Catacomb Ventures – Cold Cadavers
T’is the season to be merrily exhuming graves whether fresh, old, or of unknown origin. As another wretched year on the festering planet starts coughing its last, we should take the time to explore some of the lesser known artistic efforts that have flown under our radar. Here are five choices that would be perfect gifts for friends, family, or fellow members of whatever apocalypse-mongering deathcults you might find yourself in.
Cavurn – Rehearsal (Independent, 2017)
Death/doom is a frustrating fusion genre. Both death and doom benefit greatly from each other’s strengths but the majority of those classified under this don’t take full advantage of the possibilities before devolving into a mass of lazy chord progressions masquerading as riffs, toothless single note leads, and plodding tempos with reverb-drenched tone to compensate for whatever it is passes as songwriting or heaviness. From Bellingham, Washington come Cavurn with a three song EP demonstrating a masterful fusion of both. From doom metal comes the dripping lava flow of sparsely constructed riffs and the funereal ambience of each judgement day downstroke motion. More importantly, their death metal extends beyond their deep echoing growls, tremolo strumming, and blast beats but how they structure their tracks. While their tonal and harmonic choices are limited, riffs are arranged in contrasting segments of altering density and rhythmic activity, transitioning between ringing chords meant for immense weight and crunchier Bolt Thrower style mid-paced grinding, gradually altering the tension levels through layering grating guitar effects and ritualistic drum rolls. Expectation and ensuing repetition builds mood and consistency, setting up for tremolo sections to capitalize on strongly established themes and take them their logical conclusions.
While they don’t use as many riffs as some of their neighbours in the realm of morbid, putrescent death metal (something I personally hope they will do), the minimalism of their technique means that they get the full mileage out of every power chord, bass line, and fill no matter how simple. Each one has been meticulously arranged to provide full effect whether through more immediate visceral effect or gradual ambience. However there’s a constant sense of progression; the repetition is fairly light compared to most extreme doom (sludge/death/drone/funeral/etc.) as they put quite a bit of content in each all three tracks. The band I would find them the closest to is Spectral Voice though primarily their material before Eroded Corridors of Unbeing. However Cavurn are considerably bleaker and with the brooding Finnish melodic sensibility completely removed. The end result is a considerably more nihilistic, coldly dehumanized sound that’s savage even when it’s it at its most sluggish but has a kind of underlying finesse to its barbaric proceedings that gives it more depth than it initially seems to possess. Recommended for fans of Disembowelment, Infester, Winter, Encoffination, and Evoken.
Blattaria – S/T (Fallen Empire Records, 2017)
Dissonant death and black metal don’t hold many surprises now as the style is deconstructing itself into increasingly self-indulgent and narrow forms. It’s gotten to the point straight up melody (in the Eucharist/The Chasm/early Septic Flesh sense) would be a welcome breath of fresh air but occasionally I’ll find a band that sends a breath of plague-spawning rottenness into the style. Crawling out from the sewers of Oklahoma City comes Blattaria (the Latin derivative for cockroach), a band best described as what would happen if Deathspell Omega traded in their esoteric highbrow pretensions in exchange for a war metal degree of near-unrelenting savagery. They throw a lot at the listener and frequently skirt the edges of completely collapsing into a formless cacophony of dirty string-bending ugliness with vocals used described by a bandcamp user as resembling “a man being torn apart and reassembled incorrectly in an infinite loop”. The echoing production job and extremely wrong sounding riffs (melody is near nonexistent) come at you with such violence as to be near absurd in lengthy structures where the lack of repetition creates an effect like being chased by a flood of chitinous monstrosities deeper into their hives. At a few junctions clean guitars take over yet these brief respites mimic the same contorted tonalities of their noisier counterparts, meaning even the short respites offered continue the same unsettling atmosphere uniform across all six songs. If you ever wanted to hear what a million insects scurrying transcribed into semi-musical noise-scapes would sound like, you will enjoy this and potentially later regret the 30 or so parasites and diseases that follow.
