I have always held the belief that death metal, out of all of the extreme metal subgenres, is the most inaccessible to newcomers. Well, grindcore excluded. Death metal is the sound most novices associate all metal with and thus why it is the most difficult for many to push past its preconceptions. Unlike the pliability of black and doom metal, death metal seems to be the most rigid and unwavering to non-metal genre bending. It is the most antisocial in terms of vocal presentation, lyrical themes, and rhythm structure. Its entire existence appears to be the unstoppable odyssey into the realms of the extreme with little care of connecting with its audience. Imagine my surprise when I began to appreciate its subtleties and nuances beneath a wall of alien noise. That is, once it stopped scaring the shit out of me.
Five years is not a historic marker for death metal. There was no great event which happened in 2007 to mark any sort of new movement. As a collective however, there has been a push with newer bands to embrace a classic style of death metal, which was prevalent in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Old School Death Metal (OSDM) refers to the first wave of death metal bands and separates the sound from whatever in the hell happened between then and now. I am not discounting anything that happened between 1995 and 2005. I am also in no position to call new waves or come up with acronyms that make little sense to anyone but me. All I am doing is taking note of some recent and interesting developments in the landscapes of Gehenna.
Below are six albums from the last 5 years, which are loosely connected by a style and theme. These albums represent a greater push to celebrate death metal’s traditions. They embrace a traditional sound but circumvent a retro mantle. Unlike the newer wave of thrash, these newer death metal bands have little interest in costuming themselves in past outfits, but rather resetting the style and moving forward. Perhaps that is what makes them so endearing — the lack of celebration or assumption and just a push forward to get back on track.
In the past I have enlisted colleagues and acquaintances to share their thoughts on certain subjects. Most of these people have come from Reddit’s metal thread, which as been a near endless well of knowledgeable participants. Joining us on work visa is Hyperion who has volunteered to help shine flashlights in dark corners reassuring me things are not as scary as I think, it’s all just my imagination. Well, except for that giant goddamn demon in the other corner.
I love any record with a stellar opener. “Ingesting Death” does a tremendous job at presenting an overture full of putrid death and vile disease. The listener can give a rough summary within the first 2 minutes of what to expect from Nekropsalms — the second record from the Norwegian bile dealers Obliteration. At first, the downtuned and slowed guitars remind one of doom metal yet, when one looks up, the sky has turned dark and everything appears to be depressed and sagging. I think I had to understand the type of escapism which could come with death metal to realize how utterly amazing this record truly is. With subtle psychedelic motifs and a narcotic disposition, Nekrospsalms sways to the beat of a drum stretched with human skin, which was probably acquired through less than reputable means.
Oddly enough, I think Obliteration is a perfect place to start for people without a deep interest in newer death metal. If I was forcing you to enjoy the style under threat of power tools, I would strongly suggest this record to start. The album’s accessibility is delivered on a platter of swaying attitude and completely badass riffs. It is this character which allows listeners to understand that death metal can be believable, entertaining, and sinister without the addition of ridiculous antics. There, are you starting to enjoy it now? What about if Mr. Drill gets closer to your ear?
I saw Obliteration play live without knowing who they were. At the time, they were just another name in a stack of a dozen festival bands. It would have been near impossible to pass by this band without looking up from whatever you were doing at the time. It only takes a few seconds to understand what Obliteration is trying to do and why they do it so well. The band wins because of their variety in tempo without sacrificing brutality or the slow crush of heavy stones. The swaying doom of their downtime is just as fierce as their cavalry charge to the beat of that human skin drum I just mentioned. You don’t think they killed someone to get that do you?
Remember what I was just saying about albums with great introductions? Well here is one that is around 5 and a half minutes. If you were looking for a way to ease into a record full of complex brutality that leans toward the aesthetics of steel wool and oven cleaner, then 5 minutes of scrubbing at the beginning of a record is just what you need. Holy goddamn this is an arresting record. There are no grey areas here. Just straight Greek death metal ore mined from the hills of mortuary mountain.
