(This is Wil Cifer‘s review of the debut album by Umbra Vitae, which was released on May 1st by Deathwish Inc.)
Converge is one of my favorite bands. Yeah, I know they are not metal. Even their singer Jacob Bannon admits this and calls his band hyper-aggressive. But they are very influenced by metal, and on albums like Petitioning the Empty Sky you can hear Slayer dripping from the riffs.
Jacob might perform in a hardcore band, but he has a love for death metal that inspired him to put Umbra Vitae together. He enlisted guitarists from Hatebreed and The Red Chord, along with the ex- drummer from Job For a Cowboy and the bassist from The Red Chord.
So I went into this album with Converge as the bar by which I was going to be measuring it. It did not disappoint. This is not a love letter to Morbid Angel, though you can hear their influence in places. I would have been let down if this had been a color-by-numbers death metal album.
Vocally, Jacob maintains the hyper-aggressive approach from his day job.. He does not trade out his emotive bark for grunting. He uses a mid-range snarl spat out with punk fervor over the guitar. There are some of the lower death metal growls set against this in key moments.
The songs are also written from a punk approach, as they are condensed into three-minute bursts, though unlike grindcore they are fully formed. There are the required weighty chugs of death metal, though there is a much wider canvas of sonic depth. As with any extreme metal band, if the brutality of the pounding eclipses the musicality in its focus the song suffers. They are very intense and sometimes chaotic yet the collateral damage is minimal.
“Mantra of Madness” is possessed by a more conventional death metal groove. This is not the album’s only foray into the expected bounds of death metal. Their digging into the darkness of the more standard formula for death metal works well on “Fear is Fossil”. The lyrics can be made out during the lower accented growls, but much like his performance in Converge, Bannon uses his voice as another abrasive instrument.
“Polluted Paradise” focuses on the blurred blast of a beating they give you, while “Intimate Inferno” is a continued after-shock from the first explosion of the previous song. It is more interesting, as more melodic elements are introduced by the guitar, and the low growls give a hooky accent.
“Return to Zero” is a fine example of where maximum brutality can be achieved while still making a song worth repeat listens. I think we often mistakenly assume hooks are a form of selling out. They are not. They are the embellishments that bring you back to a song. They stick with you.
“Blood Blossom” is slower, yet the drumming stays true to the genre. In other places it helps them take this in a more grindcore direction. The drummer here has great double-bass feet. Brutality is sacrificed for a creeping darkness on the title track that closes the album.
Normally I would be over the blood-red moon for this kind of experimentation when it comes to death metal. The blasty sections feel like the more death-grind kinda thing you hear more in the underground corners of the metal scene. This album blends hardcore and death metal in a very effective manner and provides a welcome diversion until the next Converge album. If you are a Converge fan you are going to be more into this than if you are Job For a Cowboy fan, as it thinks out of the box more than the Sirrus Radio vein of death metal. For me that is a key selling point.