Death’s Door is back, baby. And not a moment too soon.
This has been a strange month. I can’t quite put my finger on why. I’ve felt unsettled, unfocused, and adrift in spurts over the past 30 days. I’m exercising regularly, work is good, and we’ve gotten more rain over the last two months than my state has seen in decades. Everything is green and alive, and I just feel… off.
As our regular readers are well aware, death metal is awesome. But this month it feels particularly vital, and more essential to my mental health than it has in a while. Feelings of unsettled strangeness have no balm quite like the unbridled and unfiltered emotional chaos that the genre brings. More than the simple enjoyment of it all, this month’s slate of featured releases have calmed and stabilized my restless mind in a way that I haven’t felt in quite some time. It served as another stark reminder of the real power of death metal as a portal into my own mind, allowing me to feel exactly what I’m feeling without judgment, filter, or social expectation. I come out the other side with renewed clarity and calm, which is a beautiful feeling that I can’t fully describe. It’s priceless.
Death metal is a beautiful and good thing, and my late spring malaise has been softened dramatically by its presence. It’s why I continue listening. Why we keep writing about it. It’s dope af on a musical level, but its power is something only those wrapped in its burly clutches can fully understand. I’m grateful that I get to spend time intentionally listening to, dissecting, and basking in its gnarly glory.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods - Rejecting Obliteration
It’s hard to place New Zealand’s Blindfolded and Led to the Woods into a single box, as they do so much within this corner of extreme music that’s becoming increasingly harder to define. They almost exist within the same realm of Canada’s Wake where their similar deathgrind roots have blossomed into a versatile breed of progressive death metal that refuses to color inside the lines. BALTTW go about this stylistic evolution in a similar but distinctive fashion, pulling from The Red Chord as much as they do Ulcerate. The act’s fourth LP Rejecting Obliteration seemingly weaves the former’s swansong Fed Through The Teeth Machine’s forward-thinking grooving deathgrind with the latter’s The Destroyers of All’s swirling and often murky atmospheres and technical leanings.
Sonic comparisons to Ulcerate make BALTTW an easy target for some uneasy dissodeath discourse, and while that influence is plan as day all across Rejecting Obliteration and their broader discography (members of Gorguts featured on Nightmare Withdrawals, as you may recall), they don’t make themselves strangers to melody whatsoever, and balance out the sinister with the breathtaking. “Hallucinative Terror” for instance shines bright with an ethereal guitar solo section in its second half that could perhaps bring to mind something from Between the Buried and Me’s Alaska era, when the songs were somewhat succinct but without some of the early-day riff salad.
Sure, when they’re in deathgrind mode, riffs come and go with the expected breakneck speed as one would hope, whipping around for a brief flash before succumbing to the current, but the songs are crafted with care. At this point in their career, BALTTW have made incredible strides in songwriting and album curation; Rejecting Obliteration is incredibly consistent throughout despite their versatility. No easy feat, and that prowess solidifies the magic and promise they were able to show the world on their 2021 breakout Nightmare Withdrawals, which wound up being one of our favorite records of that year. It’s wonderful to see them building upon the foundations of that LP and make serious AOTY plays with the follow-up.
Best of the Rest
Ascended Dead - Evenfall of the Apocalypse
I distinctly remember listening to San Diego death metal masters Ascended Dead’s debut album Abhorrent Manifestation on repeat for a few months back in 2017, thinking we had a band with an exceptional, burgeoning career in death metal records on our hands. Six years later, we finally get the second full-length installment from these guys, and dare I say it’s done nothing to dampen my initial enthusiasm for the band’s work. It may be a few years later than anticipated, but as far as sophomore death metal records go it stands toe-to-toe with the best of them. Evenfall of the Apocalypse is a chaotic, belligerent, and expertly crafted gem of a record that cements Ascended Dead as one of the most punishing, uncompromising, and talented bands in the old school death metal movement.
Though, to be fair, simply classifying Evenfall as an OSDM record doesn’t really do the album justice. From the opening seconds of “Abhorrent Manifestation” it’s clear that Ascended Dead are aiming for something a bit more nuanced and sonically jarring than your typical OSDM fare. The woozy, warmbly riffing contained in “Ungodly Death” and “Nexus of Black Flame” is more reminiscent of the blackened char of Suffering Hour than anything you’d hear on a Cannibal Corpse record. To my ear there’s also a hefty war metal influence on tracks like “Bestial Vengeance”, conjuring comparisons to the likes of Teitanblood and Antichrist Siege Machine with its cavernous vocal production and utterly merciless audio onslaught. But it’s compositions like “Tantum Bellum” that stick out in the tracklist because they don’t really sound like anyone else other than Ascended Dead. Sure, there are influences smattered across each of this album’s 11 tracks, but as a body of work Evenfall stands out as a record made distinctly by a band that has a particular vision of chaos that few in the scene are peddling. It’s awesome.
Death metal aficionados would be remiss to skip out on Evenfall of the Apocalypse. It’s a punishing, dizzying, genuinely interesting and expertly executed piece of death metal mayhem that I cannot recommend strongly enough. The wait may have seemed interminable, but Evenfall presents a matured and somehow even more visceral version of Ascended Dead than we received in their debut. A worthy successor to an excellent death metal record and one of my favorites of 2023.
