(We present a collection of three death metal reviews by Andy Synn.)
If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention to the digital metalsphere over the last several months then it’s highly likely you’ll have noticed quite a lot of people talking/writing about how this has been a real banner year for Death Metal, to the point where it’s starting to feel like its corpse-painted cousin, Black Metal, is really struggling to keep up.
And while there has been a solid number of truly great Black Metal albums released this year so far (with more still to come), there’s definitely some truth to this assertion. 2018 really is a great time to be alive if you’re a fan of massive riffs and guttural vocals.
So, in that spirit, here are three more ravenous recommendations, straight from my brain/fingers to your eyes/ears.
BÆST – DANSE MACABRE
Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately with this one, shall we?
- Bæst sound like a younger, hungrier, and arguably more authentic, version of Bloodbath.
- This is in no way a bad thing.
- Danse Macabre may very well be the best Death Metal album I’ve heard this year.
Now, referring to point #3 above, the only real reason I’ve been forced to hedge my bets a little with that statement is that, at just under thirty-four minutes in length… two of which are taken up by the relatively inconsequential acoustic instrumental track “Ritual”… Danse Macabre may be almost too short for its own good.
I mean, I know that “less is more” guys, but… sometimes it’s not.
However, it’s true that this almost psychotic focus on quality over quantity means that, barring the aforementioned instrumental, there’s not a single misstep or slip-up to be found on any of these tracks.
Opener “Crosswhore”, for example, is one of the most scorching statements of intent you’re likely to hear all year, its boiling blend of gnarly riffs, gut-rumbling vocals, and grim, malevolent grooves delivered with all the inhuman intensity and sadistic swagger of a band who know they’re onto a real winner, and is quickly followed by the even more ferocious auditory assault of “Hecatomb”, which effectively distils and decants all the very best elements of Death Metal, in its purest, most punishing form, into a single song.
Building from a moody, acoustic intro into a massive metallic maelstrom of devastatingly doomy riffs and creepy, skin-crawling leads, the title-track is yet another killer slab of unadulterated heaviness, while the short, sharp, savage shock of “Atra Mors” and the utterly merciless “Messe Macabre” quickly establish themselves as a pair of primal powerhouses practically overflowing with ripping, saw-toothed riffs, gleefully evil melodies, and neck-wrecking percussive rhythms.
In fact, as ravenously riff-tastic and packed with gargantuan, growling vocal hooks as this album is (vocalist Simon Olsen often sounding like a dead-ringer for Michael Akerfeldt back in his more deathly days – just take a quick listen to the unflinchingly visceral “Vortex” if you don’t believe me), there’s an argument that the album’s real MVP is drummer Sebastian Abildsten, whose bombardment of blistering blastbeats and colossal kick patterns ensures every single track detonates with the force of a small-yield nuclear device.
Closing with yet another spine-crushing, ear-grabbing anthem in the shape of “Ego Te Absolvo”, Danse Macabre firmly establishes itself as one of the biggest and best debuts of the year and, if there’s any justice in the world, suggests that Bæst could very well be this year’s Power Trip – a new band, pumping some much needed new blood, into a resolutely Old School sound, in a way that reenergizes and revitalizes it for the modern era.
Although whether they’ll receive even a fraction of the same attention and critical acclaim is, unfortunately, still very much up in the air!
INNUMERABLE FORMS – PUNISHMENT IN FLESH
Speaking of Power Trip (how’s that for a smooth segue?)… Boston-based bruisers Innumerable Forms (originally the solo project of mastermind Justin DeTore) these days count amongst their ranks one Chris Ulsh, who also slings the axe in the now-infamous Texan thrash-mob, as well as drummer Connor Donnegan (of Genocide Pact fame), who has himself sat behind the kit for some of their live shows, while the rest of the group’s line-up is rounded out by a mix of local (and not-so-local) luminaries from the US Death Metal scene.
As you might expect then, there’s a lot of expertise and experience at hand here, although the band’s chief modus operandi appears to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, resulting in an impressive debut album of grim ‘n’ gloomy, Incantation-inspired death-dirges which, despite its somewhat derivative nature, should still succeed in putting a horrible, rictus grin, on all your pretty faces.
