Death’s Door is absolutely poppin’ this month. Let’s go.
Ever have one of those periods of life where it feels like everything is coming up George? No matter what you do it seems to work, for some inexplicable reason? Such periods are a rare treat in a world of garbage, and if you’re a death metal fan, September 2023 just gave one to you. I don’t know if there was a single death-adjacent record I heard from September that wasn’t full-send fantastic, and the selection below is just a small smattering of all the goodness unleashed upon our unsuspecting asses last month. So feast on all that is good and gnarly, and let us know what you dug on the socials.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Tomb Mold - The Enduring Spirit
For a band as early into their career as Tomb Mold, releasing your “best” album shouldn’t feel this monumental. With only full-length records under their belt in the span of six years, one might expect each new release to snag such a lofty title, which has essentially been the case for the band. But The Enduring Spirit just hits differently. As one of the front runners of the modern OSDM revival, Tomb Mold have for the most part stuck within the retro movement’s prescribed lane. Crushing riffs, simultaneously sparse and chunky production, and a songwriting structure that focuses primarily on heaviness over artfulness. There are obvious exceptions to the above rules, but it feels pretty evident that the majority of modern death metal revivalists follow this basic pattern. Which is what makes The Enduring Spirit so controversial and special. While riffs galore abide in glory, Tomb Mold have here dipped liberally into the progressive death metal playbook to craft a record that is without question their most expansive, ambitious, and thoroughly captivating collection of tracks yet.
To address the band’s newfound penchant for progressive song structures and increased focus on melody, one need look no further than guitarist Derrick Vella’s fantastic side project Dream Unending. That collective’s debut effort, 2021’s Tide Turns Eternal was a fantastic assortment of atmospheric death-doom that only became more gorgeous and profound in their quick follow-up release, 2022’s much lauded Song of Salvation. Having experimented with more mid-tempo and atmospheric song structures most definitely left an imprint on Vella, whose influence is extremely pronounced throughout The Enduring Spirit. Those who have grown to love Tomb Mold for its filthy riffs will find plenty to love on this record, to be sure, but it’s the record’s more majestic and ethereal moments that propel this record to stratospheric heights that the band had previously never quite reached. It’s here that The Enduring Spirit moves beyond the category of “another great Tomb Mold record” to “best release yet”.
Opener “The Perfect Memory (Phantasm of Aura)” gives plenty of early indications regarding where the album is headed. It’s a sprawling track with clear, smooth production and a veritable cavalcade of guitars that present one of the more intricate songwriting forays thus far in the band’s career. “Angelic Fabrications” follows a similar pattern, showcasing Vella and Payson Powers’ superb skills as axe folk. So far so good for longtime fans. Then “Will of Whispers” hits and everything changes. While incredible riff sequences abound, it’s the track’s opening illustrious moments that present something softer, more atmospheric, and very unique within the band’s catalog. It’s here that Tomb Mold takes the Human-era Death-meets-Obscura path to absolutely beautiful results. The latter half of this track is a measured, loose yet meticulous collage of sounds and textures that have never been heard in a Tomb Mold record before at this level of detail, and it’s absolutely outstanding. Such moments are blended seamlessly into hard-hitting tracks like “Fate’s Tangled Thread” and “Flesh as Armor”, the latter of which feels closer to Horrendous than anything Tomb Mold has written thus far. But it’s in the album’s final track that the full picture of what makes this album so remarkable presents itself.
As an 11-minute closer, “The Enduring Spirit of Calamity” feels like the metal version of a Martin Scorsese film. It’s excessively long, shoots for a very distinct aesthetic, and by the end hits all the right notes and feels like it was somehow too short. Every element that makes The Enduring Spirit fantastic is wrapped up in the band’s most thoroughly ambitious and epic track, ebbing and flowing with a gargantuan sense of scope and focus that escalates the band’s already stratospheric rise straight into orbit. It’s sheer brilliance and one of my favorite Tomb Mold tunes of all-time.
It’s incredible to witness a band move from very good to holy shit so quickly. Tomb Mold are not only one of the best bands in the OSDM scene, but within metal at large, and The Enduring Spirit proves that point in spades. Not every fan of the band will love this album as much as I do, which in my mind is the mark of a true classic. It’s difficult to create something genuinely memorable and powerful without taking a boatload of risks, which is exactly what Tomb Mold did here. To my delight, nearly every single one of these intentional and calculated evolutions work brilliantly, culminating in their most expansive, adventurous, and substantive record to date. Many listens in, I’m nowhere close to tired of listening to it. Here’s to many more prog-heavy adventures with a fast-maturing, ever-growing Tomb Mold.
