Some months just feel more death metal than others. Layoffs at employers, heaps more work than anticipated to make up for the shortage, family health concerns, global calamity in our own backyards… the last few months have been an ordeal to say the least. Which is why this edition of Death’s Door is positively loaded with premium content. When the going gets rough, death metal saves. Amen.
It’s been a minute since we last convened, so let’s cut to the chase: Death metal snapped our necks over the past two months. Below is a selection of absolutely monstrous releases that I am fairly confident will make many a year-end list come December. So feast with us on a gloriously depraved bounty of feral nastiness. You know you want to.
That’s all I’ve got. Partake, friends. Because it’s death metal. Forever.
Cream of the Crop
Ulthar - Helionomicon & Anthronomicon
Music and culture have been entwined closer than ever with the rise of social media. Artists hoping to break into popular culture no longer need a corporate machine behind them, trading in press releases and polished music videos for hyper-optimized snippets that sneak into our tv binge sessions and algorithmically primed feeds. As part of this shift, the cultural currency of a song or an album has changed from a static collection of entertaining sounds to a living, breathing beast that draws the listener into a multimedia scavenger hunt for references, iterations, and responses. Is this lyric reimagining a particular movie scene? Is that chord progression a response to another artist? It’s a heady, fascinating mix that has borne a new era of conspiracy pop.
Blackened death metal monstrosity Ulthar emerged into this era with a double header release in February, entitled Anthronomicon and Helionomicon. Why a double release? Anthronomicon is the more “traditional” of the two, comprising eight tracks ranging from four to seven minutes. Helionomicon, on the other hand, is just two sprawling, cavernous songs spanning approximately 20 minutes each. In true Ulthar fashion, the Helionomicon tracks contain zero ambient or electronic passages. Quite literally all killer, no filler.
Brilliant musicianship and technical songwriting is a given with Ulthar, of course, but the albums are even better in the context of Ulthar’s ability to thrive within the context of conspiracy pop while also completely shunning its conventions. Their chaotic-yet-detailed approach to technical death metal incorporates styles from black metal, progressive metal, and even krautrock in ways that highlight the best qualities of all styles. But it’s the inspiration and ethos of the band that unites these elements in a fascinating way.
Named after a town in the Mythos of Cthulhu, Ulthar embeds horror into every aspect of their music, building an entire universe in their albums in the same ways that conspiracy pop albums do. The complexity and off-kilter pacing feel just as much like a horror movie as they do an album. In the title track of Helionomicon, Ulthar takes the listener through the emotional journey of a full horror movie. Opening with a few bars of ambience, we’re thrown into a dramatic chase with high-octane guitars cut by Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo’s echoing growls. It’s hard to catch the lyrics, but chaos reigns in his fierce performance. A hint of skronky guitar evokes panic as the tempo picks up. The hunt is on, the killer is loose. Something has gone very, very wrong. The octave drops as the mystery deepens and our main character spirals in terror, only to return to their frantic quest for escape. A chugging bass breaks through, perhaps an attempt to fight back? Slower, more ominous passages pull the listener into a moment of realization as Peacock and Lermo’s howls elongate. Cavernous guitars take a backseat to a heart-pounding drumbeat as our hero and our killer race towards their final confrontation, broken by sudden stillness and lilting, almost jazz-like, guitars. One moment of peace before our bloody resolution. Illustrated by a breakneck tempo and buzzsaw guitars, our journey reaches its violent, dramatic destination. Ambient synths echo as the victor surveys the carnage and escapes into the night.
Considering their history of entwining horror elements into their discography, I doubt Ulthar planned any connection between the conspiracy pop trend and Anthronomicon and Helionomicon. But the parallels are there, and only add compelling new layers to a band proving their continuing skill and innovation in technical death metal.
Best of the Rest
Contrarian - Sage of Shekhinah
This is one of those albums for which I got the promo ages before it was released. However, in this case, this wasn’t much of a problem since Sage of Shekhinah (try to say that five times fast, I dare you) hasn’t left my rotation ever since I received it. On it, Contrarian have done the absolute best move they could have done, in my book at least: they went weirder. The group has always been known for writing off-kilter, old-school inflected, intensely progressive death metal but on Sage, they have gone deeper into the realms of almost technical thrash metal a la Watchtower, early Destruction or Voivod.