Of course that’s not to say that IF have just gone and copied their sound wholesale from other sources, as while Incantation is definitely an easy touchstone to invoke for anyone who hasn’t heard Punishment in Flesh yet (as are references to Autopsy, Convulse, and various other bands who dwell on the grittier, grimier side of the Death/Doom scale), the Bostonian quintet have gone to great effort to twist things, as far as possible, into a slightly different, more distinct shape, while still staying close to their roots in the process.
Following the unsettling album introduction “Intruders”, the title-track doesn’t so much explode into action as it does lurch into life with a sense of terrible, inevitable momentum, dripping slime and vitriol as it stomps and staggers forwards, back bowed and bones creaking under the weight of its own prodigiously doomy heaviness, while “Petrified” picks up the pace and pushes the band into more traditionally “pure” Death Metal territory, while still making time to drop in some hellishly dark and doom-laden moments of slow-motion suffering.
And whilst I wouldn’t characterize any tracks here as noticeably “weak” by any means, there’s definitely a handful of cuts that really stand out from the pack, particularly the core triptych of “Reality”, “Re-Contaminated”, and “Stress Starvation”, which together form an impressive, and imposing, monolith of bleak, morbid riffs, cavernous vocals, and ever-shifting tempos which move back and forth between a rabid, ramshackle barrage of blastbeats, to a sickening, suffocating crawl.
They also absolutely knock it out of the park with disgustingly dense closer “Meaning”, so as long as you’re not expecting this album to reinvent the wheel – at best it takes a familiar sound and gives it a fresh (or not so fresh) coating of filth – then I think you’ll find a lot to love/loathe here.
NAILS OF IMPOSITION – SURPASSING CARBON DECAY
As the old saying goes, “you will know them by the company they keep”, and nowhere is this perhaps more applicable than in Metal, where bands often live and die by their associations with other artists.
In the case of Aussie annihilators Nails of Imposition I’m more than happy to throw out references/comparisons to groups like Dying Fetus, Wormed, and Defeated Sanity, as a way of grabbing your attention and letting you know that, once you press play, you’re in for a seriously brutal ride with this album.
But whereas, if I’m going to be “brutally” honest (pun intended), I find a lot – perhaps even the majority – of bands playing this sort of “Technical/Brutal Death Metal” to be pretty much entirely faceless and interchangeable (honestly, I bet that most of the time you could randomly switch around the song titles, band names, and album art, and even their fans wouldn’t notice), these guys look to have definitely put in the necessary work to establish their own sound as something, if not revolutionary, than at least recognizably distinctive amongst their peers, balancing primitive, blunt-force trauma and precise, hyperactive technicality, in a way that speaks to greater ambitions than simply trying to impotently one-up and out-brutalise the rest of the scene.
As a matter of fact, I’d even go so far as to say there’s something resolutely “fun” about how ridiculously twisted and torturously aggressive early tracks like “Malicious Intent” and “Surpassing Carbon Decay” are, while still maintaining a keen sense of structure and direction.
Of course for anyone less familiar with this particular brand of disgusting deviance (and possibly even for some more experienced listeners) their first exposure to something like “Crypt of the Suffocated” or the twitchy, tweaked-out technicality of “Apathetic Dejection” is likely to be one of complete and utter bewilderment and/or terror, but Nails of Imposition most definitely have a method to their madness, and the band’s impressively organic tightness goes a long way towards highlighting this fact.
This is even more obvious in the album’s back half, where the focus seems to flip towards a more resolutely brutal and (relatively) more “straight forward” approach that puts a greater emphasis on pure bludgeoning heaviness, producing songs like the ridiculously-named (and ridiculously heavy) “Star Picket Abortion”, its similarly stupefying companion “Hanging Body Tapestry”, and the chunky, churning chuggery of “Contrived of the Spoliate”.
At just under thirty-two minutes in total run-time, Surpassing Carbon Decay is actually even shorter than the Bæst album reviewed up above… but it’s so densely packed with so much riffing, blasting, slamming, and shredding, that anything more would probably be too much!
So if you’re looking to give your brain a thorough sonic sodomising, and have a quick half-hour to spare, why not check this one out?