiwork behind the boards. What was it like working with him, and how did your collaboration influence the record’s final sonic vision?
Atvm: Colin was a pleasure to work with! His friendly and well-spoken emails felt like getting an exciting letter from your pal across seas rather than slugging out another boring work message. To be honest, it’s still a surprise that Colin agreed to do it so readily. He really seemed to understand where we were coming from and where we wanted to go with Famine. We gave Colin a few references to albums or instrument sounds that we liked—including stuff he’d worked on previously alongside other bits and pieces—but the only real touchstones were that the final record needed to sound ‘lively’, ‘dynamic’, and ‘performative’. We wanted Colin to have his own artistic freedom and input, and gave him more descriptive than prescriptive feedback. Colin’s suggestions for effects and additions really helped to solidify the album into a coherent whole with a sense of flow within and between songs. Famine would’ve definitely come out a lot different with someone else twiddling the nobs!
It is also really important to highlight how amazing Jake (Sanders, Satellite Studios) was as a recording engineer. He did an outstanding job getting everything laid down over a number of weekends, giving us loads of advice and the freedom to do things how we wanted. In particular, he really helped Harry get the best out of his first time in the studio, and was happy to do some unconventional stuff to make things come out great. We would very highly recommend Jake to any other bands looking to record.
HBIH: On the stylistic front, it would be a complete travesty not to mention the insane, eye-popping artwork for the record (drawn by the incredibly talented Harry Jenkins). What was the vision behind this artwork?
Atvm: We’ve been fans of Harry’s (AKA IneptAliens) for a long time, and especially love his vibrant, cartoony, colour palette, and the strange emotional range he captures in his weird characters. Just like with Colin, we wanted to give Harry a lot of space to interpret our music how he saw fit. We were incredibly excited when Harry agreed to the commission and he was also a total pleasure to work with in developing the final album cover. We wanted to have something that looked very different to the standard metal cover-art hellscape, and would hopefully catch people’s eyes as they scrolled on Bandcamp.
HBIH: The lockdowns brought about by COVID-19 have impacted to some degree every band we’ve spoken with about the topic. How did the pandemic influence the completion of this record and your creative process?
Atvm: The pandemic didn’t really affect the creative process at all as it had already taken so long, it only really delayed us going into the studio by a few months – we demo’d these songs in November 2019 and ended up recording in August 2020. It was really tough to not be able to play together for the months in between, but we got in some rehearsals before the recording sessions that thankfully lined up with lockdown easing off. In the end, everything played out fairly easily. At that point, there wasn’t much demand for studio time from other artists so we had a pretty clean sweep over the weeks to get everything sorted within a month or two. It’s pretty handy when your vocalist works at a recording studio!
HBIH: What’s next for the band?
Atvm: More Gigs, more riffs, more spliffs! We’re playing the Underworld in Camden on the 20th August for Back From the Dead fest with Onslaught and In Memoriam. In terms of releases, we’re planning on having a split EP with a more black metal tinge to it out later this year.
HBIH: What was your favorite album of 2020?
Atvm: Future Nostalgie – Dua Lipa (that album legit bangs, fuck Ariana Grande).
HBIH: What is your favorite album of the decade?
Atvm: Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa (that album legit bangs, fuck Ariana Grande).
HBIH: What is your favorite album of all-time?
Atvm: Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa (that album legit bangs, fuck Ariana Grande).
Cream of the Crop
Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless (progressive tech death)
You’ve heard a lot about this band and the creation of this record up to this point, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How does it sound? In short, Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless is a masterclass in progressive, batshit death metal and one of the best records I’ve heard in years. Full stop. Intrigued? Read on.
Such grandiose statements need some level of justification, no doubt. Thankfully Famine is as easy to deliberate on as it is to flippantly praise. From literally the opening seconds of opener “Sanguinary Floating Orb” a few things become evident. First, this album is impeccably produced. The guitars and drums pop, wind, and bounce with a lively and kinetic energy that is so seldom achieved in death metal. So who else could be behind the boards but the inimitable Colin Marston (whose work last year with bands like Defeated Sanity and Afterbirth was simply stupendous) and Jake Sanders, whose collaborative work make this album spring to life with clarity and verve. Which is absolutely essential, given the complexity of the songwriting here, which is well worth dissecting in its own right.
