Hello, friends. It’s been a minute. But we out here yet again. It’s Death’s Door, baby. There’s plenty to catch up on. Life has been particularly

2 years ago

Hello, friends. It’s been a minute. But we out here yet again. It’s Death’s Door, baby. There’s plenty to catch up on.

Life has been particularly insane for yours truly as of late. Multiple family weddings and starting a new job have waylaid my typical music listening and writing endeavors over the past few months. Your patience with my tardiness (which is why this column skipped a month) is greatly appreciated. Special shout out to my fellow contributors tolerating my erratic schedule as well. They’re the real heroes. But we’re back with some spicy records from the past few months that we cannot wait to share with you.

The below offerings present only a small smattering of the incredible content released over the past two months. It would take another month of listening on our end to come close to covering it all. So we want to hear from you. What did we miss? What were your favorites? Shoot us a comment or two and tell us why we’re wrong.

We’ve missed you. It’s good to be back. Death metal. Forever.

Jonathan Adams

Cream of the Crop

Imperial Triumphant Spirit of Ecstasy

It’s always difficult to classify a new Imperial Triumphant record in terms of genre. Each of their altogether fantastic records is a blend of so many unique and seemingly incompatible musical styles that answering the question “what do they sound like?” often feels borderline impossible. How I typically answer this inquiry is by telling the asker that they sound like no one else. Which is the principal strength of their latest release Spirit of Ecstasy. Imperial Triumphant, love or hate them, rest in the creative shadow of none. They are their own thoroughly unique, uncompromising, gloriously insane entity and have here crafted an album that amalgamates their journey thus far into a marvelously coherent yet fully delirious whole. It’s truly exhilarating stuff.

If you’ve never heard an IT record before, this may be both the best and worst place to start. Those seasoned to the band’s sound will find a veritable treasure trove of tweaks and contortions to the band’s established (albeit highly erratic) soundscapes, primarily in its emphasis on chunky, warbly, death metal-adjacent riffs. The finale of “Metrovertigo” and the central motif of “Tower of Glory, City of Shame” are among the most memorable sequences of music the band have yet written, showcasing the band’s deeply experimental tendencies and grounding them in recognizable, but not exactly accessible, tropes. Sure, there’s more to latch onto here than in Vile Luxury, but that doesn’t mean the band’s songwriting unpredictability is any less stark. Take “Merkurius Gilded” (featuring none other than Kenny G. on the sax) as a perfect example of this juxtaposition, showcasing IT’s riding the razor’s edge of legibility and full-on scribble freak-out. It’s glorious, just like the rest of the album.

While IT has always been known as a collective of insanely talented musicians, Spirit of Ecstasy brings their copious skills to the forefront in ways that feel more intense and impactful than ever. Guest musicians abound, but the band’s core members truly are the stars of the show here, especially the percussive work of Kenny Grohowski. While the extreme music world is filled to the brim with amazing drummers, especially in this particular creative slice (Ulcerate fans know what I’m talking about), I don’t feel like Kenny gets the love he deserves. His work on this record is beyond stellar, and I would posit that there are few drumming performances I can remember that balanced propulsion, embarrassing riches of competence, and thoroughly unique personality this astutely. I’ll state it here and loudly that Kenny Grohowski is one of the best drummers in metal and Spirit of Ecstasy may be his best work to date.

I could ramble about aspects of this record for a very long time, but I’ll stop here by claiming Spirit of Ecstasy as one of the best metal records of 2022. It’s wildly creative, oddly catchy, intensely immersive and on the whole another staggering achievement from one of the best bands in the game. I’ve given this thing a great many spins and am nowhere close to tired of it. Expect to see it peppering our year-end content.


Best of the Rest

Altars Ascetic Reflection

Man, I needed Ascetic Reflection. With several years passed since Brendan Sloan graced our ears with the mad gyrations of Convulsing’s Grievous, I’ve been eagerly anticipating another death metal project of equal magnitude and caliber. Thankfully Altars has raised a sophomore offering aloft that brings all the verve and focused intensity of Sloan and company’s best collective work. Ascetic Reflection is everything I was hoping it would be and then some. It’s epic, diverse, unpredictable, and in all performative areas simply superb. It’s an absolute banger.

As an exercise in songwriting, Ascetic Reflection feels like a definitive step up from its immediate predecessor, 2013’s Paramnesia. Pushing the envelope of dissonance with a more refined emphasis, Ascetic Reflections feels particularly adventurous sonically but not at the expense of easily digestible and legible riffs. Take “Perverse Entity” as a primary example of this juxtaposition, balancing a memorable though somewhat off-kilter central riff while blending in some dissonant diversions after the tracks opening minute. It’s a mixture that works on every front, pushed to blistering maximum in tracks like “Luminous Jar” and “Opening the Passage”, which take their sweet time developing delicious soundscapes that befuddle and pulverize in equal measure.

