Catacomb Ventures: Impurities Obscure
Hidden beneath growing layers of snow and ice of a year reaching its end, a variety of abominations remain seemingly hidden, lost to time and our often fleeting memory. However as the year end lists and top 100s start to pile up, it’s the perfect time to unearth and thaw these six statements of perversity and revulsion, whether it’s for holiday gifts or morbid curiosity. Here are some of 2018’s finest demos, splits, and EP’s that received little attention.
The Pest Dialect
As narrow as “old school death metal” can seem, the reality is that the sounds of an entire time period with scenes world wide is considerably more versatile and diverse than both critics and most bands give credit to whether in rants or releases. Salt Lake City’s Sacrilegion, the project of Unceremonial mastermind Connor Carlsson, are a strong example of the surprising eclecticism present. Like that band a healthy blackened influence creeps in and strengthens the melodic framework the band works in yet the self-destructive rhythms and abrupt shifts of classic American death metal is present to oppose this.
Within this fundamental conflict between rigidity and fluidity The Pest Dialect thrives, crafting lengthy and immediately impactful melodies yet dismembering and mutating them with glee into slightly dissonant digressions, choosing a more sinister form of lead guitar harkening back to the now mythic days of the early Scandinavian death metal community. However the frequently breaking rhythms and crunchy distantly thrash-descended heritage of the US scene grants them a sturdy backbone, taking more narrative and traditionally European songwriting within shifting mazes of jagged riffing. Like with his previous band the lengthier riffs are the star of the show but the thicker chords that back them up have seen a notable step up, even the slower after-image ringing strums that help break up motion and brace the listener for soon-ensuing carnage. Recommended for fans of Maleficarum (Italy), Eucharist (Sweden), earlier Horrendous, Necrophobic, Unanimated, and Sarcasm (Sweden).
Incinerator & Vile Apparition
Incinerator/Vile Apparition Split
For pure unbridled tenacity free from artifice and pretension, this deadly unity of Polish and Australian warmongers faces little competition. From Poland, Incinerator bring back the oddly rare sound of early 90’s Floridian death metal but with a disgusting atonality at moments bringing to mind Ripping Corpse in an unrelenting onslaught nearly bereft of any breathing room. Vile Apparition on the other hand go for a further downtuned and murkier assault, bridging the gap between the first strands of brutal death metal and the neighbouring doomed death metal it existed alongside. While both bands are about as straightforward as it gets and refreshingly devoid of the usual Autopsy/Incantation/Dismember/etc. tropes, the authenticity of their approach thankfully doesn’t obscure the ambition and finesse involved in both, whether it’s Vile Apparition’s well-tuned syncopated warmachine advance or the steady flow of breakneck violence of Incinerator.
The former are especially noteworthy in how they’ve managed to take Human Waste era Suffocation influence yet simultaneously avoid sounding almost anything like the usually hyper-squiggly-logo gore-obsessed acts of today and it’s unusual it’s taken this long for anyone to go for this sound. Though if I had to criticize this split, I will say that Incinerator’s songwriting is somewhat undercooked, frequently falling into repetitious re-use of established riffing rather than building on core components in successive iterations of theme. Their sheer aggression does offset this somewhat but it does put a bit of a damper on repeated listening. However the promise of their devil-may-care onslaught holds just as much promise as their down-under counterparts.
Crossing the Lugubrious Plateau
Shambling to an upright posture and dripping with liquefied skin and fetid juices, the debut demo of this Oregonian corpse is captures the raw disgust of decomposing bodies in two songs laid bare with calculated if furious blasting and staggering zombie trudges. Stylistically their fractured sound will draw comparisons to Finland’s Abhorrence as well as pre-Emperor death metallers Thou Shalt Suffer, Unholy Domain era Demigod, and Sweden’s Crematory. However whereas their predecessors were scavengers and dwellers in murkier waters, reveling in an alien chaos, Gash display a distinctly contemporary mindset towards their structuring. Both songs are divided into three individual portions distinctly marked through changes in tempo and technique. Barely caged within each one is a degenerate frenzy of conflicting riffs tearing into one another in short cycles, transitioning from portion to portion oblique and sharply contrasting shapes at differing speeds to tear apart any stability that repetition could bring. They blast nearly as aggressively as modern death metal band but cleverly break from the background gunfire effect that brings with jutting “angular” chords and even a few surprisingly well integrated d-beat punkish segments, keeping motion consistent while intensity levels vary to avoid songwriting blurring together.
