(In this post Andy Synn provides reviews of six recent albums, all of them leaning in different deathly directions.)
As a companion piece to last week’s Black Metal Bonanza, and a follow-up to Monday’s Death Metal focussed “Short But Sweet” article, here’s a bunch of Death Metal artists/albums to help keep you all sane during these unsettled times.
AFTERBIRTH – FOUR-DIMENSIONAL FLESH
We’ll start things off with my personal favourite, the second album from Long Island lunatics Afterbirth, whose unusually proggy variant of Death Metal from the more slammy/technical end of the spectrum – think Suffocation and/or Defeated Sanity crossed with Mithras and/or Artificial Brain (with whom Afterbirth also share a vocalist) – offers both a monstrously heavy but also surprisingly nuanced listening experience, one that’s equally capable of caving in your skull as it is stimulating your neurons into frenzied activity.
Yes, the overly gurgly vocals might put some people off (though they’re also accented with some more straightforward gutturals and nasty, belligerent barks here and there), but they suit the music surprisingly well, while the more raw and natural production (a far cry from the over-compressed and artificial sound which hamstrings a lot of albums on the Unique Leader label) grants every track a real sense of weight and presence while also giving the more spacey and cerebral aspects of the music (particularly during instrumental interludes like “Girl in Landscape” and “Dreaming Astral Body”) room to breathe.
Picking out individual highlights is a difficult job here, as pretty much all the tracks strike a careful balance between brutal heaviness and brutally efficient hooks – although I must admit that I’ve developed a particular fondness for early highlight “Spiritually Transmitted Disease” (which blends dizzying technical trauma and proggy ambience with impressive aplomb), as well as the menacing slow-burn of “Rooms to Nowhere” and the devastatingly dense riffosity of “Blackhole Kaleidoscope”.
Mark my words, while this is the sort of album which might appear to be a little less than four-dimensional at first, it only gets deeper and more compelling the more you listen to it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up on quite a few year-end lists come December.
APEP – THE INVOCATION OF THE DEATHLESS ONE
If you’re going to play Death Metal on the Technical/Brutal side, at some point you’re probably going to get compared to Nile. This is doubly true if your lyrics and song titles (and band name) skew towards Egyptian themes and mythology, as is the case with Germany’s Apep.
And, yes, there are moments here and there during the course of The Invocation of the Deathless One where the influence of Sanders (Karl, not Colonel) and his band of belligerent brutalisers can be felt, but Apep’s sound actually reminds me much more of the focussed, riff-driven ferocity of bands like Abysmal Dawn and Hate Eternal – unflinchingly brutal, yes, but done in a manner that’s stripped of any excess or self-indulgence.
You can hear this in the blasting bombardment of opener “Whisperer’s In Darkness” and the precise, punishing fretwork of “Anubis’ Denial”, as well as the rapid-fire rampage of “Spell For Passing The Sandbank Of Apophis” and the piercing leads which punctuate the title track.
But what the band may lack in outright originality they make up for in effort and execution, and aren’t afraid to put their money where their proverbial mouth is, especially on tracks like “The Black Pyramid of Naqash” and “Parchment of Execution”, the former of which, as the album’s undeniable centrepiece, manages to maintain its scorching energy and savage intensity for a full seven minutes.
It may not change the world, it’s true, but The Invocation of the Deathless One is a solid, frequently impressive, opening statement from a young band who will hopefully only go on to bigger and better things in the years to come.
CLIENTS – A CALLOUS HEART REJECTS
It’s always interesting – whether they succeed or fail – when a band tries to fuse two (or more), potentially disparate, sets of influences together into one coherent whole.
Case in point, A Callous Heart Rejects, the debut album from Copenhagen quintet Clients, is the sort of record that attempts to do a lot of things all at once, for better or worse, by combining the carefully honed, hook-heavy riffage of bands like Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity with the sheer heaviness and hyper-speed percussive force of Anaal Nathrakh (while occasionally also adding a dash of blackened bombast and bruising groove which makes me think that early 2000s era Dimmu Borgir might also be an influence).
It’s not a seamless fusion by any means, but it’s an interesting one all the same, and actually makes for a surprisingly engaging (and smartly concise) album whose only real misstep is the painfully saccharine, Pop-Metal chorus shoehorned into the already pretty generic “Orchestrator”.