Best of the Rest
Alkaloid - Numen
I’m one of those strange souls who found A Valediction to be Obscura’s best album by a fairly wide margin. I unabashedly love that record, and think the band have come into their own in the post-Hannes era in a real and sustainable way. Of course much of the record’s success can be attributed to the re-engagement of guitarist Christian Münzner, who serves as one of the principal luminaries of the band this review is actually about, Alkaloid. It’s difficult to discuss Alkaloid without referencing the mothership of Obscura. Hannes Grossmann’s departure from the band and recruitment of Münzner and Noneuclid’s Morean has to be one of the most inspired meetings of like-minded musicians in technical death metal history. From their initial salvo The Malkuth Grimoire back in 2015, Alkaloid cemented themselves as one of the most breathtakingly proficient and creative collectives in this space of the death metal world. While it’s certainly not a competition, based on their most recent recordings I’d land squarely in the “Alkaloid is better than Obscura” camp, and Numen does absolutely nothing to dissuade me from this opinion.
On the note of comparisons, I’ve had a difficult time determining where Numen sits in regards to the rest of the band’s discography. But to be fair this is a problem I’ve had with each of Alkaloid’s records. I genuinely have no idea which is best of the batch. So since all that shit is wildly subjective and arbitrary, Alkaloid are one of the few bands that I’ve just stopped trying to make fit into my internal spreadsheet. They just are, and they’re awesome. Numen particularly so. While each of the band’s records is a hard-hitting affair, to my ears Numen hits just a little harder. Focused more on blistering and punishing riffs than some of their more technical daliences, Numen may be the band’s most “accessible” record, and would definitely be the one I’d recommend interested parties listen to first. “Shades of Shub-Niggurath” might be the best example on the record of Alkaloid’s focus on utter punishment, presenting riff after delicious riff with absolute mastery. Grossmann’s drums are dazzling here and throughout, while Münzner’s guitar work is as always utterly superb. But instead of trying to out-technical their contemporaries, Numen is a record that finds its creators operating fully and confidently in their death metal element, and having a helluva lot of fun in the process.
Which might be one of the most truly exceptional parts of Numen. It’s fun. Like, really fun. This album is a true joy to listen to. It’s hyperbolic, aggressive, melodically rich and textured, and for a technical death metal record shockingly fun and approachable. It’s exactly the kind of record this bloated and stuffy genre needs. I like self-serious wankery as much as the next man, but removing the tedium and instead injecting a real vigor and life into every track is a welcome change that I’m all the way here for. So is it better than Liquid Anatomy or The Malkuth Grimoire? Haven’t the foggiest. But it slaps to high heaven and is another high watermark for technical death metal, and that’s more than enough.
Blood Incantation - Luminescent Bridge
It’s hard to imagine that anyone’s forgotten that Blood Incantation are arguably the single most hyped death metal band of the past decade, and it’s for good reason; even before their massive breakout success in 2019’s Hidden History of the Human Race, the Denver psychedelic death metal unit were racking up underground acclaim with demos, EP, and a Spectral Voice split culminating in their just-as-celebrated full-length debut Starspawn in 2016. It’s quite easily dismissed, but their meteoric rise and subsequent pivot to ambient music and dungeon synth on their 2022 record Timewave Zero has generated a mixed reaction that challenged the perception of Blood Incantation as one of death metal’s best “new” players. Truthfully, following up an instant death metal classic like Hidden History with an ambient synth album is as bold a move as you’d ever come to find in this world of extreme music, and while it might not stand the test of time like its predecessor, I respect them for their tactics.
A major complaint lobbied at Timewave Zero is that it was too great a departure that never really felt like a “full band” collaborative effort in its execution, and was fully divorced from the band’s core sound as a death metal band. Of course, anyone who heard Hidden History could have seen the band’s fascination with synths coming a mile away, but wanting a varied approach out of Blood Incantation in their ambient music forrays is valid.
This brings us to Luminescent Bridge, a two-track / 18 minute single that seemingly addresses these worries by providing a glimpse at both aspects of the band’s sound in a more fully realized fashion. The first track “Obliquity of the Ecliptic” opens with ethereal synth pads, but quickly becomes a fully-fledged death metal track that provides what feels like a long-awaited and proper glimpse at the band’s return to form after four whole years, and it’s every bit as cosmic and wondrous as you could hope for. The title track that follows is precisely where I had hoped Blood Incantation would go in their ambient leanings, utilizing the full band’s potential - with guitars, drums, synths, and all - to weave a gorgeous journey through space ambient to something nearing death doom (think Dream Unending).
