Atavisma & Void Rot – Split

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Glorification of Decay and Impurity.

Some would say that this subgenre is overloaded and too crowded for its own good, but if Sepulcrustacean from 2008 could see what death/doom has become today, he’d be practically dancing in the streets knowing the flowery melo-gothic fare finally wasn’t the whole face of the genre in the public eye. Like with melodic and technical death metal as well as most representatives of the prog branch, all of these styles essentially atrophied their “death metal” parts for years and regressed onto flimsy templates meant to show off their influences while clinging onto that withered husk, frequently missing what made these styles work so well in the first place.

This doom-oriented subgenre suffered this particularly bad for years with wave after wave of riff-free woe-is-me willowy sap, but in recent years with the oldschool movement rising to prominence, for all of its flaws, it reminded us that this genre was born with the same rotting heftiness and funereal intensity as the mainline bands emerging from New York, Poland, Finland, or Sweden. On this split two recent acts have joined forces to deliver on the promise of morbidity encoded in this style since its origins in the late 80’s; one more straightforward and the other expanding on its festering foundations.

Opening up this 6-song split is France’s Atavisma. You may remember their long awaited 2018 debut album, taking the HM2 buzzsaw tone and a healthy dose of black metal ripping and slowing it into a funereal jackhammering sound that gradually eroded the listener into a bloody stump. However, this sound experiences considerable alteration on these three tracks. The tempo has kicked up and so has the range of techniques, injecting a healthy dose of melody most notable on “Mold Upheaval” with  glowering head lines underscored with tumbling tom fills, nearing the Finnish school of gloomy hypnotic tonality and even a few simple jutting bass harmonies emerging like splintered stumps out of a landslide-buried field.

One track earlier with “Speared Lungs” and they even experiment with discordant un-melodic guitar architecture and almost touch on the dissonant approach in a surprisingly un-doomy track filled with vicious blasting over these misshapen skeletal rhythms and atonal classic Pavor-like bass riffs. That same unsettling atmosphere returns with “Dread”, almost sounding as if they had taken notes from Ghoulgotha or fellow French death-doom oddities Epitaphe, interspersing nearly heavy metal-inspired leads between taut and paranoid threads of single string picked melodies, bass guitar harmonizing in twisted mirror reflections beneath. Yet it only gets stranger as staggered “angular” higher register riffing lurches and shudders in its wake, almost mockingly playful though the song ends on a far blunter note than this bizarrely brainy take on syncopation and uncoiling melody.

Americans Void Rot by comparison aren’t seeking to redefine the style as much as trying to capture the oppressive gloom that attracted so many initially. They take some notes from bands like Spectral Voice, Portal, and Grave Miasma, possessing a looming Finnish touch like the first band and an ear for semi-repetitious hypnotism like the other two with their slow burn hovering riffs. While both bands have a blackened influence or similarity implicit in the more abstracted aspect, it becomes more notable on these last three songs. Void Rot focus less on concussive impact or ritualistic feverishness, gradually working in layers of additional harmony over steady mantra-like repetition of simple, memorable riffing and gradually warping shape and tempo to fit the new needs of each iteration. This is immediately clear with the sparse but measured spurts of growth and motion of “Ritual Invocation”, almost like a much longer song compacted into a mere three minutes as a single tremolo riff gradually morphs into a ghostly series of fluttering, swarming harmonies.

“Necrotic Deity” continues this approach, meatier and meaner with its slow crawl single string attack breaking uniformity for a few slim pockets of melody before breaking to a faster almost Demoncy-reminiscent riff, extending this core idea before letting it fade into a series of minimalist ringing chords. This blackened death aspect of them feels even stronger on the final track, really just sounding like they were trying to make a tribute to that “cavernous” style almost and not quite feeling in line with the rest of the split.

Therein lies the main shortcoming of the split. While Void Rot’s side isn’t bad, they are oriented far too much around the usage of a lot of blackened death tropes mostly used to build up atmosphere but the problem is that that’s all their side really has; a sense of mood that is powerful but upon further examination, lacks a stronger sense of structure or direction. There are some genuinely evocative, depressive melodies that pop up but they mostly just garnish fairly vanilla riff-after-riff arrangements, stretching out a few of these riskily and banking on the sombre immensity they summon to carry the songs.

Atavisma do occasionally indulge in that as well but their desolate and eerie mood is backed up by genuinely crushing chords and unusually arranged techniques; it even sounds almost avant-prog-like yet it finds ways to vary riff shape and texture in ways that not only sidestep common pitfalls of time-honoured tropes but distinctive ways to implement and experiment with them. Void Rot has moments that sounds like they could genuinely take their aesthetic into some compelling places as their opener for the split showed, but we only see these in small pockets of promise next to more workmanlike sections and it’s hard not to feel frustrated that there’s much, much more they could amount to. This isn’t to say Atavisma sometimes tease more than they indulge with the alien intensity of “Mold Upheavel”’s middle portion feeling like it makes its ending sound somewhat plain. Still, if you enjoy your doom-death to be strange and unnerving or slithering in filth, you’ll find much to enjoy on either side of this split.

3.5/5 Worm-ridden Toilets.

The Atavisma and Void Rot split releases on February 7, 2020. You can listen to and preorder it at Everlasting Spew’s bandcamp.

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