Today I’m leaning into death metal with Part 2 of this list, beginning with two songs that juxtapose tested veterans with some precocious teenagers (at least they look like teenagers), and then following that by turning to music from a pair of Germans who’ve been playing death metal in various groups since the mid-’90s.
Rogga Johansson has been, and still is, involved in so many projects that you’d have to possess eidetic memory to recite the list. He continues to spawn new ones at an astonishing rate, while also continuing to punch out albums from some of his oldest bands as if they had access to a fountain of youth. It was thus a surprise that out of all the 2020 albums that had his name associated with it, perhaps the one that has drawn the most acclaim is the newest of them all.
To be honest, there often aren’t pronounced musical distinctions among Johansson’s multitude of groups and solo projects, but part of what made Furnace stand out last year is that their music did veer away from what many of us were expecting, interweaving elements of dark, Gothic melody into the framework of old school Swedish death. Also surprising was the fact that not one but two Furnace albums were released within about four months of each other. On both, Johansson was joined by bassist and co-vocalist Peter Svensson (Assassin’s Blade, Cult of the Fox, Void Moon), while on the second album, Dark Vistas, they were also joined by drummer Lars Demoké.
Of those two debut albums Dark Vistas (which is a conceptual tale of Lovecraftian horror) grabbed me harder and held me longer (it still does). And of all the songs on Dark Vistas, the one I go back to more than any other is “94 Bloch Lane“.
For one thing, it has a solid rocking beat and hard-punching rhythmic chords that quickly get a listener’s pulse jumping. Heavy as hell to be sure, and the vocals are ferocious (the howls in the rising chorus are addictive all by themselves), but in addition to pumping your neck like a piston the song includes a slithering melody with a chilling, Gothic quality, a feeling of gloom mixed with the presence of the supernatural. I got addicted to it immediately, and still am.
These young Dutch death-thrashers made their recording advent with a January 2020 EP named Warren of Necrosis, but I discovered them not through that EP but via a subsequent single that reflected the work of an updated line-up. It took no time at all for that single to dig its hooks into my head, and they’ve stayed there.
That single, “Taken By the Devil“, is a highly infectious piece of work. After fashioning a frightening, doom-stricken, horror-prone prelude, the band kick into motoring gear, propelled by a spine-fracturing drum performance and a spleen-rupturing bass assault. The pulsating thrash riffery really gets the blood pumping, and the vocalist brings an intelligible but ferocious growl to the festivities. Things get miserable and morbid in a leviathan stomp, but a spectacular guitar solo with a supernatural aura begins to ignite the song again, pushing it to eat up the highway in another hard-charging, head-hammering rampage.
I could have sworn that at some point last year I wrote something about this German band’s new album Ancient Death Triumph, but I can find no evidence of it. I know I meant to, but it’s just another example of the many dozens of releases every year that I neglect under the pressures of too little time. In this case, its late-November release also had something to do with that neglect, since that’s close to the time when I began devoting a lot of effort to our year-end LISTMANIA series.
Although I didn’t do my part to help spread the word about the album at NCS, I’ve been greedily enjoying it since its release (I greatly enjoy Adam Burke‘s cover art too). The album pulls together a variety of old school death metal traditions in ways that punch a lot of pleasure buttons. And as gore-soaked and… slaughtering… as the songs are, they’re damned catchy too. Witness the track I’ve picked for this list — which is the title song.
Slaughterday pack a lot into this cadaverous crusher. Rhythmically it’s part gallop, part lurch, part neck-cracking rocker. As the cadence changes, Jens Finger spins out an array of gripping riffs, ranging from sounds of cold, drilling cruelty to heated, feverish madness and oppressive, groaning ghastliness. He also delivers an electrifying, spiraling solo which benefits from the doubling of the guitar performance, and another one that’s steeped in misery but becomes sorcerous.
Through it all, drummer Bernd Reiners‘ magnificent growl adds a spine-tingling element of gargantuan monstrosity. Just listening to him proclaim “Ancient Death Triumph!” is one important reason why I picked this song.