Well, this is it folks. The last Death’s Door entry before the great plunge into end of year content. Arguments boil, opinions abound, and all is right in the metal world.
But before we take a bit of a break, we want to share with you some of our favorite albums from last month. It was a fantastic period for death metal, and we’re pretty confident you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Soon we head to end of year madness. But first we feast.
Death metal forever.
Cream of the Crop
Afterbirth - In But Not Of
The recent success of Afterbirth is honestly a revelation. Originating in the early 90s and dropping a couple demos before disbanding, the original members of Afterbirth resurrected the band with Artificial Brain alum Will Smith on vocals back in 2016, releasing their first proper record The Time Traveler’s Dilemma the following year. It was amazing. But then came 2020’s Four Dimensional Flesh, which not only cemented the band as far more than a one-trick 90s revivalist project but instead a genuine behemoth in both the prog and brutal death metal worlds. It was one of my favorite records of that year, and anticipation could not have been higher for their third full-length offering In But Not Of. Well, there’s good news and bad news. First the good: It’s an utterly fantastic record that stands shoulder to shoulder with the band’s previous borderline masterpieces. So what’s the bad news? I don’t know how the band tops this six year run.
As far as the music itself is concerned, let’s just get it out of the way by saying that if you’ve enjoyed Afterbirth’s recent run of records you’ll be immensely satisfied by In But Not Of. As the co-progenitors of the gurgly shit-stained toilet death metal sound alongside brutal death metal masters Devourment, it’s become a uniquely fascinating experience to watch this band dive headlong into blatantly progressive songwriting structures in their full-length work. I’d argue that In But Not Of might be their proggiest sonic statement yet, moving expertly from crushing brutal riffs to expansive, spacy tones and textures seemingly at the drop of the hat throughout. The first half of the record is mainly pure bangers, smashing faces with hammer-like riff progressions found in tracks like “Devils with Dead Eyes”, “Tightening the Screws”, and “Autoerotic Amputation”. Classic fare that fans of the band have come to expect. But it’s the album’s latter half that is simultaneously its most controversial and adventurous.
More than in either of their previous two records, In But Not Of feels distinctly split into two halves: the first with an emphasis on more aggressive and brutal fare, with the latter half being a cosmic, prog-heavy adventure that at times doesn’t even feel like a death metal record. But when the music feels this natural and cohesive the jarring stylistic shift feels somehow natural. Tracks like “Hovering Human Head Drones” and the album’s title track are oddly beautiful as individual pieces, but as part of an unpredictable and expansive whole feel more and more essential with each new spin. What first felt a bit like throwaway instrumental noodling like “Time Enough Tomorrow” becomes a truly dynamic and special canvas on which Afterbirth paint their wildly articulate and emotive art that transcends standard genre confines and instead goes precisely where it wants to, resulting in an end product that only could be created by Afterbirth.
Which, in the end, feels like the crux of the band’s entire discography thus far: No one else is making music like this. In But Not Of doesn’t feel like another experimental brutal death record. It feels like an Afterbirth record. No more, no less. And with quality this insanely high, that’s really all I’ll ever need from them. I don’t know where In But Not Of ranks among the band’s releases, and honestly I don’t really care. It’s a new, honest, and mesmerizing slab of prog metal perfection from one of the best bands working in death metal right now. And I’ll take all of it that I can get. If they can top this run somehow, someway, we may be looking at an all time death metal discography. Though to be honest, I think we already are.
Best of the Rest
Sulphur Aeon - Seven Crowns and Seven Seals
Every death metal junky’s favorite Cthulhu-worshiping Germans are back with their fourth full-length slab of eldritch horror and Lovecraftian storytelling. It’s a big, bad, blackened death metal record that maintains all of the staples one has come to expect from Sulphur Aeon, but with a bit more blackened aggression, and perhaps a few new songwriting tricks up their sleeves. The best way I can sum it up is to say that Seven Crowns and Seven Seals is exactly what to expect from a uniformly excellent band’s fourth record: It’s not necessarily new, it’s not inherently different, but it sure as shit is just as good (if not better) than everything that came before it.
