Catacomb Ventures: Chilean Death Mysticism (Part 1)


After a lengthy silence, Catacomb Ventures emerges from the frozen Earth and begins its morbid ruminations anew. This time however, we move past the equator and into the rainforest mazes and ancient ruins of Chile.

Many of us are familiar with the contributions of the United States of America and Europe to America yet this country has mostly gone unnoticed save for the mighty Pentagram Chile (“Chile” was a recent addition to their name out of respect for a certain doom metal band) whose contributions in the 80’s were every bit as forward thinking as Celtic Frost, Necrovore, Entombed, and Pestilence. Unsurprisingly many bands from this country such as  fellow 80’s veterans Death Yell and Atomic Aggressor as well as recent conjurers of eldritch sorcery Unaussprechlichen Kulten bear their mark but these three are probably the best known at the moment. Now you shall be indoctrinated by five more who deserve the same level of attention.

VenereaSearching for the Truth (Independent, 2014)

While hybrids of death and thrash metal were common in the late 80’s to around 1992, few practitioners explored the full range of possibilities fusing the two could provide. Venerea represent one of the better instances of this unholy marriage, comparable to Chile’s legendary Pentagram with their eye for melody-infused elemental riffing but informed heavily by the structural practices that said band would pioneer in the late 80’s.  Much of the riffing emphasizes the whip-striking motions of the original post-Slayer/Sepultura/Teutonic Trio (Destruction, Sodom, and Kreator) bands with a fair share of crunchier power chords that vary their tremolo patterns like sudden drops and spikes in a seismograph. However they avoid the cyclic repetition that thrash never quite dispose of, using a varied dialogue of riffs that blur the distinction between both genres that are tied together by excellent lead phrasing and usage of melody to denote individual passages. There’s a fair share of charging skank beat sections and chugging but within the varied percussion and rhythmic contexts present they avoid falling into the monotony many thrash bands were guilty of circa say 1989, breaking tempo and pattern frequently as a death metal band might while retaining go-for-the-throat style thrash energy. How this band is still unsigned beats me.

Son in Curse – Trivnviratvm (Melipulli, 2017)

Active since 2002, this disappointingly unknown band finally released their debut album last year and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual “old school” death metal band styles. Son In Curse’s sound is at once familiar yet hard to put an easy tag on; the guitar tone is akin to the overdriven Sunlight Studios sound yet the relentless pacing brings to mind Angelcorpse’s onslaught but with a post Incantation approach to lengthy tremolo phrasing… or something like that; it’s more eclectic than its feral barbarity would have one believe. Like Venerea they don’t shy away from prominent melody with a distinctly occult South American vibe but there’s a much more consistently and often blast beat heavy sound used to back up a wall of grinding power chords texture. Son In Curse use this consistent assault of abrasion to swoop in and out of established riffs, using these layers of at times almost war metal esque chromatic punishment as anchors with which they can tear away into craggier and distinctly formed riffing before falling back into the hellish fog of war. This paired riff approach in a way is similar to older Morbid Angel but made far uglier though this is more likely to appeal to fans of say, Beyond (Germany) and recent Of Feather and Bone than classic Florida death metal types.

Horrifying – Altered States Fermentation
(Veins Full of Wrath, 2017)

I can’t tell if these guys are using very slow blast beats or very fast skank beats. It’s really ambiguous, perfectly nestled at the grey area where one might become the other. However it is clear that this was one of the most promising death metal non-albums from last year for a variety of reasons. Continuing that infernal melodic sensibility endemic to the Chileans that in some ways is the predecessor of the Swedish and Finnish approach, Horrifying’s latest is heavily derived from older American death metal forms like Autopsy, early Sadistic Intent, pre prog metal era Death, and Dawn of Possession era Immolation but with more chaotic riffing patterns that frequently break into frenzied upper register flailing. This EP works on a juxtaposition of melodies between more subdued lower register rhythmic muscle forming the muscular and skeletal framework of a song out of which sudden streams of arching melodies erupt geyser-like in bloody coiling streams. This is comparable to say, Dismember or Prosanctus Inferi’s last album though Horrifying differ sharply with a more elongated approach to composition that gives these melodies considerably more breathing room than either of those two ever used. At times I have the slight feeling these guys might want to invest fully into these amazingly evil melodies and become something like a much uglier, long winded classic style melodic death metal in the vein of obscurities like Unanimated or Amorbital (Invidia) band given their expertise in crafting both powerful rhythms and juxtaposing them with melodies that mirror and build upon their tonal character.

Magnanimvs – Storms of Chaotic Revelations
(Rawforce Productions, 2006)

This terrifying debut album basically eats war metal and brutal death for breakfast alive and screaming in terms of raw intensity. By virtue of being purely batshit insane, it manages to sound like little else out there. The closest I can think of to this is death metal era Absu if they took notes from Conqueror but that doesn’t do this cataclysmic whirlwind of madness the justice it deserves. Magnanimvs’ sound works with fractured arrangements of riffs, almost deathgrind in how viciously and abruptly they explode into action. Many of these are chromatic to atonal strips of punishing texture but there are moments of desperate melody sandwiched between these otherwise cacophonous avalanches of pure rhythm. They don’t often play the longer unfurling streams of riffing the other bands here do, opting to resolve their riffs with bizarre flurries of noisy upper register dissonant notes in a way vaguely reminiscent of Possessed but set at ten times the speed and capped off with rapid, tumbling drum fills. The songs themselves follow this sense of pure madness, sprouting new limbs like some volatile mutating hydra and tying them together through pure forcefulness which means the songs are almost incessantly erupting into new, virulent growths at war with previously established ones. If you like your death metal to essentially be slightly more distinguishable than the sound of a concentrated artillery barrage landing on your immediate vicinity and pulping you and everyone you love into a fine red mist, you’ll probably love this album and their even more discordant, wonky follow-up released this year, Impure Ways Beyond Shadows, also on the same record label.

Ancient Crypts – Devoured by Serpents
(2013, Iron Bonehead Productions)

Like Horrifying, Ancient Crypts reach into the fossil records of earlier American death metal but come closer to Dawn of Possession era Immolation’s combination of doomy divergences and stampeding beats, tempered by Sadistic Intent’s gradually morphing songs and Slayer-meets-MorbidAngel style tremolo intonations. The end result is considerably doomier especially in its second half, working subtler additions of articulately phrased riffing slotting behind both the triumphant procession of downstroke chords or minimalist tremolo leads hounding the listener like rabies-maddened hounds. This is classic death metal at heart and it shows little mercy nor care for cleanliness and accessibility, but they’re able to work in a good degree of complexity without becoming particularly obvious about it. It can be difficult to notice at first due to the fact that much of it is based on thematic variations as opposed to completely new riffs but this adds a subtle warping effect to their sound, like echoes of distant voices distorting the further they travel down a winding series of hallways. The only thing I would personally want this band to add to their sound would be a few blast beats at specific intersections; a lot of the faster parts don’t always feel *quite* fast enough to vary and juxtapose their differing riffs. Far from a crippling flaw of course; see if you can get the version with an excellent cover of Asphyx’s “Vermin”.

(Cover image via Santiago Caruso)

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