CATACOMB VENTURES: CHILEAN DEATH MYSTICISM (PART 2)
In the first installation of our Chilean ritual, we looked at five of Chile’s most impious and blasphemous practitioners of forbidden knowledge, demonstrating the country’s fetid creativity still mostly unknown to modern audiences. Today, we bring you five more that are their equals in ingenuity and heresy alike.
Godless – Ecce Homo: Post Lux Tenebras, Pulsio XIII Ultima Ratio (2010, Blood Harvest records)
There’s a very particular kind of grim severity to Godless’ aesthetic from the elaborate Latin title to the discomforting sacrilege of their album art. Inspired by abominations of the past yet not content to follow popular trends nor be tamed by demands for accessibility, Ecce Home is among the most rigorously written and carefully layered death metal of the last decade and it completely sidesteps almost everything we’ve come to expect from “ritualistic” death metal. In this case, its evocation of the blasphemous and forbidden accomplished not by hazy production and blackened droning as much as how deliberately structured and severe it is. Hordes of individual riffs converge and consume one another in a hellish battle for supremacy over carefully paced drumming showing usage of accents, utilizing bass to intonate ominously amidst the swelling flow of bloodshed. Yet the music is far from random and slipshod like in much blast-obsessed death metal. Frequently they’ll home in on a particular texture or theme, carrying it through cycles of repetition enhanced by subtle layers of harmony (something the bass notably contributes to) and gradually modifying underlying drumming. Like Unaussprechlichen Kulten, much of it swims between consonance and dissonance, using the former if only to make the perversions of the latter more revolting in their effect. They don’t have the emphasis on counterpoint that defined their amazing last album but the chaotic mayhem more than makes up for that. If there is one thing I would have to criticize, while I appreciate that they put the longest track at the end (something more bands need to do), it ends on a much weaker note than the rest of the album, spending a little under three and a half minutes dragging on with a sustained doomy chord that while enjoyable for a while, loses its lustre when stretched out that far. It would’ve been cool to write an incredibly layered and punishing six plus monstrosity but this is still among the most creative death metal albums of today.
Concilivm – The Veiled Enigma (2017, Vonfrost Records)
Claudio of Exanimatvm directed me towards this band earlier this year though it took quite some time for them to set in for me. A cacophonous fusion of death metal’s ruthless onslaught and black metal’s funereal minimalism, this Chilean two piece is by and far the most infernal and oppressive of all the bands I’ve shared so far on this two part feature. However rather than war metal’s pure chromaticism or the foggy ambiguity of the “cavernous” bands, Concilivm work through more traditionally death metal structures shrouded behind a veil of hellish reverb. The initial effect is akin to a deluge of grainy static under which a prominent bass guitar hungrily gurgles but as in the Chilean tradition, melody emerges at key intervals to give otherworldly order to primordial chaos. This splits this five song EP between moments of cataclysmic turmoil and illuminating power, making it surprisingly epic in its atmosphere albeit in a furiously storming and intransigent manner. For those tired of the recent Blasphemophagher, Portal, and Grave Upheaval style bands who want to be enveloped within an occult atmosphere without having to ditch songwriting or structure in the process.
Exanimatvm – Dispersae et Tormentvm
(2016, Dunkelheit Produktionen)
Hypnotic evil that works contrasts in tone and harmony in a way comparable to Prosanctus Inferi and Blood Urn, Exanimatvm’s debut captures a surprisingly gloomy mood even at its impressively fast tempos. Using a much more streamlined version of the Chilean approach to death metal riffing, Exanimatvm branch off into melodic intervals that sound like they could work on a doom metal album but twist it into the lengthy streams flayed, desiccated flesh native to death metal. Paired riffs configured to swirl over and one another race towards oblivion as raw high-speed energy is broken down and decomposed as ghostly leads emerge from their corpses, speaking messages of mysticism and gnosis before returning to their fastest riffs and explosively concluding. The dingy production renders rhythm guitar drenched and almost indistinct save for when it slows down to play doomier chords while the upper registers are lucidly clear. Drumming is snappy and crisp, sounding fairly natural while the vocals are commandingly upfront like some demonic voice cutting through the haze of a nightmarishly vivid dream. While sometimes its own repetition limits its effectiveness and the narrow range of pacing can make it harder to remember individual songs, it has a more interesting usage of doom metal elements than what typically comprises the genre in how it prizes a certain kind of melancholy over mere crushing force as well as some very particular ways of phrasing its melodies.
Death Smell – The Gift of Blasphemy (2004, Machalia)
With connections to bands like Coffin Curse, Trimegisto, Dominus Xul, Inanna, and Perpetuum it’s a wonder how Death Smell aren’t even a cult name especially when we consider their style. Mixing Morbid Angel style occult riffing and an almost oldschool melodic death metal harmonic sensibility akin to The Chasm along with an ear for lengthy and intricate songwriting, they would have been huge if they released this today. If you’re familiar with Blessed are the Sick you’ll feel at home listening to this four song EP which focuses more on the cryptic and proggy elements that band captured in 1991, sounding especially close at its slower moments. However the leftover thrash metal elements (something that bogged down the middle of BATS) are thankfully absent and in their place are lots of articulate harmonies, especially nifty once they start contrasting single note held leads against a carefully nuanced tremolo undercurrent. Layered melody plays a very large role here taking what might be otherwise solid riffs and giving them a backdrop against which two separate melody lines become enhanced and punch far above their weight. While the structural approach of pairing riffs through cycles that break through into lengthier discursions that explain opening themes is instantly familiar, it’s not often it’s executed in such a grandiose fashion: their shortest song is nearly six minute and the longest is nearly eight. There’s a lot of room for them to work in a wide range of melody although the songs themselves aren’t always necessarily that complex as much as they are long-winded and elaborate. Recommended for fans of the previously listed alongside Eucharist, Maleficarum (Italy), Brutality, and Shub Niggurath (Mexico).
Perpetuum – Gradual Decay of Conscience
(2009, Australis Records)
While fairly well connected like how Death Smell were, containing both of Inanna’s current guitarists, Perpetuum by comparison were a far proggier band that took underground Chilean death metal is a more astral and I’d say progressive direction. Reminiscent of The Chasm’s Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm with a more modern approach and coincidentally released the same year, Perpetuum were an interesting mixture of classic, experimental, and modern concepts that placed in a similar category to groups such as Nex Carnis, Zealotry, Blood Incantation, and StarGazer. The meat of this album is six medium to long songs based on longer chains of highly varied riffing patterns normally fiarly melodic but sometimes breaking into dissonant territory in a way almost reminiscent of Texas’ Vex. The semi-bestial approach of most of the bands here is given up in exchange for moments focusing on almost graceful twin guitar harmonies, frequently dipping the band into black metal territory. Structurally they’re fairly complex, using fairy little repetition to weave a vast network of spidery guitar patterns that explore a wide range of enthralling melody which they juxtapose with more discordant moments. They’re backed up with fairly tight instrumentation; the sort whose finesse isn’t immediately notable mostly due to how smoothly it folds into the thrust of their songwriting. It’s most notable not just with the general fretboard pyrotechnics taking place but also select bass harmonies (somewhat buried in the mix) that while humble enhance melodies considerably and the general deftness of the percussion which too adds a few subtle complexities to the proceedings, choosing functionality over flair. Fans of the spacier end of death metal that prefer starfaring adventures to graveyard depravities will enjoy this.
(Cover image via Santiago Caruso)