Consisting of seven tracks that spread over 45 minutes of runtime, Seven Crowns is definitely focused on the long-form development of its ideas, which is a point of emphasis that works distinctly in the album’s favor. Sulphur Aeon are such proficient musicians and songwriters at this point that there are practically no lulls in any of the album’s tracks. “Hammer of the Howling Void” is a pitch perfect opening salvo and reintroduction to the band’s maelstrom of guitar pyrotechnics and blast beats, displaying some clear and very effective Ulcerate vibes. But it’s in “Usurper of the Earth and Sea” that the record’s most distinct stylistic choices become clearer. Always indebted to the chaos of early Morbid Angel and the more operatic side of Behemoth, it’s here where the band find a much more blackened edge akin to Emperor, with a militant focus on bringing the more death-heavy proceedings always back to a Second-Wave melodic black metal undercurrent that works incredibly well. This more direct black metal motif can be found throughout Seven Crowns in tracks like “Arcane Cambrian Sorcery” and the album’s closing opus “Beneath the Ziqqurats”, but does not indicate a lack of creativity or stylistic adventurousness. The album’s title track is a dizzying, spiraling, epic piece of utterly fantastic songwriting that exemplifies everything the band does well and then some, presenting the first half of a truly epic record finale that we can easily chock up as one of the best and most effective of the year.
On the whole, I have enjoyed Seven Crowns and Seven Seals more each time I’ve listened to it. Not as immediate for me as its predecessors, the record has taken its sweet time unfolding its wonders. But I can assure you with time the band’s true excellence as songwriters and musicians becomes truly unassailable. Seven Crowns is every bit the quality record we’ve come to expect from this band, digging even deeper into long-form musical storytelling to uniformly incredible effect. I can easily and heartily recommend this record to fans of the band’s previous work and anyone looking for some high quality blackened death metal to sink their teeth into.
Cthulhu lives. Praise his prophets.
Baring Teeth - The Path Narrows
I touched on this within this month’s Editor’s Picks, but Baring Teeth are an underrecognized institution within dissonant death metal. This DFW-based power trio have been active for over a decade, weaving intricate fusion-inspired technical death metal in the wake of Gorguts’ influence since before dissodeath was even recognized as the genre it is now. Heavy Blog’s floated the idea of post-death being an apt descriptor for the genre since the early 2010’s, and Baring Teeth have been a consistent presence and inspiration throughout the genre’s evolution into what we now know and love today. Their name should be shouted from the rooftops next to their contemporaries Artificial Brain and Imperial Triumphant!
Granted, it’s been a long five years since Baring Teeth bared their teeth with their previous LP Transitive Savagery, and given that The Path Narrows is the band’s fourth record in the sixteen years since their formation (twelve since their debut album Atrophy), they’ve been lurking about in their own pace after all this time. The genre’s blossomed greatly over the past five years, so maybe The Path Narrows is the perfect opportunity for newcomers to jump on board.
Backed by dissonant and weirdo extreme metal tastemakers I, Voidhanger, Baring Teeth are poised with what might be their greatest outing to date. The Path Narrows has everything you might want out of a dissodeath record, done masterfully; unfathomably technical guitar lines swirling in dissonance against the clanging of drum and bass in unorthodox time signatures, feral bellows atop precarious atmospheric sludge, horror-film ambient passages, and the occasional destructive, brow-furrowing groove. Baring Teeth are at peak performance on The Path Narrows, and fans of the style should be giving the band their fucking flowers, already.