While the thrash influences don’t go all the way towards those bands, the riffs, solos, and leads on Sage feel jagged; they make you grind your teeth with how sideways they can go without any warning. Just press play on the album and check out the self-titled opener; can you honestly say you saw where this was all going, at all times? Impossible. Everything moves even faster than Contrarian have set their pace to before and, as a result, the music on this album is transformed into heights of originality that even their previous, and excellent albums, lacked. Now add in those beautiful acoustic instruments at the end of the track, some of the wilder compositions further in on the album and vicious, unrelenting vocals, and you’ve get Sage in a nutshell.
In short, on their latest release, Contrarian continue to push forward on their dedication to interesting, well made, and distinctly unique progressive/technical death metal. Sage is chock full of everything we love about Contrarian and then some.
Entheos - Time Will Take Us All
Some records take you a minute to warm up to. Some grab you by the throat from the first listen and provide no relief on subsequent returns for punishment. The new NeO record, as an example, took me a few listens to fully grasp its rhythms. This new Entheos record, however, slapped me silly in about 30 seconds and just never stopped slappin’. I’ve enjoyed everything these American progressive death metal firebrands have released thus far, but none of their previous releases assaulted me with fists of fury at this level of immediacy and precision. This is Entheos in full beast mode, and it’s in my mind their clearest, boldest, and most effective statement of intent yet.
Progressive death metal and word like “immediacy” don’t often coexist, but in the case of Time Will Take Us All there isn’t a second wasted reintroducing listeners to the manic, unhinged sonic world Entheos occupies. Opening track “Absolute Zero” kicks off with a world-shattering sequence of riffs that had me smiling and banging my head furiously about 5 seconds into the track. It’s a definitive, violent shot across the bow for any doubters of the band’s death metal credentials that sets the tone for the madness to come. The first third of the record is a pure demolition fest, with “In Purgatory” and “The Interior Wilderness” showcasing a blend of sounds those familiar with the work of Fallujah, The Zenith Passage, and Vale of Pnath will appreciate and very likely relish. But it’s when we get to tracks like “Oblivion” that the band’s more progressive side rears its titanic head in ways that both surprised and delighted this long-time listener.
While Entheos has always shot its death metal through a progressive lens, Time Will Take Us All feels like a culmination of sorts for the band in songwriting capability. More than any of their previous releases, this feels like a definitive step forward for the band in terms of songwriting chops. “I Am the Void” and its slow burn vibes blend seamlessly into banger “Darkest Day” without losing a shred of heft or emotional impact, showcasing a band that understands each element of its sound and has learned how to incorporate and juxtapose them with style and coherence. This balance bleeds through all the way to the album’s monstrous, off-kilter, and oddly beautiful closing and title track, culminating in a front-to-back listening experience that is without question the band’s most focused, interesting, and powerful.
It’s so exciting when bands take the next logical leap and stick the landing with aplomb. Entheos have always been interesting, but with Time Will Take Us All they’ve taken a giant step toward ascendency and those who’ve ignored their career up to this point should take heed. Entheos are here to stay, and on this trajectory it won’t be long before they’ve become progressive death metal household names. Here’s to all the sonic adventures to come. I’m all the way in on Entheos.
In Flames - Foregone
After a tumultuous decade or more of questionable releases that pushed the band into the realm of alt-metal and melodic metalcore, In Flames have finally taken steps towards their classic melodic death metal sound for their fourteenth album Foregone. It’s been frustrating to see these highly influential icons slip in quality and cultural relevance through the 2010’s with some truly uninspired dreck and being eclipsed by the bands that they inspired on touring packages, but it would seem that the recent 20th anniversary celebration and re-recording of Clayman may have perhaps reinvigorated In Flames with a newfound sense of purpose.
What we have on Foregone is a blending of all the disparate eras of In Flames. This stylistic redirection was evidently made with such intention; Foregone opens with the familiar Euro-folk that accented their early releases with the appropriately titled intro “The Beginning of All Things” before ripping into “State of Slow Decay” which mirrors the intensity of Come Clarity opener “Take This Life.” “Bleeding Out” nods to the prominent synthesizers and clean singing that the band started playing with during Soundtrack and Reroute in the early 2000’s. “The Great Deceiver” remarkably sounds like an updated take on something out of The Jester Race, and the album’s two-part title track often feels cut straight from Clayman, and is an absolute smash. It’s all here, whether you like it or not.
