Welcome back to Death’s Door, Hellions. Gather round the bone throne and grab your best pair of headphones. There are many deathly tales to tell.
Not gonna lie I feel like many of the excellent releases that dropped last month will be unfortunately overshadowed by the positively titanic release schedule of September, but that’s what we’re here for. Lest ye forget, August had its fair share of absolute bangers, which we’ve cataloged below.
Feast your ears. Let us know what your favorites from August were in the socials.
Death metal. Forever.
Cream of the Crop
Horrendous - Ontological Mysterium
I already said all of this in our last Editors’ Picks, but all of the below bears repeating… this is really good stuff.
Death metal has had its fair share of ballyhooed artists over the past decade. Acts like Tomb Mold, Blood Incantation, and Gatecreeper have been riding career-spanning hype trains the likes of which the genre hasn’t seen since the early 90s. But of all the death metal bands churning out genre-defining work over the past decade, few have reached the level of influence or expectation of Horrendous. Since The Chills dropped back in 2012, Horrendous’ status in the death metal scene has moved rapidly from “one to watch” to “best death metal band on planet earth”. That’s the type of praise of pressure that few bands can live up to, but I’ll be damned if Ontological Mysterium, the band’s fifth proper full-length outing, doesn’t shoot directly and boldly for the farthest and most brilliant reaches of the death metal universe. The most shocking part of such blatant ambition is how often Horrendous hits those highest of highs they’re reaching for. Ontological Mysterium is superb, and perhaps their most adventurous record to date.
That last sentence should be read with a hefty dose of skepticism, given the sonic trajectory of the band’s previous full-length Idol. That record was a titanic step forward for the band in regards to their wearing their more progressive influences on their sleeves. Tinges of Atheist and the ever-present influence of Death were audible in every track, setting Idol apart from Horrendous’ previous work as a more sonically ambitious affair. Fast-forward to 2023 and Ontological Mysterium feels like about as adventurous a leap as Idol was to Anareta before it. Horrendous has never sounded more wildly ambitious than they do here, with each track stretching the band’s songwriting capabilities to the next level. Whether or not you enjoy the stretching of these particular muscles is obviously a completely personal preference, but those who have followed the band’s career trajectory closely will find a record that feels wholly logical and deeply welcome within their discography.
For those who have enjoyed the band’s journey into firmly progressive death metal tropes, there’s almost nothing to dislike about Ontological Mysterium. The riffs are meaty and mighty, the more melodic passages pronounced and given plenty of time to breathe without ever feeling stale or repetitive, and the musicianship is pure masterclass throughout. That second point is one of the more noteworthy aspects of the record, given that it’s the shortest of the band’s career by multiple minutes. It feels more common for band’s reaching deeper into the noodlier aspects of death metal increase runtime fairly dramatically, but here Horrendous do the exact opposite, presenting their most economical and brisk work yet. It’s a near-perfect blend of trying something new without overstaying your welcome. The result is a record that takes bold, intentional risks in a manner that forces the band to bring only their best ideas to the fore, culminating in a record that leaves the listener, oddly in the era of hour-plus standard runtimes in many death metal recordings, begging for more. I’ll take 37 minutes of this type of mastery all day, every day.
If you’re not sold on the direction Horrendous started pushing toward on Idol, I’d still recommend giving Ontological Mysterium a listen as it is in my mind a step above that record. But to be Frank it’s unlikely to change your mind one way or another. It seems that Horrendous is just fine with that, settling comfortably into their most progressive and superbly executed songwriting to date. If you’re willing to strap in for a wild death metal journey into the farthest reaches of the cosmos, Ontological Mysterium may end up your record of the year. If this is where you step off the Horrendous hype train, godspeed to you. The cosmic death metal mystery rolls on regardless.
Best of the Rest
Incantation - Unholy Deification
Some death metal legends never die. Cannibal Corpse. Immolation. Suffocation. All still releasing music, most of it fairly high quality. But among their distinguished peers, east coast death dealers Incantation stand tall, even if for nothing else but consistency. Since the release of Onward to Golgotha back in 1992, the band have been churning out doom-laden death metal with a regularity and quality bar that defies logic. Band’s that have stuck around this long rarely find sustained artistic success in any genre, but Incantation has that irrepressible death metal magic flowing through their veins, standing as one of the very few legacy death metal acts who can accurately claim to have never released a bad album. Their 13th, Unholy Deification, keeps that incredible quality streak alive.
For a band with as much water under the bridge as Incantation, one might forgive a proverbial resting on the laurels when it comes to intensity. But John McEntee and co. care not for our forgiveness, instead churning out one of the band’s most cohesive and genuinely heavy efforts since 2012’s Vanquish in Vengeance. All of the elements that make Incantation the institution they are exist here in spades, along with some unusually clear and compelling production and songwriting choices. There’s a smooth crispness to this album’s sound that allows the general heaviness to feel simultaneously more listenable and interesting. The latter half of “Homunculus (Spirit Made Flesh)” displays this juxtaposition perfectly, combining moments of crushing doom riffs with soaring solos in an expansion of songwriting and production value that blends together beautifully. If that sounds a bit light for your death-beaten ears, never fear. The riffs flow abundantly in both death and doomy fashion, accentuated by Kyle Severn’s punishing turn behind the kit. Each member turns in an excellent performance, with McEntee’s vocals still as feral and disgusting as ever. For those who missed Incantation’s presence, there’s little here to complain about.
