Catacomb Ventures: Foulest Depths of August Catacombs

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Further into the depths we’re descending with six revolting coffin treasures of extreme metal.
Bring your disinfectants and your HazMat suits.

Nex Carnis
Black Eternity
Blood Harvest – 2019

The darker and atmospheric end of death metal is usually associated with a doomier, slower, and in many cases blackened sound that even at its most furious moves at a glacial pace compared to the hyperblasting fare that it serve as an antithesis to. However this group of Iranian hell-seers aren’t afraid to go to some impressive tempos that at times are normally the domain of bands like Heaving Earth (where their previous drummer played) or Decaying Purity.

By comparison their sound has become even more esoteric than on their excellent 2015 debut (covered in a previous feature). A wide variety of riffing styles with some featuring carefully articulated and eerie melodies and others working with broad strokes of ripping tenacity join forces to create intricate networks of interwoven ideas, evolving chained together in these lengthy structures. Much of this can sound oddly abstract and dissonance tinged, moving between sharply contoured chords and sudden hovering chords ringing out over the furious drumming, causing it to at once feel as still as morning mist but as bitingly cruel as a swarm of wasps. Compared to Obscure Visions of Dark there’s a wider range of tempos, allowing for a wider range of fills and accents that help enhance the mystifying atmosphere highlighted by experimentation with bizarre floaty textures. These songs are less aggressive but in turn, they bring them even deeper into the realms of the new wave of eldritch avant-prog death metal like Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Zealotry, Undersave, and Auroch. Production wise they’ve acquired a stronger bottom end that gives the drums and bass guitar a fuller sound that was missing from the debut. While this is a bit of a change in direction it’s an interesting expansion of their ideas and hopefully will carry on to the sophomore.

Releases on September 27th. Preorders available here.

Cthonic Aura
Abyssic Reflections in Slumber
Me Saco Un Ojo – 2012

With musicians who have played in Sacral Rage, Burial Hordes, Embrace of Thorns, and Acherontas, Cthonic Aura somehow flew under everyone’s radar but regardless delivered an excellent three song piece of darker early American styled death metal free of most of the familiar Swedish, Floridian, and Finnish characteristics of today’s bands. Boldly displaying the thrash influence that has become strangely scarce in recent new-traditional death, this presumably disbanded Greek group delivers a consistent sense of intensity outlined by distinct melodies that outline each song’s structure. Blast beats are fairly rare in their sound but impressively explosive, serving as bursts of force at a few specific intervals, while the doom portions so ubiquitous across the spectrum today are near absent here. The tempo changes that do appear however tend to be used to signify developments in the core melodies that guide each song, each one executed with an impressive degree of finesse partially hidden behind rough crunching rhythm guitar made desert dry by the slightly compacted production job of the album. As a whole their sound is somewhat odd. While it’s far from being experimental it’s not exactly boneheaded brutality either, taking hammering riffs but phrasing them or harmonizing in such a way that there’s always this distinct creeping tonal sensibility that almost reminds of Finnish death metal made a lot more aggressive or Gorguts Considered Dead if they took some notes from Demolition Hammer.

Malformity
The Rapturous Unraveling
Boris Records – 2018

It’s not often an old school death metal band (in the sense of the “actually was there in the early 90’s sense”) outdoes their older material with newer ones but Atlanta’s Malformity have not only done that but made one of the more distinct and idiosyncratic genre offerings today. Roughly based on classic American death metal, these two songs take a mixture of semi-technical rhythmic switch-ups and M.C. Escher esque fractured structures to convey an impressive variety of songwriting styles united with excellent lead guitar and an impressive usage of ebb-and-flow esque pacing mechanics. Songs begin with a frenetic contrast of sharply differing riffing styles held together by choice melodies and understatedly tasteful drumming. They then progress to slower weighty riffing, drawing melody out of these densely packed portions and using it to lead to some truly spectacular endings. It can be somewhat confusing at first given just how much it feels like they’ve crammed into each song but that’s a large part due to the frequent shifting gears as they move between a variety of different styles which is also by and far the most contemporary thing about them. Fans of Brutality, Morbid Angel, Severance, and Excruciate (Swe) will enjoy this mixture of highly specific song structure, percussive bottom end, and highly varied rhythm and song layout, resulting in a sound that is made of the best components of classic American death metal but arranged and executed in a such way that it’s too specifically configured and idiosyncratic to merely be a regurgitation of nostalgia.