Dead Congregation appears to lie in the middle of a web connecting a larger Greek black/death scene centered around Athens. Within what I assume is one square block in some ancient portion of the city, this group of bands have been making some unignorable records and frightening small children. Grave of the Archangels is menacing and unrelenting in its misery, which pours down upon its listener. Make no mistake, the entire album is fantastic, yet the back half of the record with the longer tracks nearing 10 minutes is to die for. You see, that joke is not witty but rather bordering on lame because of the subject material. It stays.
Dead Congregation is an investment that makes initial commitment seem absolutely terrifying. Grave of the Archangels appears to newcomers as a wall of alien noise with no hope of possible redemption. However, if one continues down the path, this will clear and once it breaks, one will find themselves smiling a little too widely while everyone else screams for sanctuary.
In my perfect set up, Misasmal would come right after Dead Congregation due to the change in tempo and atmosphere. After all, I am running the world’s greatest death metal party. During our initial discussions, Hyperion pushed for a newer Swedish death act to represent the country’s foothold in the style’s history. Miasmal’s debut comes to us with a style reverent to the country’s past flirtations with punk and hardcore music. It also follows a string of self titled demos and EPs. This time it’s for real. The resulting debut LP for Miasmal is the same brutality heard in the previous two records discussed, but just kicked up a couple of notches with lines of death cocaine. I am just joking, there are no drugs involved.
If one was already a fan of Entombed, Unleashed, or Carnage, or knows what the hell I am talking about then they will probably enjoy Miasmal. Maybe. I am not 100% sure. You guys can be moody sometimes and have violent swings of emotion. Miasmal clouds the world with hornets that emanate from their mouth. Even downtempo moments like “Blissful Cannonades” radiate energy and anguish. It is a record full of soured energy and vile emotion and I am damn glad to send it swinging into the darkness.
With certain editions of this debut one also gets previous demo and EP releases totaling up to a grand running time of one hour. It is like the band is riding an ark of hatred in search of new land. My head feels light after that death cocaine. Why did you have to cut it into the shape of a skull?
From the Desk of Hyperion
First off let me thank the honorable Judge Carbon for shortening my sentence and letting me out on good behavior. There might have been a bit of blackmail in there too to help him write this but it’s all in good fun, no hard feelings either way. Now to pick up where my cohort left off, while to me it still seems a bit counterintuitive that death metal would be the most inaccessible subgenre of metal I cannot deny that it’s probably the truth. In addition to this I also find it to be the most rigid in terms of genre fluidity. What I mean by this is that death metal just generally doesn’t fare too well with experiments. This isn’t always the case but the vast majority of death metal that begins to mess with formulas does in fact suck. Hell, black metal has about 14 billion subgenres at this point and I’ll admit to liking most of them, but when I see a band labeled “technical death metal” or “experimental death metal” unless it comes highly recommended I stay far, far away. Whereas a subgenre like black metal is easily identifiable from the elements that comprise it, there are many ways that a black metal record can sound and still be, well, black metal. Death metal as a formula is far less forgiving and much more prone to rejecting new ideas. This is why I think that a respectable revival movement started and is now flourishing in the underground. Not because people necessarily want to revive the genre but simply because it’s just what sounds best.
