A DIY Review of Venenum’s Trance of Death
Look, Venenum have a new album coming out tomorrow, and it kicks the crap out of pretty much everything else this year. What makes Trance of Death even more impressive is that it’s a debut full-length. You just don’t hear this kind of polish from a debut. But don’t take my word for it. Will Trance of Death be your new favorite thing? Take our patented review quiz and find out!
Deciding whether or not you’ll like Venenum’s Trance of Death is as easy as answering “yes” or “no” to each of the questions below. For every “yes,” merely tally 1 point to your review score. A “no” earns a zero. Ready? Grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started.
1. Do you like riffs?
I sure hope you answered yes to this, because boy howdy does this album have riffs. A metric butt-ton of riffs, to be exact. It’s got fast riffs, slow riffs, medium riffs, spicy riffs, chilly riffs, heavy riffs, razor riffs, bludgeoning riffs. There’s no way you could possibly hold all these riffs. In fact, I reckon you could measure the riffs per song on this album with a logarithmic scale. That said, Venenum avoid the seduction of forgetting songcraft purely for the sake of the riff. While the riffs flow and simmer and collide like breaking waves on the jagged rocks of percussion, they are always guided by the currents of the oceanic force of each song. Each and every one of those abundant riffs serve the songs on the album rather than the other way around, and because of that, every song feels organic, fresh, and original rather than a showcase for exemplary musicianship or fan service to old-school-heshers. Which brings us to our second question…
2. Do you like progressive metal that doesn’t measure progress on the wank scale?
While Trance of Death is very much a progressive metal album, it isn’t a capital P progressive album. Despite the long run-time of some tracks (excluding the short introductory track, songs clock in at an average of 8 minutes each), the album never feels like a self-indulgent waste of time. The riffs serve the songs, and the songs serve the album; garnished as they are with brittle acoustic passages, scorching melodies, and rhythmic chaos, the songs never feel aimless. If your patience begins to wane with a longer-than-expected instrumental passage of sidewinding riffs, an impressively sincere snarl hooks you right back in and sets your foot back upon the righteous path. This is a journey that you must take, one that demands a full listen to hear every nuance, detail, and bit of brilliance jammed into what can only be described as a pure adventure of a record.
3. Do you like death metal that plays fast and loose with genre boundaries?
Make no mistake: this is a death metal record through and through. The riff-centric song construction, F.J.L.’s groove-heavy assault, and the often plodding chug of the instrumental lines reveals a classic, early 90s death metal heart at the center of this beast of a record. That said, Venenum aren’t afraid to inject a little more prog into their death metal engine’s fuel stream, mixing in a healthy serving of black metal, thrash, and even NWOBHM. F.S.A.’s vocals are delivered with a sinister conviction that recalls some of the scarring vocal work from Inferno or Excoriate, other like-minded contemporaries who toy with preconceived notions (in fact guitarist P.T. was slinging hot riffs for Excoriate before their break-up). Although the black metal influences in the vocals and riffs are unsurprising in the current extreme metal landscape, it is the traditional metal influences that truly stand and deliver. Like Slægt on Beautiful and Damned, Venenum thrill listeners with dueling melodic lines and rhythmic gallops that should get even the most jaded Iron Maiden fan to take notice. In fact, it is this adventurous spirit of tying metal’s storied past to its brilliantly technical future that makes this album sound so massive and compelling. Death metal, yes, but death metal that pays tribute both to Drudkh and Diamond Head, and that’s a hell of a thing to hear.
4. Do you like albums with big, cinematic set pieces?
Only audacious bands dare attempt massive song suites to conclude their records. Audacious or foolhardy, that is. Trying to distil the essence of your record into a three-song set threatens to bore the listener and segment the entire flow of the album. It’s a trick that few bands can pull off without sounding like either the front half or back half of the record was just tacked on; for every Something Wicked, there’s a Dream Theater. Venenum do it right, though, by not attempting to carve out something different with the “Trance of Death” suite. Instead, they simply take all of the strengths spread out across the album and crank them up to 11. Part 1, “Reflections,” sets us up with some decisively nasty death metal riffs that transition perfectly into the solemn, contemplative instrumental track “Metanola Journey.” Part 2 then flows unbelievably smoothly into “There Are Other Worlds,” which features perhaps the most righteous trad metal riffs and thrash changeovers on the entire record, building up to an absolutely mind-blowing finale. The three-song suite doesn’t feel disconnected from “Cold Threat” and the other songs before it; instead, it feels like the perfection of those tracks, the natural conclusion of all the bombast and experimentation, given a longer time to stretch its legs and really show what it can do. It’s unbelievable, really.
5. Do you like death metal that’s also fun?
If the trad metal influences heard early on the album weren’t indication enough, “There Are Other Worlds” really sends the message home; this is an album to enjoy. Sure, it’s dense, it’s heavy, and it’s technical. I’ve listened to this record at least a dozen times since I got the promo, and I’m still finding new intricacies and elements. Despite its depth, however, Trance of Death is the kind of rare extreme metal record that actually puts a smile on your face. Try not to feel your spirit rising during those dueling melodies. Try not to bang your head with joyful abandon during the chaotic riffsplosion of “The Nature of the Ground.” Try not to have a good time. You can’t. Trance of Death is the kind of record that works equally well for beer swilling and academic posturing, the sort of thing that compels you to evangelize your fellow metalheads with epithets like “AOTY” or “Unflushable.” It’s compelling, dynamic, challenging, but always enjoyable, the kind of album that’s an absolute pleasure to spin again and again.
Alright, flushers, it’s time to tally up your scores. How many 1’s did you add? What’s that? A half point? How in the hell did… You know what, I don’t care. The only possible score Trance of Death could get is 5/5. If your math didn’t add up, a lot of people have failed you in this life.
5 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Trance of Death comes out tomorrow, 3/17, on The Ajna Offensive. You can order it here. That killer cover art by Timo Ketola.