You say the words “death metal” — and I do mean “death metal”, not “melodic death metal” — to any metalhead who doesn’t like and appreciate the genre, and they’re likely to lump all of it together in one sweeping dismissal. Of course, as fans of the genre well know, “death metal” encompasses a great variety of sounds and styles. Sometimes the differences are subtle, particularly on the more “brutal” end of the spectrum, but the distinctions are what keep DM addicts diving back into the black pool over and over again.
Those thoughts have been rumbling around my head since I started listening to the music of three South African death metal bands, repeatedly, for this post. I’ve been sitting on music from two of those bands way too long without saying something about them. More recently, we were contacted by a third band from South Africa, and that finally pushed me to get this post done.
Before now, I think the only South African band we’ve featured at NCS has been the ingeniously named, bagpipe-driven Haggis and Bong (here, for example). I’m pretty sure I first heard about one of today’s threesome — All Forlorn — through a post by Haggis and Bong on their Facebook page. The other two — A Walk With the Wicked and Bile of Man — came our way via e-mails from the bands.
All three bands are loaded with talent, and two of the three have got music that’s available for free download. Following the jump are some thoughts about, and music from, each band, in the order in which we heard about them.
Formed in 2006, this quintet is based in Johannesburg. It appears they’ve gigged relentlessly in their home country, and have played the main stage at the majority of Southern Africa’s biggest festivals. Following an initial EP in 2008, the band released their debut album, Taking Down the Thunder, in July of last year.
Two of the songs from the album — the title track and a song called “Dank” — can be downloaded for free at the band’s ReverbNation page (here).
In the genus of death metal, this music would qualify as a species of technical death. It’s fast, and it spits like a very large, very pissed-off, dangerously squirming reptile. The riffs and drum fills never quite go where you think they will, and wherever they’re going, they don’t quite sound like they’re going in the same direction. They synchronize just often enough to snap your head upright (and down again), while the demented harsh screaming and mid-range growling convey an authentic sense of fury.
The song I’m going to play for you, one of the two that’s available for free, is called “The Dank”. I’m not sure it’s the best song on the album from end to end. I’m not even sure, as a whole, that it’s better than the album’s title track. But I’m fucking hooked like a flopping fish, bleeding from the gills, by what happens to this song after it reaches the half-way point, when the rhythm instruments begin a repetitive, pile-driving series of hammer blows and the lead guitar spins out a long, multi-layered, molten solo. Very sweet. Hear for yourself:
A WALK WITH THE WICKED
This band from Capetown came into existence in 2007 and released their 6-song debut EP, Architects of Sadism, in January of this year.
As inspirations for their music, the band lists such diverse influences (albeit all under the big tent of death metal) as Cannibal Corpse, Gojira, Decapitated, and Bloodbath.
As I listened to the songs on Architects, the band that first popped into my head through the first two tracks was Amon Amarth. Though this isn’t “Viking metal” by a long shot, the reminders are there — from the catchy, heavy-grooved, stomping chugs to the vibrato buzz of tremolo guitar in the choruses, to a vocalist who sounds very much like the incomparable Johan Hegg. But as I made my way through the next four songs I also got flashes of Grave, Immolation, and (on the final track) Autopsy.
These dudes have a special knack for blending sinister brutality with undercurrents of melody. When they jam the throttle into high gear, they cut some deep grooves that you just can’t help but join in with headbanging, and there are some migthy sweet clean guitar solos sprinkled through the music, too. The songs have individual character, and I’ve really been enjoying them.
This is one rock-solid release. Do yourself a favor and check out this track from the EP:
Architects of Sadism is available for download at the band’s Bandcamp page (here) for $5. Take it from your old friend, the Headless Blogger, that’s $5 well-spent. You can snoop about for more news about the Wicked ones at their official site or at Facebook and MySpace.
BILE OF MAN
This group from Pretoria played their first show in April 2008. Their debut EP, Dystopian Order: The Age of Detritus, was released last month. It includes six tracks.
This band is an even more brutal species of death-metal denizen than the first two outfits we’ve discussed today. Think of a long-lost African cousin of Cannibal Corpse and Cephalic Carnage. The band cites other influences, such as Morbid Angel, Behemoth, Origin, Nile, Dying Fetus, and Krisiun, among others. That might give you a clue that the order of battle for this band includes “take no prisoners”.
The music is relentlessly caustic, blistering in its drum, bass, and guitar assault. It’s a screaming demon flying straight out of hell — but it’s fascinating to hear. If this were a visible manifestation of something, I would say “you can’t take your eyes off of it”. Since it’s an aural manifestation, I’ll have to say “you can’t keep your ears off it”, as fucked up as those words may be.
Bile of Man brings the brute force, but with technical flair. It’s triple-distilled evil, with no mercy and no remorse, and only fleeting respect for the notion of consistent tempos and time signatures. “Feast on the Wicked’, for example, is a vicious riff-fest that alternately spurts like an open artery and staggers like a combatant who’s been gut-shot. The song ends with a death-doom crawl that brings to mind nothing so much as maggots pouring from a ruptured wound.
Unpredictability goes hand-in-hand with brutality on this EP, and so you get a solitary guitar arpeggio at the beginning of “Mouth of Madness” and a solitary bass arpeggio at the commencement of “The Return”.
In fact, almost the first three minutes of “The Return” is a morbid infliction of instrumental death-doom that oozes illness. And what follows that catastrophic opening is a gear-shifting phalanx of brutality that’s as riveting and instrumentally unexpected as it is utterly hopeless in its atmosphere. Check it out:
You can download two of the EP’s songs for free at the band’s Facebook page (here).
If these three bands are representative of the extreme metal scene in South Africa today, then it’s a scene that deserves lots more of our attention here in the U.S., and elsewhere. At least I know this — when it comes to death metal, they do represent.