Let’s be honest, most revival movements are terrible. I mean look at the state of this new wave of revival thrash. It’s awful; there are no two ways about it. Admittedly I’m not the biggest thrash fan but I think the quality of revival thrash versus revival death metal isn’t a matter of what genre you prefer but what the purpose of the movement is. To me, the revival thrash shtick is a bunch of guys trying to relive the glory days of thrash as an image rather than a sound. Just go jam some Cryptic Slaughter then check out a Municipal Waste video on the Tube and you’ll see the sad reality of what I’m getting at. The OSDM movement has an image attached as well but it’s more a byproduct of the music than the purpose of the revival. The OSDM revival scene is as successful as it is because it’s simply trying to make a genre sound like it should. The organic, “old school” production, the one dimensional lyrical themes, the painted cover arts, all these elements just make death metal work better. Death metal tried to do new things. In the wasteland of about 1993 to 2007 death metal saw about 1 good album for every 100 other terrible ones. But after more than a decade of shit everyone finally started to realize things just weren’t working out, it was time to see other people and move on, maybe get back with that ex you never really got over in the first place. And thus we have a revival movement, and one that has a fairly large amount of strong participants still going strong. This list is a few of the best and most relevant my companion and I thought should be included in an overview of this period of death metal history. So without further ado here they are.
When I think of good death metal I think of dumb teenagers playing as loud as they can all while trying to be offensive as they can. Angsty teenagers have carried the torch of metal since it began all those eons ago and only when those teenagers “grow up” and start trying to make metal smarter and more refined does it begin to suck (that’s how we get pseudointellectual IT metal like Opeth). But what happens when those angsty teenagers never grow up and continue making music like they did when they were 18? Well, I’ll tell you what happens, bands like Funebrarum happen. Assembled of an all-star cast of veterans from legendary bands like Assuck, Evoken, Citizens Arrest, and the mighty Incantation, Funebrarum’s The Sleep of Morbid Dreams is arguably the best album to come out of this new wave of OSDM. The Sleep of Morbid Dreams isn’t the product of a group of newcomers finally realizing how things should be done, but rather the result of a bunch of guys who always knew the secrets and were intent on showing up all the new kids on the playground. If this album had been released in 1992 it would have been considered classic that transcends time. Alas, it wasn’t, but it will certainly be seen as a classic of this new wave when it inevitably runs out of steam in a few years.
The Sleep of Morbid Dreams sounds like a mixed bag of a bunch of different scenes from the glory days. Everything from the crusty d-beat riffs that reek of the glory days of Stockholm to the slow, churning, doom ridden riffs of pure evil from bands like Incantation and most of the Finnish scene show up somewhere on this record. Compared to their debut album, which was very nearly a death/doom record, TSOMD is sped up quite a bit. However, the moments where everything slows to a crawl tend to be some of the highlights of the album. All this is kind of irrelevant though, not just to this album but to the movement as a whole. The Sleep of Morbid Dreams is as good as it is simply because it’s just fucking good. As dumb as that sounds that’s why pretty much all of these OSDM bands are good. When you listen to a band like Funebrarum, you can’t go in expecting to hear something you’ve never heard before, because that’s not what you’re going to get. What you’re going to get is an album that just does everything right, and in an oversaturated music scene where every band is trying to be the next big step in musical trends there is something to be said for artists who are willing to just do something really fucking good and not worry about innovation. That’s why this OSDM revival is at least mildly successful and also why The Sleep of Morbid Dreams is one of the best albums to emerge from depths of the movement. It’s just pure, putrid death metal done exactly how it should be.
Another one of the absolute best bands to come out of the new wave of old school death metal bands is England’s Cruciamentum. Unlike Funebrarum, this band is made up of relative newcomers to death metal (relatively meaning they weren’t in Incantation or anything). Regardless of age or experience, Convocation of Crawling Chaos is a supreme slab of putrid, vile death metal that easily stands in the top best death metal releases in recent times, regardless of the fact that it was only a demo. The band so far has only released this demo, a split, and an EP and from what I’ve been reading on the internet they plan to break up after the release of a final MLP somewhere in the near future (remember kiddies this is the internet so take that information with a grain of salt, I’ve yet to see something that actually confirms this). It kind of sucks but the lack of a full length record really doesn’t do anything to detract from the prowess of the band.