As the band stated in the above interview, their approach to songwriting falls less into a category of definitive genre alchemy than incorporating what they enjoy into their songwriting process. This approach is evident in how organic and fluid the transitions between death metal insanity, jazzy breakdowns, and thrash-centric riffage are. Seamless is the word that comes to mind, which is not a fairly common descriptor for records that hold this much sonically within them. The stylistic movement in these tracks is among the most vivacious and natural that I have heard in many years, with “Anag-ou Matoy” representing one of the best examples of the smoothness of these shifts on the record. These tracks don’t feel like disjointed or cobbled together strands of various genres, but instead cohesive compositions that require each component to succeed. And succeed they do, every time.
Records like Famine, however, are difficult to pull off without some expert musicianship at the helm, and here once again Atvm deliver in spades. The technical skill on display throughout Famine is absolutely unassailable, with each track presenting diverse, lush, and often frenetic instrumentation that strays exactly the right amount off the beaten path. The production work of the record serves the band especially well here, allowing each performer and instrument oxygen and space to breath both separately and as part of a cohesive whole. While obviously strange and experimental music for people with a penchant for such things, it’s impressive how oddly accessible Famine is, and it’s hard to imagine anyone even remotely familiar with metal genres to not hear the performances and songwriting here and not be impressed. It’s a straight up doozy of a record.
We’re just to the halfway mark of the year, and have already been blessed with incredible, mind-bending releases from Ad Nauseam, Suffering Hour, and a host of other incredible death metal bands. But I’ve got to be honest with you… few if any releases from 2021 have gotten as much airtime as Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless. I can definitively state that it’s one of metal’s most creative, infinitely listenable, technically astounding and thoroughly enjoyable releases this year, and I have a hard time seeing that opinion doing anything but grow over the coming months. If you’ve yet to hear it, stop mucking about and give it a fair shake. I feel highly confident that you won’t leave disappointed.
Best of the Rest
Acausal Intrusion – Nulitas (avant-garde death metal)
Ad Nauseam blew most death metal fans away in 2021 with their gripping, wild, utterly uncompromising Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, and it feels weird to be comparing so many albums to it. But one would be remiss to not bring it up in relation to Acausal Intrusion‘s Nulitas, which stands tall alongside it as one of avant-garde metal’s most interesting and captivating releases. Those who love a healthy mix of atmosphere to go with their skronk should find plenty to love here, with some notable songwriting and stellar performances to boot.
What feels unique about Nulitas right off the bat is its production, which feels like a murky mix between second wave black metal and early death metal, with the drums on overdrive and the guitars bounding between the thunderous pops with verve and a hefty amount of haziness. It honestly took me a bit to get acclimated to, but once the rhythm of the album began to take hold I was hooked by it’s unique, obfuscatory ways. Opener “Transcending the Veil” should give you just about all you need to sort through what this record is trying to do, and if you’re as in love as I am, I strongly suggest you continue to plum its considerable depths.
I, Voidhanger releases some of the craziest music on planet earth, and I certainly count Acausal Intrusion’s Nulitas among its typically insane ranks. The cavernous, poppy production on this won’t be for everyone, but for me this scratches all the right dissonant itches and feels in line with the type of oppressive, malignant death metal fans of Altarage, Ulcerate, and Infernal Coil might enjoy. Give it a whirl, gang. It’s good stuff.
Feed Them Death – Negative (avant-garde deathgrind)
As a longtime music critic, I’ve grown to appreciate a well-written, creative analogy for a band’s music. You know, something that goes beyond simply listing genres and comparable bands. So when I saw Machine Music describe Feed Them Death as “people shooting semi automatic machine guns at [an] orchestra rehearsal,” my interest was quickly piqued. Not only is that description apt, it helped attract me to one of the most intriguing and outright enjoyable deathgrind projects I’ve heard in some time.