It might be too little too late for purists, and this record is far from perfect and not without skips, but it is encouraging to hear In Flames trying at this point in their career and paying respect to the elements that put them on the map. Foregone feels like the record that should have followed 2006’s Come Clarity and certainly the best material they’ve done since, and if you’re the type of In Flames fan that longs for a reminder of what they’re capable of, it may be worth the visit.
Insomnium - Anno 1696
What’s left to say about Insomnium as an entity? Literally synonymous with melodic death metal at this juncture, Insomnium have enough subgenre classics under their belt to call it a career and be hailed as one of, if not the single, greatest melodic death metal entities ever produced. But part of Insomnium’s inherent greatness is their unwillingness to rest on their substantive death metal bona fides and instead embrace bold new directions. 2016’s Winter’s Gate, an album created 14 years after their debut release, was an epic one track masterpiece that reinvigorated the band’s primary style into something more grand than the band had yet to achieve. While their subsequent output, 2019’s Heart Like a Grave and 2023’s Anno 1696, has focused musically on honing and perfecting the band’s established reputation on a sonic level, Anno 1696 once again finds Insomnium focused on more conceptual concerns, lifting the curtain on Finland’s tragic witch hunts of the late 17th century. It’s a grim, emotive, stunning affair that for my money stands among the band’s most accomplished releases.
Musically, everything that Insomnium fans have grown to love about their sound is present. Niilo’s gale-like vocals undergird distinctly powerful turns from drummer Markus Hirvonen and guitarist Ville Friman, whom present powerful, chunky riffs and monstrous fills with an alarming level of balance and precision. Tracks like “Forsaken” (featuring a beautiful vocal turn from Johanna Kurkela) exemplify this balance between brutality and beauty perfectly, as the track levitates between manic blackened blast beats, acoustic folk interludes, and soaring riff arrangements. It’s a truly mesmerizing experience that sets the tone for the core sounds of Anno 1696 brilliantly.
While Insomnium have never shied away from folk instrumentation, Anno 1696 fittingly includes a glut of absolutely gorgeous acoustic sections that match the material of the record’s concept to a T. “Lilian”, “The Witch Hunter”, and “The Unrest” in particular feature some of the most beautiful passages the band have written in well over a decade, wrapping the album’s harshest elements in an ethereal shroud of soft melody that makes its brutality all the more impactful. Again, “balance” is the word of the day when defining what Insomnium achieve in Anno 1696, and the results are an essential re-listenability that have kept me coming back to this record again and again over the past month.
While melodic death metal is absolutely overstuffed with excellent bands carving their own paths through the subgenre (Be’Lakor, Majesties, and Amorphis have each released fantastic records over the past two years), it’s hard to look at the melodeath landscape and claim anyone other than Insomnium is king. Disturbingly consistent and becoming even more creative as the band glides into its golden years, the Finns continue to charm us with incredible releases, and Anno 1696 is no exception. One of the better death metal releases to reach my ears in some time, and one I highly recommend for fans of the band or melodeath in general. Fantastic stuff.
Ne Obliviscaris - Exul
I write from a strange position regarding Australian progressive death metal melodramatists Ne Obliviscaris: I neither love nor hate them. Portal of I absolutely blew me away when I first heard it, and while I deeply appreciate Citadel and to a lesser extent Urn I’ve never found myself head over heels for this band. The talent on display here is undeniable, and their unique incorporation of strings is genuinely beautiful and adds a lot to their music. But it’s just never, I don’t know… stuck. At least not in the same way that music from genre peers like Disillusion, Opeth, or Wilderun has. All that said, writing about Exul excited me greatly as, for potentially the first time, a NeO record has its hooks in me for good. Damn. This thing slaps.