My personal love for Cruciamentum (and most likely why others dig them as well) is the fact that their sound is rooted deeply within the doom and gloom of the mighty Finnish scene of the early 90’s. They never really go into the slimy alien outer-limits death metal of something like Demilich, but the gloomy leads of bands like Depravity and the putrid aggression of bands like Demigod and Convulse are the groundwork for the basic sound Cruciamentum has on Convocation of Crawling Chaos. The closer, Rotten Flesh Crucifix, is kind of like the Finnish death song I always wanted to hear but no band from Finland ever wrote (if that makes any kind of fucked up sense) and is easily one of my favorite closing death metal tracks of any album. The one thing that always kind of annoyed me about this release though was that the kick drum is so obviously triggered. It’s not really a problem most of the time because the rest of the production sounds so good, but during the break section in Deathless Ascension it’s really obvious and kind of annoying. It’s really kind of unimportant, but with how I go on about production and triggers and all that jazz I guess it was worth it to point out. Their next release, the EP Engulfed in Desolation, is nowhere near as good as CoCC sadly, but does pass for a piece of pretty decent death metal. Regardless of what they did or will do after it, Convocation of Crawling Chaos is an essential part of the old styled death metal resurgence and deserves to be recognized as such.
Let me begin by saying that The Sum of All Fossils is in no way shape or form an OSDM revival record. Fuck, there’s parts of this record that aren’t even really death metal but that’s beside the point. Commander Carbon and I decided that for one of these albums we do a band that’s not necessarily making pure revival death metal but also isn’t really terrible. Flourishing’s The Sum of All Fossils is not only one of these albums but is easily one of the best death metal albums to come out in recent years. However, there are two key factors as to why I thought it pertinent to include this album in our dissection of revival death metal.
Firstly, while Flourishing is musically dissimilar to most of the early death metal scene, sonically it fits right in with sound of the early days of death metal’s origins. The organic production, complete with a deep, raw guitar tone and a mic’d acoustic drum kit, make this album more than a pleasure to listen to. The influence of production qualities and techniques of the original death metal movement is easily recognizable and one of the key factors to who The Sum of All Fossils is such a great record.
Secondly, I wanted to use this record to illustrate an important point. While I will defend worship bands with all my heart if they’re good enough to warrant defending, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things differently if it works. In my introduction I made the sort of broad statement that death metal doesn’t really do well with experiments and usually “experimental” and “technical” death metal acts are pretty shitty (which they usually are). However, bands like Flourishing are proof that you don’t need to just copy riffs from Incantation or Entombed to make good death metal. Hell, I’d go as far as to say this album is probably better than any of the revival death metal albums simply because it does do something new and is wholly successful at it.
What exactly is The Sum of All Fossils then? Well, it’s a mix of dissonant, atonal death metal, a bunch of noise, a bit of grind, and some Rush riffs. Sounds pretty sweet huh? Well that’s honestly the best description I can think of for this album (if any members of Flourishing read this I am truly sorry). When this record initially came out it garnered a lot of comparison to later era Gorguts but I never really cared for that comparison. Yeah they both do the whole atonal thing but other than that there really aren’t too many similarities. TSOAF is a much denser, noisy affair than anything Gorguts has ever done and a whole lot less technical as well. Regardless, it isn’t necessarily such a bad thing because if you dig Obscura you’ll probably dig The Sum of All Fossils pretty hard. For forward thinking but still good death metal Flourishing’s The Sum of All Fossils is about as good as it gets, and is proof that innovation is not totally dead. Its strength lies in its ability to illustrate the idea that no matter how far you go it’s always good to never forget where you came from. So if you want a slab of what death metal should sound like in 2013 don’t sleep on this record any longer (and also get their new EP if you can handle stuff that really goes off the deep end, because it’s awesome).
I wanted to again thank Hyperion for coming and reassuring me things aren’t as scary as they once seemed. This current Tape Wyrm article is a continuation of a previous investigation on classic death metal. For those interested there is a Spotify playlist attached to that previous article and possibly sodas on the back table. 2013 begins with a frightened whimper. Let’s do this year.