(Andy Synn presents his thoughts on three titanic slabs of Death Metal, all due for release this Friday)
If last week was a big one for fans of the more “techy” side of the Death Metal spectrum, then this one is at least as big a deal for those whose tastes run towards the grittier, riffier side of things that one might, if one were so inclined, refer to as “Old School”.
And yet I’d rather not put too much emphasis on that particular term, as while each of these three bands/albums is obviously following a path laid down by the genre’s “Old School” originators, they’re also taking steps – some small, some large – to push things forward in their own way (something which, let’s be honest, can’t always be said about a lot of the OSDM “revival” scene).
But even if you don’t agree with the above statement I think you’ll still find a lot to love within this article, because every one of these bands kicks a significant amount of ass.
INNUMERABLE FORMS – PHILOSOPHICAL COLLAPSE
As someone who quickly became a firm fan of Innumerable Forms upon the release of their first album (I even wrote a review of it here) I was, understandably, very excited when they announced they were working on a follow-up. I was even more excited when the promo for it landed in our inbox. And I’m absolutely delighted to be able to tell you that it improves upon their debut tenfold.
Don’t get me wrong, Punishment In Flesh was a good album, with a few stand-out tracks that hinted at the band’s true potential, but Philosophical Collapse is an altogether stronger, and more ambitious, record which takes the group’s established Incantation/Autopsy/Convulse inspired sound and enhances it with a dose of delirium-inducing melody and an improved knack for morbidly memorable songwriting.
As a result it’s a lot harder to pick out specific tracks for special praise this time around – they’re all good and they all add something, both individually and as part of the album’s greater whole, to the experience.
The opening title-track, for example, opens and closes with a mix of mauling distortion and manic blastbeats, but the mid-section is a dread-inducing, doom-laden crawl pierced (from within) by threads of chilling, prog-tinged melody, while “Built On Wrought” is four-minutes-and-forty-nine-seconds of hooky, hammering riffs, irresistible neck-wrecking rhythms, and taut, twisted tremolo melodies that builds towards a massively doomy denouement where the spiralling lead-guitar takes centre stage.
I could go on – “Bleeding Time” once again puts the spotlight on those crystalline, almost cosmic, lead melodies, “Deified Tyrants” practically revels in the band’s increasing embrace of dynamic, drawing out and opening up the space between every dense, reeking riff to maximum effect, and “Sleeping Light” is as intensely introspective as it is crushingly atmospheric – but I don’t want to spoil the entire record for you right before its release!
Suffice it to say that although the various members are busy with their many other bands (vocalist/guitarist Justin DeTore in particular is soon to release another record from his incredibly popular – although, in my opinion, vastly overhyped – Dream Unending project) I sincerely hope that Innumerable Forms continue to build on what they’ve created here (preferably sooner, rather than later) because they’ve definitely tapped into something here that has the potential to elevate them above the rest of the Death/Doom congregation.
In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it already has.
PHOBOPHILIC – ENVELOPING ABSURDITY
On a purely superficial level, Phobophilic‘s sound may owe a distinct debt to genre stalwarts like Morbid Angel, Demilich, et al, but the band’s debut album definitely doesn’t feel as indebted to (or derivative of) the “Old School” scene as some of their peers.
Mostly it’s the sharp, dynamic execution – capable of shifting direction on a dime while still making it feel like a natural evolution – which gives the whole record a more modern (though not too modern) feel comparable to groups like Outer Heaven and Tomb Mold while still establishing itself as capable of standing on its own.
But, much like the Innumerable Forms album mentioned above, it really is the songwriting which helps this one to stand out, as Phobophilic have successfully managed to pack these tracks with a host of stand-out segments which will ensure you’ll keep coming back to them just to catch that buzz over and over again.
That’s not to say that the band don’t also deliver on the goods when it comes to shamelessly headbangable moments too (songs like “Those Who Stare Back” and “Cathedrals of Blood”, for example, offer an absolute tour-de-force of riffs and rhythms which are as hooky as they are heavy, as well as – in the case of the former – some shamelessly shreddy lead guitar work), but it’s those points where the group think a little bit outside of the box that really showcase that there’s more going on underneath the surface here than you might expect.
This is particularly obvious during the almost Mastodon-ian moments scattered across the album – most notably found during the shapeshifting “Nauseating Despair”, the artfully atmospheric “The Illusion of Self”, and climactic closer “Enveloping Absurdity”, though also manifesting in other, more subtle, ways here and there – where the band reveal a more esoteric and progressively melodic side to their sound that, somehow, still fits in seamlessly amidst all the stomping riffs, scything blastbeats, and sinister gutturals.
Talking of Mastodon… while it’s clear that the entire group are a talented bunch, it’s drummer Vincent Tweten who I’d nominate as the album’s real MVP, as his impressively powerful, intricately proggy, Brann Dallor-esque performance behind the kit never fails to improve whatever part of the song he’s playing under.
But as good as this album is – and it keeps getting better every time I listen to it – what’s most exciting about Enveloping Absurdity is just how much nascent, still untapped potential it displays. So while we can, and should, celebrate what they’ve achieved here – it’s easily one of the best Death Metal debuts of 2022 – we should also prepare ourselves for even bigger, and better, things in the band’s future. Of that I have no doubt.
TRIBAL GAZE – THE NINE CHOIRS
Of all the bands featured here it’s Tribal Gaze who have the most to prove, and the most to lose, this Friday.
After all, their debut EP garnered the group a lot of attention and acclaim (including from yours truly), and that level of hype, at such an early stage in their career, can make or break a band.
Thankfully, the Texan quintet don’t appear to have been at all phased by all the hype and heavy expectations surrounding their new album, which has quickly established itself as one of my favourite records of the year so far simply by being so damn good at what it does.
From the churning chug-a-thon of “Cold Devotion”, all the way through to the crushing climax of “Worthless Offering”, The Nine Choirs hits like it’s trying to redefine what the term “heavy” means, dropping super-massive riffs and gravity-distorting grooves like they were going out of fashion (not that they ever will).
Whether the band are leaning hard into the “pure” Death Metal side of things (as on the utterly savage “With This Creature I Return”) or embracing their Metallic Hardcore roots (as they do during the stripped-down strut of “To Gather In Its Presence”), or slamming the two together as violently as possible (“Jealous Messiah”), there’s barely a moment on this album where Tribal Gaze aren’t trying their hardest to cave your skull in.
At the same time, however, the album also serves as a showcase for how much the band have tightened up their songwriting and sharpened their hooks since the release of Godless Voyage – just try to keep your head from banging to the brutish, bone-jarring rhythms and frantic eruptions of fury that make up “And How They Wept For Eternity” or the neck-wrecking nastiness of “Jungle Rituals”, I dare you – and even injected an added dash of technical flash into the mix in the shape of some twisted, cyanide-laced lead parts.
Sure, no-one is claiming that the group’s Hardcore-influenced Death Metal mix is totally unique – a keen listener will doubtless be able to pick out influences from the likes of All Out War, Earth Crisis, and Merauder on one side of the equation, and inspiration from “Old School” idols such as Cannibal Corpse, Grave, and Obituary on the other – but then that’s clearly not the point of this album.
After all, it’s well established that you don’t necessarily need to build a better mousetrap to be successful, you just need to figure out how to scale it up to kill as many mice as possible. And that’s what Tribal Gaze have done here – they’ve taken an already pretty lethal sound and boosted its killing power even more.
What a ride. What a rush. What an album.