While Incantation has never been my favorite of the classic death metal bands, my respect for their work is boundless. I’m infinitely impressed by Unholy Deification both as a stand-alone achievement and as a definitive statement that 30 years of existence as a band in no way necessitates a dip in quality. Among their early death metal contemporaries, Incantation continue to prove to the world that some things indeed become better… or at least can stay just as delicious, with age.
Machinations of Fate - Celestial Prophecies
A good indication of a band’s legacy is how many different facets future bands can draw from when being inspired by them. According to that metric, Death have to be one of the greatest metal bands of all time since the pool of sound that current bands can look back on seems endless. There are many Death inspired bands out there and yet, I keep hearing new iterations of the sound. Machinations of Fate produce a sort of thrash infused style of progressive death metal that is a joy to listen to, both for the obvious love and attention they spent translating their wellspring of inspiration into their own sound and that sound itself. Whether for the nods to classic death metal tropes or “just” because you enjoy how good it sounds, Celestial Prophecies is well worth your time.
At its core lies the powerful, dual combo of the vocals and the riff, in true death metal tradition. The vocals clearly draw their timbre from Schuldiner’s trademark sound, taking both range and delivery from him. The riffs however are more “jagged”, fast and dynamic with that thrash metal edge I referenced above. This works incredibly well with the haggard vocals, creating an overall atmosphere that is touch more fast and aggressive than Death came to in the course of their career. Into this foundational maelstrom, Machinations of Fate add in string segments, solos, and killer drums to make sure you stay engaged. In these sounds, and in the grander, more sweeping riffs that dominate many of the tracks, there are also hints of early melodic death metal and its iteration on the Death sound.
Bottom line, if you love your death metal fast, grandiose, and riff-heavy, then this is an album that will scratch that itch.
Dead and Dripping - Blackened Cerebral Rifts
It’s been an embarrassment of riches for death metal in the second half of 2023, so doling out the entries this month and crowning a “winner” in this field has been difficult this month. Any other time, this third LP from New Jersey one-man project Dead and Dripping could have taken top billing in this column, and will likely show up receiving its flowers yet again in our year-end Death’s Door column representing the best that this corner of weirdo brutal tech death has to offer.
Active since 2016 and culminating in a well received albeit unrefined debut Profane Verses of Murderous Rhetoric in 2020, it was the immediate followup of 2021’s Miasmic Eulogies Predicating an Eternal Nocturne that landed the project on my radar as a promising Defeated Sanity acolyte, tapping into what I love most about this side of techy brutal death; challenging, brutal, and wildly fun in its songwriting and riff-crafting and ability to groove. It also caught the attention of extreme metal tastemakers Transcending Obscurity, who backed this new record Blackened Cerebral Rifts, which is handily the best outing this project has had thus far and a one of those records that reminds me why I love the genre so much.
As discussed above, Dead and Dripping - helmed by multi-instrumentalist Evan Daniele - follows in a path forged by the likes of Defeated Sanity and Demilich, blurring the lines of tech and brutal death with abstract riffing, progressive songwriting, and an artful approach to brutality that sees an angular rhythm section jutting out from slimy riffs and cavernous vocals. Texturally, Rifts is an extreme metal delight; darting tech riffs, grooving gallops, reptilian chromatic palm-mutes, buzzsaw tremolo picking, and the occasional snap of a bass string cutting through the mix keep songs interesting. Daniele’s varied approach to death metal songwriting and broad command of the genre as a whole helps cement this one as not only his best record so far, but one of the best of the year.
Dripping Decay - Festering Grotesqueries
From Bonginator to Snuffed on Sight, a crop of young death metal bands seem to have rediscovered what it means to have fun with their music. These bands seem apathetic to overly technical theatrics (sweep picking? More like sleep picking, amirite?) while they simultaneously forego the sinister atmosphere of Incantation-inspired cavern-dwelling bands. Instead, the attitude of these bands seems to resemble that of the Municipal Waste-worshipping pizza thrashers of the mid-2000s who, with a cheap beer in one hand and a packed bong in the other, believed that metal is meant to be nothing but a good time. Sure, there is often a wink and an ironic smirk that accompanies the good time, but it’s a good time nonetheless.
A band that is in running to be the life of the new death metal party, and has criminally flown under the radar this year in light of the surplus of quality death metal, is Portland, Oregon’s Dripping Decay. Festering Grotesqueries, their debut album, is a grand declaration of death being grounds for the ultimate rager. While the band seems slightly more serious about their death metal than the aforementioned Bonginator or Snuffed on Sight, track titles such as “Barf Bag” and “Gut Muncher” seem to suggest some tongue-in-cheeck appreciation for the genre. The lyrics of the former seem to portray a particularly potent poison that rots people from the inside out as they “[spew] purple bile” that leaves a “vapor billowing” with a “horrid stench”. Not exactly your grandfather’s moonshine.
Dripping Decay also seem more technical with their death metal than many of their other young peers. Festering Grotesqueries is as full chalk-full of palm-muted death thrash riffage that alternates between tremolo or triplet picking and lightning-fast power chord slides à la Exhumed. However, the band intersperses the speed with moments of gut stomping exhilaration found in the middle section of “Dissolve Me”. Even with the majority of the album running at a pace as fast as a zombie attempting a four-minute mile, the album’s halfway marker “Watching You Rot” starts off with a dastardly slow and sludgy Autopsy riff before taking off again toward a finish line full of brains.
While many death metal bands fall prey to the trappings of self-seriousness, Dripping Decay have established a sound that captures the life of the party while maintaining all of the tenets of gore-filled death. If you’re looking for death metal to play at your next house party of horror, look no further than Festering Grotesqueries.