Most of this sonic back-and-forth lands with intention and ferocity due to simply fantastic production work, which creates just the right amount of clarity without minimizing sonic heft. The record consistently hits hard and with great violence but never at the expense of clarity thanks to Sloan and Lewis Fischer’s impeccable recording and the former’s attention to detail in the record’s mastering. It’s not only one of the most judiciously effective exercises in death metal songwriting this year, but one of the best sounding as well.

Ascetic Reflection is nothing short of fantastic in every measurable metric. I have a hard time conjuring anything I’d like to see changed, and to say I’m deeply impressed would be an understatement. It’s one of my favorite death metal records of 2022, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


AutonoesisMoon of Foul Magics

Back in the days of yore, as far back as the forgotten past that is the 80’s, the different sub-genres of metal were only being born, forged in the same cultural fires which were pushing music forward in every single musical space. Because they were newly formed, and because they were all, at the end of the day, derived from the same source, the lines between them were hazy and unclear. Black metal and thrash co-existed as a weird amalgam of speed, aggression, and varying degrees of production. Death metal was still figuring out where melody and deeper growls fit into the blazing attitudes that its heroes had heralded. In short, pointing to a band and classifying it was harder.

I’ve always found it a shame that bands operating in the so-called Old School Death Metal revival (OSDM for short) did not play on this more muddy frontier. Usually, bands who make this kind of music choose to focus on a very specific sound, namely the muddy and “low-brow” sound of pure metal aggression. Autonoesis have shown us another way with Moon of Foul Magics, harkening back to more than “just” the death metal sound. On this album, the band play a heady mix of thrash, black, and death metal, deriving power from all sources to create a powerful exploration of epic proportions, focused on creating excellent metal rather than harping or harkening to a specific sort of sub-genre.

You would be excused if you thought this was “just” a black metal release after listening to the first few tracks. This is especially true for the title track, which continues at its core a tremolo picked riff that would satisfy the most blackened of hearts. But what’s this we hear nearer the track’s middle? Why, it is the trappings of a groovy, meaty death/thrash riff, taking over the track with its evocative and effective guitar lead/bass unison and its undeniably thrash-y backing chords. If we skip forward to “Crypt of Thought”, we come across decidedly death metal riff at the core of the track, whereupon the vocals also take on a slightly deeper range to accommodate the more “weighted” sound of the sub-genre.

What’s important is that whether it is paying homage to one sub-genre or, as is more often the case with this album, mixing all three of the “proto-genres” of extreme metal together, Moon of Foul Magics is expertly crafted and executed. It’s an album for the ages, bleeding edges corruscating with the acidic derision and violence that originally catapulted metal into the heights of the 80’s, and beyond. It is a modern take on why we love the genre at large so much, hardly missing a beat in its exploration of its suppurating, flaming heart.


Hissing Hypervirulence Architecture

Death metal has a reputation for being music inherently difficult for the uninitiated to appreciate and access without some level of continual exposure. This isn’t an inherent benefit or net positive of death metal, but simply a reality that those breaking into the genre must often contend with. But every once in a while even we wiley old vets find a record that feels like an impenetrable wall of intensity that takes a few spins to come to terms with. Albums from bands like Portal, Dodecahedron, Mitochondrion, and Ingurgitating Oblivion come to mind when discussing dissonant inaccessibility, and after the release of Hypervirulence Architecture we can throw Hissing squarely into that camp. It’s an immense, intense, magmatic flow of pure audio violence with enough magnitude to scare even the most seasoned of death metal listeners. I love it.

I was fortunate enough to see Hissing perform live in Denver a few years back and was blown away by their focused intensity. That feeling from their live set transfers impeccably in their recorded work, but especially in Hypervirulence Architecture. There’s a feral, repulsive nastiness to the guitar tone and performances here that feels tactile and gross, thrusting the listener into a world of sonic dread that feels unusually organic. There’s a natural element here that is often lacking in this type of music, creating a soundscape that although wildly dissonant and violent never feels unnatural or robotic. It’s this blend of the off-putting and the natural that makes Hissing such a unique property in blackened/dissonant death metal, and those tendencies shine brightly throughout this record.

But it’s not all uncontrolled chaos and mayhem for its own sake. Hissing are improving dramatically as songwriters, incorporating fresh ideas into their seething pool of nastiness, keeping each track lively and unpredictable enough to warrant repeat listens to disambiguate the madness. Throw in expert performances and some high quality production and you have yourself a certified winner. Each track on this record is worthy of your time and attention, and if you’re willing to tread into some fundamentally garish sonic territory there are few albums that will discombobulate and appease you more than Hypervirulence Architecture. It’s a dissonant masterclass.


Psycroptic Divine Council

Eight full-length records deep and it appears that one of Australia’s most technically engaging Death Metal has no intention of letting their foot off the gas. Psycroptic are a veritable institution in the world of technical death metal, and Divine Council does practically nothing to dissuade the faithful from continued allegiance. Front-to-back, this offering delivers engaging, beautifully executed tech death with maximum power and economy. It’s another winner.