Encapsulating my thoughts on Exul is fairly simple: It’s the most balanced, focused, and spectacular of the band’s offerings to date. Literally everything they do well is distilled into opening track “Equus”, which for my money is one of the most thoroughly entrancing tracks the band has yet written. The vocals soar and undulate with power and purpose, the riffs are both memorable and varied, never losing the plot in overly technical wankery, the bass shines like a beacon through the sonic storm and the strings are pitch perfect. Like… there’s not a single thing wrong with this track. It’s beautiful, powerful, expertly constructed, and filled to the brim with life. It feels vital without coming across as too pretentious, and it’s this level of relative accessibility that sets it apart from much of the band’s previous work. Truly excellent work from a band reaching the height of their creative powers. It sounds exactly like NeO and no one else.
Nearly every track on this exceptional record follows the above blueprint, so I’ll spare the details and just encourage you to give this record your full attention. As with all of the band’s releases, multiple listens are essential as there’s a LOT going on here, but don’t let that dissuade you. If you’re a fence rider like myself waiting for a NeO record that showcases all of their best traits in one package, Exul may well tip the scales for you. It has certainly done so for me. All hail the melodrama. All hail NeO.
Colpocleisis - Elegant Degradation
There’s an incredible slam and brutal death metal scene in the United Kingdom, spanning deathgrinders Crepitation, brutal beatdown crew Capital Punishment, death demolishers Type A Secretor, caveman dwellers .357 Homicide, and a slew of other eardrum-destroying bands. It’s a loud and active group that includes some of my favorite brutal death metal bands today, all offering their own strain of downtuned death metal oblivion. Among them, Liverpool slammers Colpocleisis, who recently released their Reality Fade debut, Elegant Degradation.
Elegant Degradation is a festering mass of downtuned guitars, skronky bass lines, and inhuman growls. Colpocleisis plays the kind of superheavy slam that’s in on the joke, littering their album with gross and nonsensical names that align with their surgically-inspired name (search “colpocleisis” in a private tab, you’ve been warned). It’s weird, headbanging fun, rife with pig squeals and almost Bob Shaw-level gurgles. The mastering favors vocals more than most slam, which adds to the goregrind effect of the gurgles and sets the stage for guest appearances from .375 Homicide, Crepitation, and Krysthla. The distinctive balance makes Colpocleisis stand out, even in the loud and talented scene bubbling in the UK. Highly recommended for any slam and goregrind fan ready to break their neck.
FesterDecay - Reality Rotten to the Core
I admit, I love goregrind. The nastier and noisier, the better. But I can confidently say that goregrind has never ever gotten stuck in my head. That is, until I discovered the full-length debut from FesterDecay.
Formed in Fukuoka, Japan in 2015, FesterDecay had only released a handful of singles and demos until this year. Their first album, Reality Rotten to the Core, manages to encapsulate all the nastiness and filth of goregrind, and infuse it with just the right amount of groove. The result is a near-radioactive mix that defies the conventions of the genre and takes it to new heights. The vocals are rotten, distorted growls smeared over pummeling drums and a chugging baseline, but the guitars add a fascinating new twist. They alternate between adding heft to the album’s gory heaviness with a classic death metal sound, deepening FesterDecay’s descent into the swamp, and breaking away in lightning riffs. Despite being barely a minute long, tracks like “Psychopharmacist” capture groove and a dash of technicality in ways that few goregrind bands can mimic. Think Pharmacist when they partnered with Andrew Lee of Ripped to Shreds in Carnal Pollution. Even if you’re not a goregrind enthusiast, Reality Rotten to the Core is absolutely worth a listen.
Menstrual Vampires - Menstrual Vampires
If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, it takes approximately 30 seconds to realize that Menstrual Vampires plays a filthy, oozing strain of death metal that seeps out of your speakers like pus seeps out of a wound. Featuring underground cult metal legend Xasthur, the self-titled debut from Menstrual Vampires is an underrated gem from Transylvanian Recordings. For those unfamiliar, Transylvanian Recordings is an Oakland-based label with a killer roster spanning everything from darkwave to deathgrind.
Menstrual Vampires resides somewhere between goregrind, doom, and old school death metal. Vocals are downtuned almost to the point of meeting the bassist, adding to the album’s fetid atmosphere while cymbals clash in the distance. The drive comes primarily from the guitars, which set a wiry buzzsaw tone that cuts against the distortion. The album feels tremendously heavy while infused with energy and ferocity, consuming everything in its path like the Blob.