Omination
The New Golgotha Repvbliq
Hypnotic Dirge Records – 2019

Funeral doom metal is usually a relaxing or even languid subgenre so colour me surprised when this 20 minute single become more torturous for me than the average war metal or dissoskronk release. The easiest way to describe Fedor Kovalevsky’s solo project is that it sounds like an enormous apocalyptic religious ceremony taking place in an enormous cathedral gifted with an incredibly powerful pipe organ. This is a sort of funeral doom that veers near death/doom with the blunt crushing guitar chords but gains its true identity in its layering of both conventionally growled vocals but also monastic chanting and psychotically desperate yelling, combining that with drawn out harmonies and ear-grating organ droning. It’s immensely layered and absolutely massive to the extent of something like the last Void of Silence album (covered here) or a much more oppressive Quercus. There is a lot going on concurrent with one another and the sheer intensity of it all can make it hard to follow on individual parts which while not too complex themselves, join together into enormous tidal waves of feverish devotion. Somehow they’re able to sneak in a simple arabesque guitar solo that somehow only adds to the intensely passionate deathcult mood later on into this single and it’s probably the only “normal” part you’ll hear even if it’s incredibly bizarre in the context of an admittedly very out-there funeral doom track. Even the parts when the guitars drop out and the organ takes the lead aren’t exactly relaxing as it keeps up that same damn background drone that filters its way through almost the entirety of the song and the enormous booming voices that guide them make it feel like you’re being lectured to by a priest possessed by some sort of divine mania. To sum it up, fascinating but an incredibly difficult listen.

Ferocity
Puzzled into Various Spaces
Independent – 1997

You can tell based on whatever the hell the cover art is supposed to be that Ferocity is definitely not going to be a run of the mill metal band and you’re correct because the music is equally puzzling even if at heart it’s not necessarily alien. Ferocity’s only release is an amalgamation of almost everything from the late 80’s to 90’s progressive/technical metal movements whether it was Atrocity, Suffocation, Gorguts, Atheist, Cynic, Death, Mekong Delta, Watchtower, Pestilence, Psychotic Waltz, and so on. They meld all of it into five lengthy songs that almost sound improvised in terms of the absurd Liers in Wait level of psychotic technical playing stuffed into every one. To sum it up, almost everything from that era of tech-metal that could happen basically happens here and its weirdo factor comes from just so many contrasting parts creating this stream of consciousness esque hallucinogenic effect as you go from mellow clean sections to drowsy yowled clean vocals to vicious blasting sections to carefully picked semi melodic riffing to just too many things to name in 300 or so words. The instrumentation is unsurprisingly top of the line with every musician unleashing a wide array of technical prowess that works whether at this demo’s most jam packed schizophrenic moments or its uneasily serene moments. Two members of this band would later unfortunately waste their time spend a year long stint in Necrophagist. In spite of all this, it never really comes off as necessarily “flashy” (or “wanky”) as much as just oddly disorienting and dizzying. At times it’s like they’re morphing between seven or so different bands and caught in some sort of bizarre transition state between all of them. Trippier than your average “stoner” band and strangely atmospheric in a way that’s just so distinctly 90’s.

Plague Pit
Topheth Ablaze
Independent – 2019

A combination of death and black metal distantly resembling some of the more dissonant acts of today but with a hefty jarring sound that comes from someplace truly alien. Plague Pit take that gale force winds guitar work of black metal and transport it into death metal’s shifting rhythmic landscapes. It’s a sound where sudden malformed riffs jut out like broken bones piercing through the flesh of creatures stumbled and shattered against versatile pausing and charging percussion. There are some similarities to bands like Epoch and Abyssal but Plague Pit feature a lot more crushing rhythms and glaring single-note doom-like riffing in the place of sprawling dissonance or eerie ambience giving them an impressively and viscerally satisfying sense of threat to their music. They aren’t afraid to slow it down as the album’s climax, the eight-minute doom monster “Membranam”, makes abundantly clear but they retain a sense of busy-bodied intensity with their tumbling-down-the-staircase-while-breaking-into-pieces esque playing. While the songs themselves are fairly straightforward in terms of how all the pieces are arranged, the frequently stuttering pace stops them from becoming plain or streamlined with moments of choppy intensity interrupted by sudden lunging blast assaults and tumbling drum fills with a few songs even having moments of 90’s black metal esque blizzard strum riffs. There’s even a few moments with d-beat style kick-happy drumming over almost first wave black metal speed/thrash tinged riffing that somehow manage to work a large part due to the weird glassy production job and how it morph lead tone into this weedly needling form and gives the drumming an intense rumbling effect like enormous insects shuddering beneath the soil you’re standing on. It’s difficult for me to find specific bands to compare this to as beyond the previously mentioned ones only having general similarities, it doesn’t really fit into any notable established category. It’s far from being “modern” styled and in truth it only really is paying lip service to disso-styled bands while it’s not something I could see happening based on classic 90’s death metal teachings either. However, it’s not in the psychedelic realm of Blood Incantation and Execration I’m unsure if it’s out there enough to be in the non-euclidean dimensions of Garroted and VoidCeremony. It rips regardless.

Featured image courtesy of VK6.

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