It is, of course, undeniably at its strongest when it focuses more on one style than the other, especially when it leans more towards the Anaal Nathrakh side of things, as songs like “Moth King”, “A Thousand Punctured Veins”, and “Mouth of Exile”, could easily pass for a more streamlined and listener-friendly version of Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney’s work.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the Soilwork-esque melodic muscle of songs like “Spectator to the Night” and “Yesterday’s Light” isn’t a heck of a lot of fun too, but I’d say that if Clients really want to make a bigger splash going forwards they’d be well advised to double (or triple) down on the speed and intensity which propels the best (and heaviest) moments on this album.
KONVENT – PURITAN MASOCHISM
Puritan Masochism, the debut album from Danish quartet Konvent, has the honour of being the slowest, and arguably darkest, album on this list, as befits its dominating, Death/Doom approach.
Unlike many albums on the doomier end of the spectrum, however, Puritan Masochism doesn’t go in for drawn-out, depressive ballads or melancholic grandeur. No, its Death Metal roots means that these songs – from the slow-motion stomp of the title-track to the hypnotically heavy strains of “Idle Hands” — prefer brevity over epic excess, and their stripped-down and relatively simplistic structure helps make this album both incredibly digestible and eminently replayable.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. For example, while most of the album’s tracks top out somewhere around the four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half minute mark, “Bridge” stretches out to an ominous and oppressive six-and-a-half minutes, switching back and forth between a crushing crawl and a chugging, bowel-churning groove.
And then there’s the climactic two-parter, “Ropes”, whose blend of moody misery (Part I) and gargantuan heaviness (Part II) ends the album on a truly imposing note designed to leave the listener hungry for more.
So if you’re looking for a hefty helping of dense, dirge-like riffs and gruesomely guttural vocals – something along the lines of an even doomier Apshyx or a heaver, harder-edged version of Paradise Lost’s more Death Metal oriented material – then do yourself a favour and give this one a listen.
PESTIFER – EXPANDING OBLIVION
On this, their third album, Technical Death-dealers Pestifer deliver the same sort of propulsive, prog-inflected fret-twisting sonic assault that will already be familiar to fans of bands like Obscura and Beyond Creation.
And although the Belgian quartet are not quite the technical titans or artistic savants that either of those two bands are, it’s hard to argue with the fleet-fingered riffosity and nimble, nuanced bass work which binds and entwines tracks like “The Remedy” and “Fractal Sentinels” so tightly.
The group’s approach is also a little bit more grounded, and a little bit more gritty, than that of their peers, and there’s a natural warmth to Expanding Oblivion that gives it quite a different feel to the pristine, Prog-Metal sheen of albums like Cosmogenesis and Earthborn Evolution.
Both sound- and performance-wise, Expanding Oblivion also leans a little more towards the old school, with the gruff vocals of Jérôme Bernard and the blend of jazzy and thrashy influences underlying many of the riffs (just take a listen to “Omniscient” for some prime examples) giving the album an almost proto-Death Metal feel akin to seminal artists like Atheist and Pestilence.
I’ll grant you, the record’s much-vaunted sci-fi “concept” is both extremely derivative and, ultimately, pretty inconsequential, but when the group are firing on all cylinders it’s hard not to love what they’re doing, especially during the closing title track, whose impressive blend of proggy intricacy and primal intensity suggests that the band are more than capable of pushing themselves even further when the need calls for it.
PURNAMA – FLAME OF REBELLION
Last, but by no means least, the specific type of auditory aggression performed by Czech quartet Purnama definitely blurs the dividing line between Death and Black Metal, and the band’s second album (released back at the tail end of January) practically revels in mashing together both the heaviest and most menacingly melodic elements of both styles into one face-melting stew.
Oh, sure, there’s a fair bit of Behemoth-like bombast and grim grandeur on display on tracks like “Light in the Void” and “Phoenix” (and I don’t think the band themselves would deny that), but there are also moments where they lean more towards the deathly brutality of Hour of Penance (“Rebellion”, “Prometheus”) or the barbed, blackened fury of bands like Old Man’s Child (“Nature Will Remain”) or Astarte (“Dark Flames”), without necessarily sounding exactly like any of them.
And while these similarities certainly mean that Purnama aren’t really bringing anything explicitly new to the Blackened Death party, they’ve definitely added a dash of their own flavour to the mixture all the same, and the way in which they deliver every single track with such an eye-popping combination of true grit and furious gusto means it’s practically impossible not to appreciate the band’s outsize energy and obvious passion in full flow.