Dictator – Moreover Imagination (Underground Defenders Productions, 2015)
These Chileans found a very particular and I might say “atmospheric” take on thrash, going the progressive as opposed to technical route for a dreamlike surrealism rarely heard in the genre. Voivod’s Killing Technology comes to mind quickly though Dictator have sanded down the rough edges and whereas the Canadians were punkish and rabid in spite of their experimental talents, this power trio are emotionally distant and distantly ominous. This lucid dream album is full of riffs that are at once energetic in their delivery yet not quite aggressive, phrased to end on decidedly unmelodic notes, occasionally using more spacious phrasing, accompanied by deftly played bass hungrily lurking in their shadow. Where they really come into fruition is their songcraft, avoiding easy hooks and catchy choruses. Songs usually start with the previously mentioned oddball riffing and let it settle in at first before they gradually begin contorting and drifting away at the end of established phrases. Using general variations of a theme to make these shifts feel gradual and organic, this allows for a level of ambiguity in their sound rare for the genre as rather than jarring transitions and constant pounding, there’s a sense of gradually floating away from familiar thoughts and reminiscences into the forbidding labyrinths of the human subconscious. For a lot of thrash fans this might come off as a bit unfulfilling as Dictator take a longer winded route, bereft of the flashiness and stagger-paced firepower of Watchtower and Aspid in exchange for a more cerebral route. However those who prefer the “progressive” part of the genre to exist on a deeper level than raw technical prowess will find a perfect example of such in this band’s only album so far.
Nex Carnis – Obscure Visions of Dark (Nightbreaker Productions, 2015)
Interdimensional shape-shifting monstrosities from MY Iran? More likely than you think, for better and for worse. Belonging to the mysterious fourth category of progressive/avant-garde/”alien” death metal (Ghoulgotha, Garroted, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, StarGazer, etc.) outside of the modern/dissonant/”new old school” dichotomy, Nex Carnis differ from most in how they’ve seamlessly mended the disturbing otherworldliness of the style with a viciously direct attack. This isn’t to say they won’t sound completely foreign to this planet if you’re familiar with various styles of the death metal genre. They have the commando squad precision presumably inspired by modern styles, the penchant for contorted riff shapes reminiscent of the dissonant school, and the occult texturing and variety in structure of the 90’s classics. However this is an extremely general way of understanding their sound and better thought of as general references to get an idea of where they are coming from. After all, they wouldn’t be worth writing about if they were simply a stylistic pastiche. That wouldn’t quite fall in with the style that gave us extradimensional transmissions like Zealotry’s The Last Witness, Blood Incantation’s Starspawn, and Ghoulgotha’s To Starve the Cross.
Like Mexicans The Chasm, Nex Carnis feature the narrative approach to composition where long streams of riffing build up and advanced over one another with less repetition and more constant progression. Normally it’s easy to get loss with this decidedly un-repetitive approach but these occultists are armed with a great sense of both variety and character. There’s a strong sense of theme as more conventional lashing patterns are abruptly branched off from and contrasted by less conventional creeping melodies and coiling churn, gradually altering the tonal landscape as they introduce additional layers and iterations of ideas that initially were but mere fragments. There’s fewer “doom” sections here compared to other underground death metal. Instead they rely on carefully altering riffs (often at frenzied tempos) to go from dense harmonies to more spacious, open-ended sections, switching emphasis from crunching staccato hammering to boiling streams of burrowing tone. If you like your death metal to be at once a mini gun opening fire into a horde of Lovecraftian horrors and the esoteric lore that defines them, grab this one before the mandibles and pincers of the alien parasites reproducing in your brain can turn your flesh into a gateway to their domain.
Univers Zero – Heresie (Atem, Eric Faes, Recommended Records, 1979)
No, this isn’t a metal band but if you dig the eldritch domains the extreme end of the genre resides in then Univers Zero is a mandatory listen. A predecessor to the heavy dissonance and other musical manglings now commonplace in the genre as well as the flagellating processions of torture that we all know and revere/abhor in death, black, and doom, this late 70’s release is almost 100% acoustic in its instrumentation. It’s not hard to hear its influence on and similarities to bands as diverse as Mitochondrion, Unholy (Finland), Gorguts, and Thantifaxath. Each of its three 11+ minute songs are a disorienting voyage through a kaleidoscope of ritualistically nuanced drumming, jagged strings shuddering overhead like ropes made of still living nerves, and the ominous droning and wildly grasping pseudo-melodies of the woodwind section. It’s essentially the chamber music they’d play in a non-Euclidean nightmare world, made somewhat “rocky” through its rhythms and percussion but a far cry from King Crimson or Egg. A constant stream of counterpoint and complex tonal layers keeps each of the three tracks feeling less like a conventional “song” and closer to a collection of portals leading into and out of the innards of some colossal star-sized creature. Split up into various smaller chapters, each one with its own voice, Heresie is akin to a convergence point for multiple plot threads gradually becoming one larger, over-arching revelation as they journey through a shifting network of sinister melodies with progressively more ambiguous relationships to consonance. Don’t expect to remember each and every section that happens in each song as much as you follow the general flow of content gradually pouring and solidifying into some twisted monolith dedicated to the creativity of the original Rock In Opposition movement and the scars its left on hard music since.
Cuneiform Records reissued and remastered it in 2010, including a very early song of theirs, “Chaos Hermetique”, as a bonus track.