As far as one-person projects go, Void proves to be an excellent purveyor of vicious, off-kilter deathgrind under the Feed Them Death Banner. Negative is indeed the soundtrack of a modern classical rehearsal being interrupted by the stylings of experimental extreme metal. On tracks like opener “Superficialibi,” Void unleashes a scorching slab of deathgrind that effortlessly navigates through passages of unsettling, dissonant melody. It sounds less like a battle between heaven and hell and closer to an outright civil war in the seventh circle.
This is perhaps best witnessed on “Eulogic (Negative Dialektik),” which features avant-garde black metal solo project Derhead and sludgy noise quintet LaColpa. The core formula of ripping deathgrind collides with a blend of strings and noise, landing in an intense, doomy maelstrom. Experimentation aside, Void proves that Feed Them Death is hardly a novelty project hiding behind bizarre quirks. Tracks like “An Objective Tragedy” proves he’s adept at his craft, that being the creation of suffocating death metal that’s as fast as it is multifaceted.
Ghastly – Mercurial Passages (old school death metal)
We here at Heavy Blog were huge fans of Ghastly‘s stunning debut Death Velour, which made its way into conversations on the genre well after its release. So to stay that we were looking forward to Mercurial Passages would be a gross understatement. But with such high expectations comes the inevitable nervousness around the actual final product. Will it live up to the hype, or be another bummer in a perpetual sea of disappointments? Thankfully, the latter scenario proves true for Mercurial Passages, which to my ear improves on its predecessor in nearly every measurable metric.
If you’re a fan of old school death metal, I can think of no reasons why you shouldn’t be spinning this record regularly. Mercurial Passages is a delight to listen to from start to finish, throwing at listeners some extremely consistent songwriting quality and fantastic instrumentation throughout. Opener “Ouroborus” is a sheer freight train of amazing riffs, barreling through passage after passage of death metal awesomeness that reminds me of a mix between the cavernous qualities of bands like Sxuperion (especially during “Out of the Psychic Blue”) with the death metal acumen and more progressive tendencies of Horrendous. It’s a great mix of styles and sounds that is never anything less than interesting. From the chugging intensity of “Sea of Light” to the soaring, dramatic highs of album closer “Mirror Horizon”, there’s something for everyone here.
If you enjoyed Death Velour, you’ll love Mercurial Passages. Far from a proverbial flash in the pan, Ghastly have cemented themselves alongside bands like Ulthar, Undeath, Voidceremony, and Cosmic Putrefaction as a group to watch over the coming years. The quality and care put into their music is evident, and I already cannot wait for their next release. But until then, I’ll have the excellent Mercurial Passages to keep me company.
Disembodiment – Mutated Chaos (death metal)
Look, the pitch here is simple: 15 minutes of meaty cavern-core that fans of Incantation should gobble right up. There’s a little deathgrind and death-doom thrown into the mix, but bottom line, this is a quick answer for anyone needing a filthy fix.
Empty Throne – Glossolalia (blackened death-thrash)
Do you like black, death, and thrash metal with pedigree? Then do I have an EP for you! Empty Throne features current and former members of Abbath, Angerot, Decrepit Birth, The Kennedy Veil, and Possessed, a smörgåsbord of bands that actually helps explain the collision of styles on Glossolalia. Across three beefy tracks (shortest is just under 7 minutes), the quartet cycle through the core trio of extreme metal styles, balancing speed, melody, and riffs along the way. Hopefully this isn’t a one-off experiment and we can expect a full-length sometime soon.
FANGE – Pantocrator (industrial death metal)
FANGE are back with more “ignorant music for the Educated Man.” More specifically, the band follow up their excellent 2020 album Pudeur (and an EP titled Poigne that I missed) with another helping of Entombed-core violently colliding with the worlds of industrial, noise, and sludge. This time, the band take the classic “full side a/b” release, with two 15-minute dirges that extend their formula to epic proportions.
Unfathomable Ruination – Decennium Ruinae (brutal death metal)
There’s a reason Jonathan picked Enraged & Unbound as his #3 death metal album of 2019, and why I felt like a fool for sleeping on them when I finally put on the album the following year. If you’re looking for brutal death metal that still manages to stay fresh and dynamic, then I’d prescribe an unhealthy dose of Unfathomable Ruination. The band returns with another helping of the good stuff on Decennium Ruinae, with plenty of gurgles, slams, and blasts for everyone.