Not going to lie, though. Divine Council had some pretty large shoes to fill. Their previous release, 2018’s As the Kingdom Drowns, was arguably their best record since the release of their undisputed masterpiece The Scepter of the Ancients. In my eyes, Psycroptic wins if they could release a record of equal caliber to Kingdom, and I’m very pleased to report that they have. The technical mastery on display here is on par or in excess of anything they’ve done in at least a decade. And being as seasoned as they are as a band, it comes as no surprise that their songwriting prowess continues to be as sharp and effective as any band in this space. Opener “Rend Asunder” should put any fears of the band falling off to rest, unleashing some of the band’s most catchy and impressive songwriting and instrumentation of their career. This effectiveness continues unabated throughout the record, with nary a dud in sight.

It’s always impressive when bands with enough water under the bridge to fill multiple musical careers continue to release impeccable music. Divine Council is a beautiful and brutal example of cohesion of vision and purpose culminating in excellent music released well beyond a metal band’s quality shelf life. Whether or not you find Divine Council among the band’s best work, it’s nearly impossible to deny the fact that their still at the top

of their game and continue to be deserving of our admiration. Another fantastic effort in the books for the Tasmanian boys.


Reeking Aura Blood and Bonemeal

Reeking Aura is a collective of musicians that could very easily have fallen into the failed supergroup mill that’s been cluttered with the bones of talented musicians mixing to incoherent and boredom-inducing effect. Sure, any band harboring members of Artificial Brain, Grey Skies Fallen, and Buckshot Facelift should immediately catch the eye of any discerning death metal aficionado, but having been burned so many times by should-have-been-amazing collaborations that ended up underwhelming it’s hard to judge us for being skeptical. But for those of us who gave this group a chance, I think I speak for the majority in saying color me very impressed.

Also surprised. I did not expect the old school death metal vibes to be as prominent on this release as they are, but damn does this thing hit hard and heavy. Riffs galore populate the aptly titled Blood and Bonemeal, pulsing and pounding through our ear holes with the expert precision one would expect from this band’s pedigree. Which is a testament to one of the primary uniquenesses of Reeking Aura. This collection of musicians feels like it belongs together. The songwriting is intentional and varied, allowing each member of the band to shine. It’s also an unusually patient release, ebbing and flowing from sheer death metal intensity to atmospheric and acoustic soundscapes with surprising regularity and effectiveness. The album’s title track and “Harvesting the Hatchet” display this approach beautifully, and are among the best moments on the record.

In a rare and delightful instance of a potentially bad idea working out flawlessly, Reeking Aura have unleashed a monster of a debut that gives me great hope for this project’s future. Fans of filthy old school death metal will

find plenty to love here, while those wishing for a bit more variety in their death metal will be satisfied by the group’s insistence on periodically and effectively slowing things down and expanding their sonic palette. It’s a fantastic record that I can confidently recommend.


Wake Thought Form Descent

Calgary’s atmospheric blackened death metal titans Wake made their Metal Blade debut last month, furthering their mastery of their novel brand of post-metal on Thought Form Descent. In my review, I championed the band for building off their celebrated 2020 album Devouring Ruin and going further with their spacious and melodic deathgrind, offering another side of the coin of the building dissodeath scene in the wake of Ulcerate that Wake have come close to fitting into.

Thought Form Descent is decidedly not very dissonant. Wake’s melodic vocabulary often sits closer to that of The Ocean or Opeth than Gorguts (whose guitarist Kevin Hufnagel is actually featured on two separate tracks), yet it’s the overall aesthetic inspired by that monstrous, larger-than-life avant garde/tech death band that nearly steals the show. Thought Form Descent is an emotionally complex record, and with a sense of majesty that elevates the record to easily match the high expectations following their aforementioned 2020 breakout.

Jimmy Rowe

.357 HomicideHomicidal Amusement Through Supreme Exsanguination

A very long and threatening album title. Songs names that reference decay, death, and destruction. Cover art of an amusement park piled with more bodies than the Santa Cruz Boardwalk after Jordan Peele is done with it. Yes, we’re talking peak summer slams. Right as the heat of August is starting to give way to September’s Halloween candy, Manchester slam duo .357 Homicide is giving voice to summer’s final scream.

.357 Homicide occupies a particularly nasty part of the death metal swamp established by slam gorefathers Kraanium and grown by groups like CUFF, Cerebral Incubation, and Guttural Slug. Blastbeats and riffs abound, but .357 Homicide adds their own twist by featuring both members as vocalists: one contributing a raw roar somewhere between traditional death metal vocals and slam, the other supplying guttural croaks. The combination adds a layer of depth to Homicidal Amusement that makes the whole album ridiculously fun. Every time you think Homicidal Amusement Through Supreme Exsanguination can’t hit any harder, .357 Homicide finds a way to pummel your ears with another deeply satisfying slam. Like the bloody roller coaster on the cover art, expect massive drops and no one left alive by the end of this ride.

Bridget Hughes

Jonathan Adams

Published 2 years ago