(Andy Synn delivers a Death Metal-centric edition of The Best of British)
The UK Death Metal scene is a fertile place, no doubt about it.
Of course, such a bountiful harvest does sometimes make it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff (here’s a little bit of advice – stringing together a few generic grooves and mediocre, mid-paced blastbeats does not make you “the next Bolt Thrower”) but that’s just the price you pay for living in such interesting times.
One thing that separates these bands from the rest of the pack – in my opinion – is that they don’t play it safe. Sure, they’re standing on the shoulders of giants (aren’t we all?) but they’re taking risks – some big, some small – and pushing themselves in an attempt to climb even higher, demonstrating a level of ambition that, honestly, I wish more bands had instead of just settling for being just another fish in an increasingly over-crowded pond.
DE PROFUNDIS – THE CORRUPTION OF VIRTUE
The new album from De Profundis – a group we’ve long been fans of here at NCS – is the perfect rejoinder to the old cliché that bands always get softer and mellow out as they get older.
Make no mistake about it, this is by far the band’s angriest and most aggressive record yet (and that’s saying quite a bit, as their last couple of records weren’t exactly lacking in venom either), one which marries the ripping heaviness of Cannibal Corpse with the proggy intensity of Leprosy-era Death, and then adds just a dash of Pestilence‘s nimble fretboard fireworks to create something that’s both technically twisted enough for the Tech Death crowd and also possesses enough “Old School” cool to please the OSDM nerds.
There are a couple of things, however, which sets De Profundis apart from the usual glut of dime-a-dozen Death Metal bands, even just on first listen.
For one thing, they’re not just aping their ancestors, they’re actively adding to and refining the recipe they’ve handed down, and there’s no question that the heavy-yet-hooky riffs of songs such as “Sectarian Warfare” and “Desecrating Innocence”, and the intricate, proggy basslines (courtesy of new member Steve Woodcock) so prominent in tracks like “Relentless March” and “Embrace Dystopia”, contribute more than their fair share of instrumental flash and fury to the band’s increasingly ferocious formula.
And then there’s the fact that, unlike a lot of bands who are content just to grunt and gurn their way through the motions, De Profundis actually sound legitimately, undeniably pissed-off on this album, and there’s a real, raw fury to the way that vocalist Craig Land growls forth the bitter and barbed lyrics of songs like “Weaponised Rape” and “Religious Cancer” that you just can’t fake.
Quite honestly, I’ve never fully understood why these guys aren’t a much bigger deal – both here in the UK and elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of dumb ‘n’ dirty Death Metal as much as the next guy, but what De Profundis have been doing (for the last several records at least) has always seemed so much more interesting, and rewarding, while still being fun as hell to just bang your head and bellow along to.
Who knows, though, maybe this will be the album where they finally get the attention and acclaim they deserve.
GODEATER – VESPERA
Let’s cut right to the chase – while I liked Godeater‘s debut album, All Flesh is Grass, I didn’t love it, and had a handful of criticisms/complaints (mostly targeting some perceived flaws in the band’s sequencing/structuring, as well as the occasional over-use of some slightly generic Black Dahlia Murder-isms) that ultimately stopped me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to.
Thankfully I am pleased to say that there’s very little that I don’t love about Vespera, as not only have the band further improved upon their already top-notch technical talents but they’ve also clearly dedicated a lot more time and attention to the songwriting side of things too, with the end result being an album that possesses a surfeit of both style and substance, as well as – most importantly – actual, memorable songs (something that a certain other recently-released album not a million miles away from this one was sorely lacking, in my opinion).
Some of this may be down to the fact that there’s a subtle, but vital, Metalcore influence underpinning the band’s proggier and more atmospheric Tech Death leanings. And while I know that term is a dirty word to some people, this more defined dynamic – aided and abetted by some strikingly effective use (but not abuse) of clean vocals (giving the album shades of Extol at times) – ensures that, while Vespera works best when listened to as one flowing piece of work, each individual track still has what it takes to stand up, and stand out, on its own.
As a result it’s difficult to single out any particular song (or songs) for special praise – the quality really is extremely high across the board – but I will say that, even on first listen, the heavily rhythmic, hauntingly melodic mix of “God Complex” and its more extreme companion, “The Hatchet”, immediately made an intense impression on me, as did the more complex catharsis of “Out of Body” and the album’s impressively ambitious closer “Qualia” (although I do wish the latter’s finale was a little bit stronger).
Like I hinted at earlier, there’s another, far more (in)famous band whose latest album was very much in a similar vein to this one. But whereas I found that record to be wholly unmemorable, even after I’d just finished listening to it, this is one that got its hooks into me immediately and which I keep on wanting to come back to, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. And that, from where I’m sitting, makes it the superior product.
LIVE BURIAL – CURSE OF THE FORLORN
Much like De Profundis featured above, Live Burial are the sort of band who wear their “Old School” influences proudly (Morbid Angel, Death, and Edge of Sanity being some of the most obvious) but don’t let them limit or inhibit their ambition to be more than just a product of their inspirations.
In that sense LB are closer, in both style and spirit, to being the UK equivalent of bands like Blood Incantation or Faceless Burial, especially when they let their weirder, proggier proclivities out to play.
Some prime examples of this would be the off-kilter attack of “My Head as Tribute” or the slithering, doom-laden sounds of “Blood and Copper”, but it’s also worth noting that there are multiple moments across the album where the group lean heavily into the sinister, semi-psychedelic side of their sound, lacing their gritty, grime-encrusted riffs with uncomfortable, acid-etched melodies and bleak, bad-trip vibes.
That’s not to say they’ve forgotten how to drop the hammer, obviously – the crushing kick-in of “Despair of the Lost Self”, following on from the track’s creepy, skin-crawling intro never fails to hit like a proverbial tonne of bricks, and “Exhumation and Execution” is just unforgivingly punishing – but it’s how and when they choose to do so that really makes this record work.
They’re also not afraid, when the moment calls for it, to simply put the pedal to the metal and rock the fuck out, with the showboating second half of “The Ordeal of Purification” in particular demonstrating that while Live Burial are extremely serious about what they do, they also clearly have a lot of fun doing it.
It’s not a perfect album, by any means – there’s still a bit of tightening up to be done here and there, both in the songwriting and production departments – but it’s an album with more vision and more ambition (especially during fantastic final track, “This Prison I Call Flesh”) than any number of the band’s peers and rivals can be said to possess. And that’s something worth celebrating.