As 2009 draws even closer to the end, we’ve continued to think back about albums we really enjoyed this year. Among them were releases from five UK bands that could loosely be classified as death metal, though they sound almost nothing alike. Four of them — Man Must Die, Viatrophy, Ignominious Incarceration, and Xerath — turned out killer new albums in 2009, and the fifth — Theoktony — was a prodigiously talented band we only discovered this year, though sadly its future is in doubt.
We don’t pretend that this post is a comprehensive review of the best UK death metal of the year, because we’ve no doubt there are awesome 2009 releases we simply haven’t heard. The five we’re covering here are simply albums that happened to grab our attention — and didn’t let go.
These Glaswegians had a breakout year with the 2009 release of their third full-length, the sonic runaway train called No Tolerance for Imperfection. The album garnered widespread critical acclaim and paved the way for a UK tour with Decapitated and Kataklysm. The Scots will be touring Europe next spring with such awesome bands as Dying Fetus, Origin, Beneath The Massacre, and Revocation.
On No Tolerance, MMD displays an impressive mix of crushing intensity, clanging basslines, chugging grooves, percussive pyrotechnics, and occasional Goethenberg-style melodic riffing. And Joe McGlynn‘s rapid-fire death vocals are outstanding — particularly memorable in the chorus of “Kill It Skin It Wear It.” The song structures are intricate and every track on No Tolerance is a distinctive, in-your-face winner.
As a one-time visitor to Glasgow, I can attest that it’s a gritty, unpretentious, blue-collar town. A “Glasgow kiss” is the vernacular for a vicious head-butt to the cranium, and I can’t think of a more apt description of No Tolerance for Imperfection. Total rabble-rousing fun that you really shouldn’t miss. Damn, but I’d like to see these dudes stir up the shit on stage!
Have a listen to “Kill It Skin It Wear It”:
I originally tuned into this band with the release of their 2007 EP, Chronicles, which I liked tremendously. One extraordinarily infectious song from the EP, “Misanthropes,” I’ve played dozens of times. So, I listened to the band’s 2009 self-titled debut full-length with great anticipation and some anxiety — and breathed a sigh of relief, because it’s really good.
Pulsating guitars and galloping drums, a capable blend of high-pitched and gutteral death vocals, and the kind of groove- and hook-laden melodies that made Chronicles so compelling. The pace of the songs alternates between a furious breakneck rush and slow ambient melodic passages that verge on prog metal, with the occaional deathcore-style breakdown. The album includes two mesmerizingly beautiful instrumental tracks (“Aurora” and “Lux et Tenebris”) and a third, long song, “The Final Light,” that’s largely instrumental and quite memorable. In short, the album is amazingly good and not quite like anything else I heard this year. It’s become one of my favorites.
Have a listen to “Futile Prayers.” And for the hell of it, below that you’ll find a link to that song “Misanthropes” from the band’s EP.
I first discovered this band because Man Must Die’s guitarist Alan McFarland recommended them in an interview earlier this year. Based on that alone, I tracked down a copy of their lone album, a 2008 release called “I“.
This is serious slab of technical, no-holds-barred, heavily blackened death metal, played with a lot of heart. Vicious death vocals, a very heavy low end with absolutely insane non-stop blast-beat drumming, and grinding riffs — all performed with real technical flair, a healthy dose of groove, and a mournful sense of melody. With its use of infectious rhythms and cascading walls of buzzing guitar, Theoktony reminds me at times of Rotting Christ, a superb Greek black metal band. Mind you, this isn’t light fare or for the faint of heart. It’s a non-stop sonic maelstrom: grim, powerful, epic, apocalyptic, original music to get absolutely lost in. There simply aren’t any weak spots, either in conception or execution.
And did I mention the insane drumming? I did? Well, I’ll mention it again. It’s insane. Drummer’s name is Steve Powell, who I gather is the live drummer for another impressive UK black metal band, Anaal Nathrakh.
Unfortunately, it appears that Theoktony has now split apart, which is a real fucking shame. Guitarist Liam Millward writes that he is continuing to record music, providing all the instrumentals and vocals himself, and is hunting for musicians to fill out the band. I hope he succeeds, because his work on “I” is brilliant.
But whatever might result from his searches won’t be the band that recorded “I“. On this one album, these very capable dudes had all their shit completely together. Go spend yo money. This album is worth tracking down.
Help yourself to two samples from Theoktony:
This young band’s 2009 debut, Of Winter Born, is billed as melodic death metal — but it’s more death than melodic. You’ll find rapid-fire, precise playing in a tech-death style with some great dual-guitar shredding. The songs are indeed laden with hooks and melodic guitar riffs, but they are kept rooted in dark earth by Andy Wardle‘s excellent death vocals and sharpened to a dangerous edge by the dissonant, furious interplay between Steve Brown and Danny Guy on guitars. The production is sharp and clear but far from antiseptic. This is an impressive debut by some dudes with real playing chops, and I’m looking forward to what they produce in the future. Oh yeah, Of Winter Born sports a way cool album cover, too.
Please yourself with this sample:
My co-author Alexis turned me on to this band and its 2009 debut release — also called “I“, and I found it to be just as addictive as she did. I’m probably pushing the envelope to call this death metal. Certainly, Xerath doesn’t use that label. With tongue in cheek, it has variously described its own music as “extreme symphonic metal,” “filmscore metal,” “orchestral groove metal,” and “chug-score metal.” But I’m including it in this year-end review anyway, because the album is so damned interesting.
Xerath practices an unusual form of melodic death metal, combining the more typical elements of the genre (high-pitched and mid-range howling vocals, thick melodic riffing, blast beats) with orchestral synthesizer bridges that often bring a goth or black-metal flavor to the sound, Meshuggah-like complex rhythms, and even choral passages. The songs often bleed into each other so that the album as a whole can be heard as a single work. Immensely appealing.
Here’s a sample from “I“: