Catacomb Ventures – Emergence of Foulest Secrecies

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After a year long absence, I have returned with a foul bounty of extreme metal gems both obscure and unknown. This time it’s a pack of ten, more than usual but more than enough to hold you over for those of you not as used to plunging the very filthiest, rotten depths. Hail, rot, and kill.

VoidCeremony
At the Periphery of Human Realms (2022)
20 Buck Spin

From beneath the tedious morass of “Old School Death Metal”, dissodeath, and brutal-technicality, a new mutation of this genre is slowly gaining momentum. What I’ve taken to calling Death In Opposition is a refreshing answer to the illusory intensity, mundane “experimentation”, and inward-gazing tastelessness of a genre sagging beneath its own weight. Born from the pioneering forces from at least 35 years of genre history, bands like Aenigmatum, Undersave, Inanna, Calcemia, Garroted, and VoidCeremony seem to exist outside of both mainstream conceptions of the genre and worship of constructed tradition that infests the underground. The last of these in particular has started 2022 off with 10 minutes of some of the most perplexing death metal in recent times. It’s like the spiraling terror of Univers Zero or Ahvak condensed into a tightly wound miniature dimension of eldritch death metal terror, befitting of its cryptic title and ominous cover art. With Jon Reider of Ascended Dead infamy replaced with Montreal neoclassical shred god Phil Tougas, the lineup of Garrett Johnson (vocals/guitars/songwriting), drummer Charlie Koryn (ex-Ghoulgotha), and bassist Damon Good (StarGazer) proves to be one of the few instances of a supergroup actually delivering on its promise.

This short demo (of which the second track is a minute long interlude) shows a return to the aggression of their earlier material combined with the psychedelic textures of the album. Even better, it brings back an emphasis on tonally ambiguous dual guitar interplay, creating atmospheric structure through arcane technicality. While you can make a strong case for classification as technical death metal, it does not resemble even like the older practitioners in this style. It’s densely woven with complex rhythms and ambiguous tonalities morphing between consonance and dissonance in its avant-prog harmonies, interspersed with oases of jazz fusion-esque soloing. It’s best thought of as an alternate evolutionary pathway that may have started in the ’90s but became something else entirely rather than mere worship. Arachnoid-limbed drumming crafts patterns equally dense with depth to both guitarists, counterpointing both with supernatural grace and clashing intensity. It works in tandem with sneaking fretless basslines swirling and snaking in the wake of these dueling guitar patterns, presenting equally satisfying contrast to their complexities. While it remains to be seen if this will be representative of the upcoming second album, at the very least it’s an enormous leap in the right direction with one of the strongest lineups to date in death metal history at the helm.


A Flourishing Scourge
S/T (2017)
Begotten Records

I was genuinely surprised I did not despise this album. Session drummer Samus Paulicelli (currently of Decrepit Birth and ex-Abigail Williams) is best known by the moniker 66Samus for his Youtube channel. It was recorded at Gojira’s Silver Cord Studios, engineered by Jamie Uertz, who worked with the previously listed band and Anthrax. Mastering was courtesy of Jens Bogren who has worked with Opeth, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Amon Amarth among others. To some this was promising but to me this sounded like it was going to be a hollow, identity-free mess of vapid modernized metal practices. Colour me surprised when this was one of the strongest interpretations of classic melodic death metal ideals. I’ll go a step further and say it’s a modernization of them that does not compromise what made the classics so memorable. In that sense you could say it is progressive both in the generic sense of “moving a genre forward” (I hate this stupid fucking time-sensitive classification) but also in the compositional breadth involved in the epic scope of this obscure classic. It manages to be quite accessible, especially compared to genre pioneers like A Mind Confused or Fatal Embrace. Yet it never undignifies itself by resting on cheap commercial tropes, remaining challenging and idiosyncratic throughout its impressive hour-long runtime. How the album begins is an interesting play on melodeath expectations. I was nearly ready to turn it off when I heard the staccato pedal blip-blip riff. Then I realized it was harmonizing with a lengthy tremolo pattern, outlining its progression and setting the stage for the rest of the album.

The vibrant tremolo harmonies that earned this style’s cult reputation exist alongside a variety of riff shapes both more conventional and crunchy or just unexpectedly abstract. The interplay between spacious chords and emphatic rhythm with arcane surges of melody creates a sound that is harder hitting and more grounded than is typical. As with many other modern bands, they utilize a number of clean sections either in intros, outros, or as breaks, giving it a pseudo-Opeth vibe. In particular, it would be that band’s ’90s era with the blackened and folksy tonal sensibility whether in clean guitar or the spacier strummed sections. Chuggier riffing that might otherwise feel lazy and out of place carefully spaces out agile upper register playing and giving a sense of thrashing, percussive energy. Rather than sharp juxtapositions meant to create obvious contrasts, elements see strategic placement throughout songs. These split them into differing sections that together flesh out larger narratives when they aren’t combining them for a greater sense of thematic continuity. Closing track “Solace” demonstrates this particularly well, taking an almost Nevermore reminiscent riff with a distant-sounding melody layered over it, the latter of which leads into an unnerving tremolo polyphony. An abrupt piano-acoustic guitar interplay carries on that tension, appearing to calm down as it leads into a viscerally satisfying doom-section in the song’s middle. I could go on but the point is that they have not just the eclecticism needed to stand out to more contemporary fans but the compositional excellence that can tie a lot of disparate ideas together without ever becoming a mere showpiece act. If you’re looking to get into the original forms of this subgenre or want to see a band that not only respects but aims to update those roots, this little known self-titled is a mandatory listen.


Serpent of the Abyss
Wrapped in Darkness (2021)
Independent

I do not care much for atmospheric black metal and less so for the prefix “raw” subgenre. Combining both is usually a recipe for me to take a long nap but this band of no known location or members released perhaps the most unexpectedly engaging late 2021 listen for me. My main gripe with the majority of black metal regardless of whether it appeals to upstate New York hipsters who didn’t care for this “problematic” genre five years ago or totally-in-it-for-the-music Eastern European dorks insistent on selling you shitty suncross-laden overpriced ’90s demos is that it is too much forced ambience and mood. The “atmosphere” it’s selling you is often too deliberately (and obviously) constructed, abstracted for its own sake into eyeroll-inducing repetition, and often ringing rather hollow. The music ultimately feels empty and running on a vague sense of “atmosphere” that falls apart once you pick it apart and realize it has nothing actually solid to back it up. You could say the latter group of idiots set the stage for the former in that sense for a genre all about vague ideas with no real meat underneath. Whether highbrow Brooklyn Vegan flavor of the month crap or nationalist bullshit meant to deal with your daddy issues by connecting you with your made up “roots” because you’re too boring for an actual personality, there’s an acute lack of riffs and power either way. Deriding all this poser crap aside, let’s get to why I’m making an exception for this little known band.

As you might have guessed, this band actually has said riffs but even better they have enough to fill up a few emptied out mountain mines and the skill to tie them all together. They’re rough and lo-fi, creating an enthralling, whirlwind-like atmosphere at once nauseating yet oddly triumphant at points. It’s drawn from a wide variety of styles; sometimes it seems to hint at a gnarlier death metal influence, others going into rough and tumble first wave territory, even the cavernous mystery of the Icelandic style bands and countless others. You can easily get lost in the sheer wall of sound created but behind the overwhelming vortex is the bristling, razor-wire intense heart of a band that gets the fundamental aspects of how to do metal very well. There are numerous unexpectedly memorable riffs here and they aren’t afraid to play them off against one another for strange layers of harmony that themselves are shaped in all kinds of idiosyncratic ways. Thematic repetition thankfully remains at a minimum with the band giving absolutely zero fucks about wimp shit like “hooks” or “easily digestible song structures”. Songs are ever unfolding in layers of gradually evolving riff patterns, which in turn let moods mutate across its three lengthy tracks for a viscerally multifaceted approach. It can be difficult to catch all of it with how relentlessly these songs develop but that mercilessness works perfectly with its fundamentally mighty grasp of good riffing. Beneath the ice-encrusted majesty and miasmatic fog of foreboding power, a beating heart primordial and savage beats with the strength of a thousand riff-swinging hammerblows against the mediocrity of much of this genre.


Catharsis
Caress (1995)
Independent

Catharsis is a name that just screams brainy metal. Coincidentally there is a tech death and a prog-power one that share this moniker. We can add another of the former though this is considerably stranger than those Poles. Many who’ve excavated the realms of progressive and technical (as well as I guess avant-garde) ’90s death metal know that it’s one of the most adventurous and otherworldly realms in metal as a whole. Catharsis definitely sounds like they are from this era with the grainy tape-rip production and almost scatterbrained, eclectic sound. It isn’t quite “dark” death metal in the supernatural or sci-fi way say, Timeghoul, Demilich, or early Atrocity were. Neither is it exactly in the realm of ultra deranged weirdo fare like Russia AND Germany’s Rest In Pain, Bleed (New Jersey), or Traumatic Voyage. If anything, these Danes have a sort of relaxing mood at points that only distantly sounds like it might have been inspired by Cynic. Unlike that band, its gnarly blasting delivery and chaotic sense of structure almost sound more like more primitive if drugged out Willowtip fare, maybe even bordering on some of the post-metal adjacent technical death acts. One way or the other, it’s very hard to classify even if it’s from a time of adventurous oddballs.

Where this 4-song demo stands in stark contrast to most death metal in general (other than its atmosphere) is that it has many riffs that do not feel very chunky or buzzy. Much of it is very scribbly scrawly, fuzzy in its spaciousness, and almost delicate in spite of guttural bellows and aggressive drumming. Beneath the suboptimal production there’s an oddly mathy, spastic vibe to it with a lot of unusual spindly guitar work and unpredictably abrupt shifts in song direction. Clean guitar interjections have a large part to do with this. Unlike in say, an Opeth style band, they aren’t meant to be relaxing but to throw you off balance. The rhythm section usually continues its frenzied attack while this is going on but even between the rapid interrupting metallic attack, a lot of these have a tinge of off-kilter dissonance to them. There’s interesting parallels between this and Virulence’s A Conflict Scenario from 2001, not the least would be the chaotic grind-inspired aggression and the previously mentioned clean sections. There is a wider range of dynamics and moods here with Catharsis giving listeners far more breathing room. It’s an odd, rare case of a band that can feel gracefully delicate but still as aggressive as a lot of brutal or technical death metal even if the production really doesn’t make it seem that way.


Tyrannic
Mortuus Decadence (2021)
Seance Records

Holding high the flag of primitive first wave-inspired evil, this obscure Australian act plays a deranged and doomy interpretation of the genre’s mutated heavy metal roots. Comparisons can be drawn to various Slavic, Italian, and Greek bands but these only go so far. The ignorant naivete that carried these pioneering cultists has been replaced with a malevolent deliberation, resulting in an album clearly well studied yet applying these lessons to a distinct expression of their own. Just as the primordial sounds it draws inspiration from often ignored any innovations brought about by the ’90s second wave of primarily Nordic black metal, Mortuus Decadence seems to have come almost out of nowhere. There was never really a unified first wave sound and from this idiosyncrasy, they’ve created something with as much of a bizarre, diverse identity as any classic act. Do not think of this album as one that’s here to worship the ashes past greatness but one that captures the fire that fueled it.

Tyrannic makes heavy usage of lurching rhythms and pseudo-psychedelic melodies often with an almost off-tune or pseudo-dissonant approach. Drumming plays a larger pattern with a variety of lurching patterns often resolving with shuffling rolls, doing a surprisingly good job of keeping up with the frequent shifts in direction in each song. Overall tempos are moderately slow, but the songs themselves are aggressively nutty. Sometimes you get long yawning guitar lines of bendy tremolo riffs, almost triumphant classic heavy metal melodies, blitzing Celtic Frost style chords—a genius mixture of disjointed confusion and demented ignorance. The fact that it can all sound so intense with very few actual blast beats or even skank beats is a testament to their understated expertise. If there is somewhere to improve, it is that the songs sometimes stretch out otherwise good ideas a little too long. The usage of very long ambient sections often to end songs in its second half can feel like both a cop out and something that makes the metallic parts feel incomplete as well. There’s a lot of great ideas here but they are not always developed to the extent you might want. It remains a surprisingly fresh and filthy take on primal blackness and I look forward to hearing how they might evolve this sound.


Tempter’s Sacrament
Temptation Steel Scourge (2021)
Invictus Productions

Hearkening back to an age when the boundaries between death, black, and thrash metal were far less rigid and exclusive, Tempter’s Sacrament unites all three by virtue of utter barbarity. Teutonic thrash, Bathoryan blackness, early Exmortis and Morbid Angel’s demonic riff architecture, even the UK Sabbat’s precision tenacity—old school as it is, its musical DNA derives from a wide spectrum of classic era styles far beyond those listed. You could say it’s more old school than old school (death metal) but the expertise it’s executed with betrays a distinctly modern-day mindset. This isn’t to its detriment in the slightest and if anything is where it gains the majority of its identity. Special mention goes to the drumming of Infernal Deceiver, known from a variety of other Nihil Verum Nisi Mors-associated acts such as Malefaction, Altar of Gore, Damnation Lust, and Jaws of Hades. He does all the expected but also has a keen ear for adroit kit work in his fills and cymbal work. A lot of it is tasteful with little technical indulgence but performed with commendable precision and tightly-wound execution, doing a huge part in making the riffing feel even more bloodthirsty than it already is.

Speaking of that, Hades Tempter brings an impressively varied arsenal to the table, blurring genre boundaries less so by virtue of experimentation and moreso of not giving a shit about them. They fit a lot of sharply differing styles together in such a fluid, confident manner that easily puts them on the same level as far more stylistically evolved acts. Streamlined tremolo portions, jagged flurries of fragmented rhythm, and slower more articulately picked notes (among others) play off their own motion and impact against rapidly shifting drum patterns and tempos. They fit all of them together into compact structures, shifting tempos and guitar patterns to conflict with another. Songs subsequently develop through these clashes of contrast as momentum transfers in a satisfyingly kinetic manner from riff to riff. They only really repeat riffs insofar as they’re used to center a song and lead into opposing counterparts, treating a scant few almost like characters in a play or film. They’ll get the oh-shit moments they deserve but the band knows how to use them to lead into and develop fundamental ideas, leading to songs that get a lot done without feeling overburdened or underwritten at all. Some of the most efficiently written and savagely satisfying extreme metal from last year.


Yith
Passage (2021)
Vendetta Records

With an awkward band name and unassuming cover art, I did not expect much going into this solo black/doom project’s only album. Thankfully the music hits me a lot more strongly than their aesthetic choices do. I’ve seen them described as a black metal take on Mournful Congregation (somewhat similar to Void Tendril I suppose) and that’s pretty close to what this album sounds like. It’s quite melodic as a result of this though not in the way you expect of a Mork Gryning, Vinterland, or Sacramentum style act. The frostbitten, romanticist atmosphere isn’t there first of all and the way the songs are written feels far more funeral doom metal even when the blasts hit. Whereas melodic black metal’s roots are a large part owed to the earliest melodic death metal acts, Yith’s are in the glacial motions of that lumbering school of doom rather than the riff-happy approach of blastier acts. Everything is very deliberate here and the songs develop at a relatively slower pace in spite of not hesitating to speed up. It may not be stereotypically experimental or fancy-sounding but it definitively feels like something from a more contemporary time even if it still relies on a lot of second wave black metal for its baseline ingredients.

Frankly, this is a rather simple album and one that’s very easy to keep track of. A lot of black metal can pass in a blur of ambience as sections of songs meld together. In Yith’s case they use the extreme sparseness of the genre to make every individual melody stand out even if tonally or technically they come off as quite simple. Repetition in this instance is kept to a moderate-to-low amount, letting individual sections play out and become embedded in your head then sharply changing to another to develop it. The fast, traditionally black metal-style riffs space these out and create a tonal backdrop while ringing doom metal-style melodies juxtapose them, resolving and revealing what they had been building up to. Due to the carefully written music with few moving parts, the motions each song goes through and the way they unfold is refreshingly easy to follow. In spite of this relative simplicity, the songs do not become cyclic either and each one builds up through a number of clearly communicated themes to satisfying (if sometimes a little abrupt) conclusions. It does sometimes draw some riffs out to a near tiresome degree but they have always enough payoff to make it worthwhile. Hopefully the next album can explore a wider degree of phrasings and arrangements as they have a strong foundation to expand on from these straightforward songs.


Deviant Process
Nurture (2021)
Season of Mist

I was familiar with this band’s 2016 debut which while solid felt like at best a somewhat better than average interpretation of modern day technical death metal. Cue my surprise when in 5 years they went from merely competent to visionary. It’s no secret that I tend to despise the overwhelming majority of modern bands that get the technical death metal moniker. The similarly contemporary “progressive” ones are not deserving of much leniency either so whether it’s Necrophagist, Spawn of Possession, Rivers of Nihil, or Gojira, it’s all going in the same overflowing dumpster for me. While Deviant Process is clearly of a more up to date mindset and inspiration, there are underlying ideas present that starkly differ from the average act on The Artisan Era or Unique Leader. A lot of their music touches on similar if hyper-evolved ideas evocative of the original melodic death and black metal bands. Anata and Theory in Practice (the latter after their debut album) come to mind as well, both being bands that modernized old school sounds into a tech death format. Yet from this unexpectedly traditional lineage the end result is not a regurgitation of past ideas. Even if they differ in many ways, like with A Flourishing Scourge they have updated these time-honored practices without ever watering them down for a new audience.

It is undeniable that Deviant Process has a very modern sense of flashy, vibrant guitar work. The aggressive bass guitar work and blast beats add to this and they throw a lot at the listener with what sounds like very little filter for these ideas. Perhaps the most perplexing thing is that it isn’t very riffy either. You don’t get stuttering brutal death inspired scatter-shot phrases and neither is there really purely noodling shred licks either. A lot of the guitar work focuses on spacier melodies and winding patterns as opposed to singular riffs in snippy, compact bites not entirely tremolo-oriented but frenetic and spidery regardless. I suppose you can say it is actually very riffy, just that the riffs are simply made of more interlinking parts that work less as singular components but multi-segmented ones. From these flourishing components they craft these long, almost black metal reminiscent songs, taking advantage of the pseudo-ambience created by the guitar to wind and swirl. The speed at which this is happening both with regards to tempo and the speed at which riffing unfolds makes it rather difficult to follow with a lack of obvious hooks and only a few solos to really break things up. I wouldn’t classify this as a fault however; if anything it makes the songs more satisfying to figure out in their unexpectedly arcane sense of layout. Aside from a rather perplexing cover at the end, it’s refreshing to see something this modern that nonetheless feels like an antidote for the worst excesses of this style.


Deluge
Diluvial Sorcery (2004)
Hammer & Anvil Wreckords

Australian death/black metal is often associated with bestial, warlike, ultra primitive mayhem, all of which are things that do not apply to Deluge. From the mystical song titles, quasi-symphonic keyboards, and mid-’90s to early 2000s infernal “Norsecore” tonality, this would be the kind of thing that the recent wrist-spikes-and-leather type bands would be revolting against. There is a key point we should take note of before we continue. Namely that first of all the “black metal” part of Deluge’s sound is mostly relegated to some of the tonal choices and keyboards. Structurally, rhythmically, and in terms of songwriting this is something far more oldschool than black metal. Namely, the melodic death metal that predicated and laid the groundwork for a lot of black metal (primarily the melodic subgenre). While comparisons have been drawn to Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth in some similarly old and obscure reviews for this album, in reality it is closer in its aims to Fatal Embrace (Sweden), debut-era Dark Tranquility, and At The Gates’ With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness. It’s far more blackened, long-winded, and prone to unusual clean singing, but the underlying technicality, frequently shifting structures, and articulately interwoven melodies hearken back to that era. After all, the first wave of melodic death metal was as much early black metal-adjacent as it was for the then nascent progressive and technical movement. There’s also the doom adjacent style but sadly it never got very far.