Psycho-Frame - Remote God Seeker
We covered Missouri-based deathcore band Psycho-Frame last month for Rotten to the Core, but I felt like we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch upon this early May release for Death’s Door as well. Psycho-Frame are unapologetically deathcore, and they are as retro as you can be for a genre that’s barely in its teenage years. Remote God Seeker has MySpace custom profile HTML encoded in its DNA. It’s got false grind, breakdowns upon breakdowns, bass drops, and the occasional film sample. What it doesn’t have? GIMMICKS. This is old-fashioned deathcore, re-imagined for the contemporary connoisseur of core.
Extermination Dismemberment - Dehumanization Protocol
Belarusian slamming brutal death metal giants Extermination Dismemberment have emerged from their slumber with a massive slab of slam that poses a genuine risk to your hearing. Having been relatively silent since their 2013 sophomore album Serial Urbicide, Extermination Dismemberment has risen from the ashes with the utterly epic Dehumanization Protocol.
Slam can be surprisingly difficult to ‘get right,’ especially for bands with a career as long as Extermination Dismemberment. Stay too tightly within the confines of blastbeats and breakdowns, there’s a risk of stagnating. Experiment too much, and bands lose the muscularity that acts of the soul of the subgenre. The early singles dropped in 2022 suggested that ED had once again nailed the mix, evolving their sound with symphonic elements that cement the core brutality of Dehumanization Protocol. Listening to the album feels like watching the end of the world from inside a well-run factory: on one hand, you see heavy machinery chugging along at perfectly timed speeds, only to be disrupted by the crash of an invading monstrosity. Epic instrumentals build over echoing growls, only to be crushed by the buzzsaw crunch of a hefty riff. Atmospheric, almost haunting, passages emphasize just how good Extermination Dismemberment is at executing devastating breakdowns. Hypermodern production often sucks the excitement out of SBDM, but the production on Dehumanization Protocol generally keeps enough filth in the mix to keep longtime fans happy.
I wasn’t kidding when I described the album as a ‘massive slab’ - the entire record clocks in at a little over 53 minutes. It reminds me of labelmates Organectomy’s 2022 magnum opus, Nail Below Nail, which ran approximately 45 minutes long and was an equally engaging slam album. It takes skill and energy to keep listeners engaged for that length of time, yet both Extermination Dismemberment and Organectomy have found a distinctive sound that upholds the best of slam while pushing the subgenre forward into the future.
Nightmarer - Deformity Adrift
Nightmarer are a band of many comparisons, but few genuine peers. Over the span of their near decade-long existence and two full-length records (as well as a host of EPs), these dissonant death dealers have operated in the sonic space of bands like Ulcerate and Mitochondrion while carving out their own signature sound that feels like one of the more brilliant blends of technical, dissonant, and progressive death metal in recent times. Often all of these styles will show up within the span of one track, and the band’s ability to create chaotic and propulsive compositions that feel consistently purposeful as opposed to a hodge podge of intense sounds mashed together makes them a unique entity in this space of the extreme metal world. Their second full-length release Deformity Adrift puts all of their hard-earned songwriting skills on full display, resulting in their best work as a collective to date.
“Collective” is definitely the appropriate word to describe the band’s line-up, as its cast of musicians includes members of War from a Harlot’s Mouth, The Ocean, and Gigan. While already containing a veritable who’s-who of the extreme metal underground, the band opted to include Brendan Sloan of Convulsing and Altars on bass for this project, which pays enormous dividends in regards to their latest album’s overall quality. The musicianship across the spectrum is utterly spectacular, combining clinical proficiency with an off-kilter, chaotic writing style that feels simultaneously expertly controlled and completely unhinged. “Suffering Beyond Death” presents a stark example of this dichotomy, barreling through mighty and wild riff sequences only to stop on a dime for an extended spaced-out prog sesh only to jolt right back to life for an epic grand finale. It’s the kind of songwriting that keeps the listener on their toes and can only be pulled off by a group of musicians in complete control of their instruments. Nightmarer exemplify that balance throughout Deformity Adrift, culminating in their most consistently excellent work to date.
If this is your first foray into Nightmarer’s music, congratulations on finding an amazing band and one of the best dissodeath records of the year. If you like myself are a longtime fan, a different kind of celebration is in order. It’s rare in metal nowadays to find a band that record to record perpetually advances and perfects their craft, giving devoted listeners more and more with each new release. Nightmarer are one of those unique and seldom seen metal bands that never stop improving on their rock solid foundation, and I’m immensely grateful they exist. Deformity Adrift is their best release yet, as I have no doubt their next release will also be. But we can be patient for that. For now, we have an absolute masterclass in dissonant technical death metal aggression and that’s more than enough for me.
Perilaxe Occlusion - Vapor Chamber
The adjective I’d most associate with death-doom is “murky”. When you take the speed and unbridled aggression of death metal and marry it with doom metal’s penchant for feedback and extended chords, you get this miasma of mid-tempo moving violence that’s hard to stomach. That also is my main problem with the sub-genre and why I don’t listen to it regularly; I have to be in a particularly frustrated and angry mood to do so. But Perilaxe Occlusion, from their get-go in 2020, seem to have found a formula to cut through that aversion and make death-doom that I am happy to play over and over again.
The secret, as their latest released Vapor Chamber exemplifies, is to lean a bit more towards the death metal side of things, drawing the compositions and overall track structure from there. Doom metal lends a certain thickness and tone to the proceedings, coating with venom the unsheathed blade that is the death metal of it all. This is even more the case with Vapor Chamber, as Perilaxe continue to morph and mutate what they want to do with their death metal. If you’re looking for a forceful, no bullshit, and heavy as all hell release with that octane tinge of doom, then look no further; Vapor Chamber has you covered.