It’s incredibly promising to hear the band continue to push the envelope, even when returning back to death metal, and making new developments to their sound in the process. Hopefully these two tracks serve to tide fans over and tease for what to expect out of their next proper full-length album – which, by the way, cannot come soon enough.
Blood Oath - Lost In an Eternal Silence
There’s a thread in the history of death metal that has been lost to what ended up being the genre’s evolution out of the 90’s. This thread sees death metal double down on its darker, more gnarly sides as it continues to expand on the meld between it and progressive music. While there is sort of nascent revival of this path in the form of disso-death, the sounds don’t pair up exactly right. This sort of progressive, buzz-saw sharp, and complexly twisted sort of death metal has a less atmospheric feel and a more direct aggression, a parallel to the other forms of metal, namely thrash and hardcore, that were growing alongside it. Think Nocturnus, Mithras or Pestilence and, of course, the indelible influence of Morbid Angel.
Chile’s Blood Oath seems to be drawn directly from the root of this sound, leaping over the current trends of death metal to perform a revival of a death sort. They conjure not the cave-metal, punk-infused OSDM that has been so popular recently but the many-noted, beguiling, and heavily complex sounds of that darker thread of death metal we laid out above. As a result, Lost In an Eternal Silence is one of the heaviest and most gratifying albums of the year, in the sense that getting lost in a mosh pit in a dark, smoky, and violent room is gratifying. To be sure, there is plenty of compositional complexity here but it is all in service to the unrelenting assault that the album is going for. This is progressive death metal as it started, brutal, direct, and fueled by its technicality to seek new levels of aggression. If you’re looking for an album you can dig into but also thrown down to - this is it. If you’re looking for proof, just listen to the closing, self-titled track; it will blow your brains out.
Cannibal Corpse - Chaos Horrific
There is no greater embodiment of the full ethos of a genre in the metal world than Cannibal Corpse. Sure, you could argue Metallica or Mayhem are true tentpole names when discussing thrash and black metal respectively, but both of those groups have plenty of competition at the top. Cannibal Corpse is just different. They are not just a famous, well-regarded and classic death metal band. They are death metal. Their ultra-violent album art and lyrics, relentlessly brutal compositions, and consistency as a cultural force from the genre’s early days have cemented them as the genuine encapsulation of everything death metal is as a concept. Death and Possessed may have kick-started this whole thing, but Cannibal Corpse sure as hell made it a household name, from the movies to the tongues of White House occupants. Which makes the continued quality of their work nearly 30 years into an unimpeachable and illustrious career a particular cause for celebration. 16 albums in, and they’ve yet to release a dud. Their latest, Chaos Horrific, is exactly as fantastic as you’ve come to expect, and perhaps a little more.
That secret bit of special sauce Chaos Horrific brings to the band’s discography belongs primarily to the inclusion of long-time Cannibal Corpse producer Erik Rutan (of Hate Eternal fame) as a featured musician. First joining the gang as guitarist on 2021’s very solid Violence Unimagined, Rutan’s presence and influence is simply splattered across Chaos Horrific’s 39-minute runtime. Bringing an extra dose of proficiency, speed, and feral nastiness to an already razor-filled musical stew, Rutan is the highlight of the record and one of the principal reasons for its success. His fingerprints are all over some of the more memorable riffs the band have written since Kill, with tracks like “Frenzied Feeding”, “Pitchfork Impalement”, and the album’s title cut boasting a veritable glut of the nastiest, tastiest riffs in the band’s entire catalog. His influence has had a not insignificant influence on the band’s willingness to stack riff passages in such a subtle way that you almost don’t notice that they just ripped through about five different riffs in the span of 30 seconds. The songwriting here is low key dizzying in spaces, highlighting the band’s ability to stay fresh and creative in the latter years of their exceptional career.
For such a straightforward banger, there’s plenty of nuance to unpack, but if you’ve yet to hear this record I’ll let you uncover its treasures for yourself. In my estimation Chaos Horrific is the best album the band have released in the past decade, and a near-perfect capstone to their late career resurgence as one of the most enjoyable and uncompromising death metal acts working today. While their discography may not ascend to the stratospheric creative highs of some of their contemporaries, I’ve never got the impression that’s what they’ve ever been aiming for. Cannibal Corpse exists for the masses, bringing blood-soaked nightmares and scaring the parents of every young metalhead since 1989. Hail the death metal kings. Long may they reign in gore.
Dying Fetus - Make Them Beg for Death
Oh man. The boys are back.