With that out of the way, Diluvial Sorcery proves to be an unexpectedly classic-oriented album in a time when death and black metal were busy trying to distance themselves from said roots. Songs go through a wide plethora of tempos and harmonic arrangements, emphasizing keyboards tastefully as akin to a third guitar. The playing is fairly sharp but it never really becomes the focus of the project, with a lot of the complexity coming from keyboard-guitar interplay and the measured structures they work though. In a time when a lot of bands were embracing instant blast-driven gratification, Deluge went against this with an unexpectedly methodical approach to songwriting. It almost feels progressive with the unexpected charisma behind its ever-unfolding narrative and thematic momentum, albeit without the usual stylistic devices often associated with the term. Wrapping your head around the slow-burn deliberation the songs go through may make some lose interest or scratch their heads, but this is a large part of the charm. In a way almost like The Chasm (who released The Spell of Retribution the same year), there’s a very particular mystical vibe that emerges from this approach with both the relative lack of repeating parts and the clearly outlined layout of their songs. Deluge may be more traditionally evil and “epic” for lack of a better term, but both share appreciation for sinister melody and impressive ambition completely ignorant of whatever was trendy at the time.


Thos Ælla
Abnegation Psalms (2021)
Sunshine Ward Recordings

I’m not into Father Befouled (or most “cavernous” death metal really). I don’t hate them but their style has never really caught my attention in the same way the majority of their contemporaries have not. I was not expecting a member of such a band to have a vibrantly melodic and amazingly ambitious black metal solo project, but here we are. The easiest way to describe this band would be the classic Greek style of black metal played as if it was Swedish. In other words, lots of classic heavy metal influences given a snowstorm relentless delivery for a combination of both then conventional black metal and the “primitive” genres it was partially a response to. Balancing extreme metal and its more melodic relatively rock-adjacent counterparts is a notoriously hard thing to do, especially given how these genres are near diametrically opposed to one another. Years of absolutely bottom of the barrel sub-entry level Gothenburg Slaughter of the Soul-inspired melodeath can attest to this as much as corpse-painted neutered cock rock like Grand Belial’s Wiimote and reheated fifth rate wimpy flower power metal a la Arsegolem can regardless of the kvlt-cred or mainstream popularity both flex. Fortunately Derrik Goulding proves masterful at playing to the strengths of both, knowing how to utilize contrasting elements to create a coherent, invigorating hybrid sound that manages to raise the bar for anyone attempting to scale this mountain.

Thos Aella utilizes the sparser elements of black metal to create a space for older heavy/power metal riffing practices essentially. While this is a very general overview of their sound, it’s a good starting point with which to understand how a lot of this plays out. Looser midtempo black metal strums easily morph into ’80s metal muscle as semi-thrashy, crackling riffs lead off into semi-folksy, Obsequiae-esque angular leads before morphing into winding tremolo patterns. Heavy metal-style rhythmic sensibilities and technical stylings modify black metal-style tonality into more vibrant forms yet never dumb them down into radio airplay wimpiness. This shared heritage crafts songs that explore frost-swept grandeur and pulpy heroism in equal measure. Derrik’s technical guitar playing gives a more immediately gripping element to its traditional riffing, with a lot of genuinely catchy though not obnoxiously sugary riffs. He uses that to contrast or lead into aggressive, streamlined sections as well as moments of single-foot blasting to break any comfortable cadences. The interplay between these facets of the sound comes from the near fistpump-inducing glory leading into viciously fast single-foot blast style tremolo-strum portions. Moments of triumph and vibrancy lead into those of threatening aggression and throttling intensity, strengthening one another through cooperation as much as conflict. You even get some kinda bluesy solos that help cap it all off but moments like this are always earned, often resolving harrowing intensity with exuberant, genuinely joyful playing. A useful handbook for anyone looking to try their hand at nailing a sound rarely if ever done right, and one of last year’s finest.


Cover image artwork by Timur Daibayev.

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