Stortregn - Finitude
The only world in which Stortregn’s Finitude is not the only obvious candidate for Cream of the Crop is the one which we inhabit, where death metal’s output across its sub-genres has been so ridiculously and consistently good over the last few years that we are flooded with its outpouring. Many of us first fell in love with Stortregn’s unique blend of black metal, death metal, and flamenco inspired compositions with 2021’s Impermanence. That album remains an impressive feat of musicianship and even has some advantages over Finitude; it is darker and more concise, packaging the Stortregn sound into a destructive and vicious instrument. Finitude by comparison, is like a broad barrage, embracing some of the brighter and more neo-classical themes that have been running like wildfire through the progressive death metal community over the last few years.
This makes for a much more flamboyant album, one that is grander and more expressive, an unfurling effort at a many-noted tapestry and damn, does it work. “A Lost Battle Rages On”, the second track on the album, is probably the track I want you to check out. Listen to those guitar leads and solos sprouting all over the place and tell me they wouldn’t feel right at home on an Angra release. Of course, the vocals are still black metal influenced and the whole thing is much heavier than any power metal release but the penchant for chromatic, agile bridges, galloping bass, and open, “breathing” chords runs through the entire thing and supercharges with a crackling energy that is hard to resist.
Of course, the flamenco influences and tone fit right into this palette and the album is redolent with them, dotting its landscape with little technical indulgences. But they are like gilding, an emphasis which serves to highlight the core structure which is the injection of brighter, more melodic elements into the Stortregn sound. This makes for one of my personal favorite progressive death metal releases, one which more firmly embraces the joy and strength which runs through metal. Listen to this album and catch fire!
Torn the Fuck Apart - Kill. Bury. Repeat.
Writing about this album in full sentences is hard. Granted, an album entitled Kill. Bury. Repeat. by a band called Torn the Fuck Apart is probably not intended for audiences terribly inclined to write - or read - full sentences. But damnit, we cavepeople have feelings too, and this album is custom-built to ignite all of them. This is pure, uncut, unadulterated brutal death metal that fucking hits.
Perfectly balanced between buzzsaw aggression and earworm grooviness, the guitars commit an unmitigating assault throughout the entirety of Kill. Bury. Repeat., occasionally relenting for delightfully fun moments of skronk. Their bludgeoning grooviness is a large part of the reason I bought this album 90 seconds after pressing play, and a significant factor in why Torn the Fuck Apart is in my daily rotation.
Blast beats abound, but Torn the Fuck Apart knows how to construct a song beyond the brutal death metal mainstays. Their songwriting style laces ignorant BDM with enough technicality to prove truly deadly. The colorfully titled “Submerged in Human Compost” spirals into an endlessly engaging breakdown that illustrates how fun brutal death metal can be. Kill. Bury. Repeat. is a slaughterhouse, yes, but one constructed by a meticulous surgeon with a truly evil grand design.
Sentenced 2 Die - Parasitic Infection
There are moments in my life when I must confront my own mortality and inevitable decay. Most recently, this happened on my 29th birthday, when I had to ask multiple people to repeat themselves in a single conversation. Considering that we were in a fairly calm office and I was the only one having this issue, I had to conclude that my hearing is just not what it used to be. But thanks to bands like Sentenced 2 Die, I simply do not fucking care.
The Minneapolis quintet plays such an addictive hybrid of death metal and hardcore that trying to preserve my hearing becomes a distant second priority. Parasitic Infection is meant to be played LOUD, end of discussion. It’s death metal supercharged with punishing aggression, out for blood and running at hyperspeed. It’s hard to believe that Parasitic Infection is only the first full-length album from Sentenced 2 Die, given their ability to experiment with pace and texture.
The fundamentals of death metal are here, and executed brilliantly: cavernous vocals alternately bark and ooze over punishing guitars and blast beats in a satisfying mix. But Sentenced 2 Die demonstrates impressive patience, dragging the pace in the name of gut-wrenching heaviness, only to launch into blistering hardcore with renewed ferocity. Every note feels highly intentional, even as softer instrumental passages make brief appearances and “Bestial Deformity” bursts into an elongated moment of clean singing. Parasitic Infection isn’t just ridiculously punishing - it’s the opening salvo from a band that has already refined their distinct sound and has the technical chops to deliver on their twisted vision.