While this may be a controversial opinion, Wrong One to Fuck With just didn’t really do it for me. From the record’s general bloat to its particularly edgelord aesthetic (I mean, I’m fully aware that I’m writing this about a band called Dying Fetus, but still…), it felt like an album that never managed to become greater than the sum of its many disparate parts. Enter Make Them Beg for Death, and I’m all the way back on the Fetus Ferry. Over 37 glorious minutes, John Gallagher and co. deliver some of the most despicably brutal and straightforward destruction of their entire career. This album is a fucking menace, as our internal underlords intended.
Unlike its predecessor, Make Them Beg for Death succeeds by focusing on exactly what makes this band legendary: Concise, technically-tinged brutality. The fireworks here are found primarily in the band’s penchant for crushing, deeply memorable riff sequences that are as technically competent as they are face-melting. While there are flashier moments found in tracks like “Feast of Ashes”, the majority of the record offers up immediate and accessible riffs that are just an absolute blast to listen to. The militaristic march of “Enlighten Through Agony” and the machine gun blasts of “When the Trend Ends” are not nearly as technically adept as the band has shown themselves capable of regularly displaying, but their catchiness and almost… humability?… make them among the most enjoyable moments in the band’s generally excellent catalog. They’re the types of tracks made by a band in complete control of its craft, utterly unwilling to get technical for its own sake. It’s a focused, hyper-violent affair that’s as straightforward as anything the band has yet created and all the better for it.
Sometimes simpler is better, but that isn’t to say Make Them Beg for Death is a simple album. There’s technical mastery to be found all throughout this exceptional slab of death metal butchery, but rather than trying to constantly push the technical envelope, Dying Fetus have here instead carved themselves a hunk of utterly enjoyable and relistenable meat that has for me proven to be thus far one of their most infinitely repeatable records. If you’ve liked any era of Dying Fetus, you will like Make Them Beg for Death. It’s that simple.
Wormhole - Almost Human
Tech slam shouldn’t really be a thing, right? Slam is all about making ignorantly heavy and ultra-aggressive music while tech death is about, well, technical complexity in death metal. And yet, Wormhole exists and there really isn’t any way to describe their music other than tech slam. The secret lies in the guttural vocals and the band’s penchant to turn an intricate song into a gravity-blast infused madhouse on the drop of a dime. One minute you’re lost in the atmospheric and intriguing compositions and on the other you are being pummeled in the face with the sheer audacity and heaviness of the riffs. In short, it slaps. Listen to this album.
Nauseating - Stabbed.Mutilated.Collected
When I first mentioned this EP during our monthly Death’s Door planning chat, Eden responded “has there ever been a more ‘bridget will review this’ cover?” And to be fair, he had an extremely good point: a collage of albums I’ve covered would most likely resemble waste from a meat processing plant more than art. But the delightfully macabre cover of Stabbed.Mutilated.Collected was only a small part of the reason this album was an instant buy for me.
For one, I’ll listen to anything from Vile Tapes Records. As a go-to source for the heaviest and goriest underground brutal death metal, their release history includes heavy-hitters like PeelingFlesh, .357 Homicide, and Flammable Regurgitosis. Second and third, this new brutal death metal band is arguably something of a supergroup, with members of slam veterans Traumatomy and your favorite slam band’s favorite band Insect Inside contributing. The bar was high, but Nauseating delivered across all five tracks of this devastating EP.
Infused with elements of beatdown, Stabbed.Mutilated.Collected. is a particularly bludgeoning take on slam that’s particularly enjoyable for the caveman-minded. Chugging, downtuned guitars dominate for maximum headbanging, with gurgling vocals oozing through strategically. The pacing of the entire EP is exceptional, alternating between disorienting blastbeats and addictive levels of groove. If you aren’t hooked immediately, “Chainsaw Torn Face” featuring Vorop of Cold Blooded Murder will convert you into a fan. By the time his vocals burst into a distorted blast of noise, it’s obvious that Nauseating is onto something. Short and meaty, Stabbed.Mutilated.Collected. is disgustingly satisfying for the gore seekers in the crowd.
Terra Builder - Solar Temple
Is it possible to reclaim “planned obsolescence” from the corporate overlords? If so, Terra Builder has certainly created the soundtrack for it. Every note of Solar Temple feels like a meticulously planned step towards devastation, carefully executed and all the more terrifying for it. It’s not enough to embrace the most punishing version of death/grind: Terra Builder subvert the bludgeoning sound of Pig Destroyer, Norse, and Replicant into something alien and apocalyptic. There’s something utterly unsettling about intentional discomfort, yet Solar Temple proves this formula can be simultaneously infectious and dissonant. The unconventional fusion of subgenres and influences bleeding across Terra Builder’s sound extend the satisfying nature of the album well beyond death metal and grindcore. Elements of Wormed-esque technically and industrial shades of aggression have kept me coming back to this powerful and monstrous album.