The best moments surprisingly enough feature their lead guitar, knowing when to use semi-melodic and vaguely heavy/thrash inspired technique at just the right moment, usually in the latter half of a song to segue into and build tension for climactic moments. 3:27 to the end of the title track is one of this year’s finest moments of death metal buildup and release, even finding a way to use a seemingly stock melodeath riff without becoming saccharine or biteless. For a band that captures the genuine ideals that classic 90’s death metal built itself on yet avoids worship or “cloning” while voicing them according to their own preferences and artistic inclinations, Gash have succeeded where innumerable others have merely become names to check off a list.
From Awareness to Creation
Red Wine Rites Records
Practically a recently discovered time capsule from 1990, this Italian technical death/thrash act is a frighteningly accurate picture of the first experiments in refined extremity. Taking riffs from the late 80’s period of post-Slayer/Kreator/Dark Angel madness and enhancing them with the sort of spidery fretboard witchery you’d expect from DBC’s Universe, Watchtower’s Control & Resistance, Deathrow‘s Deception Ignored, and maybe even a pinch of Mekong Delta and Voivod, Miscreance’s sound dwells at both the furthest ends of thrash and the origin of what would later become technical death metal. The former’s rhythmic onslaught rarely stretches on for too many bars, frequently giving away to the latter’s tendency for elaborating with colourful harmonies and layers of complex instrumentation.
While humble by today’s standards for prog, Miscreance are able to fit all kinds of neat little licks, fills, and bass riffs into these songs, taking a particularly more straightforward set of riffs and building on them with varying iterations of that core idea, balancing complexity against memorability with expert grace. Their songwriting is also excellently paced and brilling with enthusiasm and energy where more highbrow metal bands are trapped in sterility and tedium, not being afraid to really emphasize well oiled yet impressively vicious aggression when they need to though the production does make the guitar tone sound somewhat thin. Recommended for fans of second and third album Sadus, Human era Death, Hellwitch (sans blast beats), Obliveon, Atheist, Dragon (Poland) circa 1990 to 1991, and Ripper‘s recent output taken to extremes.
Black metal with a notable psychedelic bend, Australia’s currently on-hold Vyruden exemplify taking the scenic route with this genre yet not without appeal outside its borders. A warm and lightly grainy production job with excellent separation between all instruments contributes to a sound that’s strangely rocking in its approach and quite long winded in its organization. In spite of proggy aspirations, Vyruden’s sound is heavy on riffs whether it’s elongated melodies or shorter and more muscular phrases, making it feel somewhat more immediate than most genre practitioners. However these are arranged in lengthy structures that frequently break into spacier ringing chords and moments of trippy introspection. The contrast between those and the semi first wave black metal reminiscent parts can be a little jarring but other times, they segue into one another so smoothly you don’t really notice until a few minutes later. That’s simultaneously a weakness and a strength; the songs kind of just tumble into a giant ball of amorphousness and they arguably drag at a few moments but for others, there’ll be a fluidity in execution that’s rarely paired with such an earthy and surprisingly powerful attack. At times this sounds almost like simplified riffs from StarGazer‘s A Merging to the Boundless slowed down and played almost like a floatier His Majesty at the Swamp era Varathron after taking a couple of bong hits. It still has the genre’s bitter black heart yet at the same time the force it brings to bear feels almost distant, as if hidden beneath the surface of some great black bog. Not for everyone but an interesting listen regardless.
In spite of its title, this release is long enough to be an album at nearly 40 minutes long and save for its almost live-take production job, it’s both ambitious and surprisingly well written. Playing an avant-prog variant of death/doom, the sort that leans moreso on the “death” side of the spectrum, Epitaphe manage to create a variant of this subgenre that’s at once epic and sweeping in scope yet otherworldly and abstract. The first track opens with a blitzing fury of blackened impiety arrangements over refreshingly involved drummer, gradually moving towards sparse ringing chords. It would normally be boring if not for the subtle ways the drumming varies itself to accent such minimalist guitar work, subtly hinting at approaching thematic changes. In this case, it’s a simple guitar lead that morphs into a wailing solo over that mutates into an intensifying and nearly cacophonous burst of desperation. They even manage to fit an almost Berlin School style ambient effect over a fading guitar harmony near the end. The other two songs aren’t any less unusual, digging further into semi-ambient soundscapes and towering black metal style arrangements. While the attention span needed is immense (the ending track is just a little under 18 minutes), they always find creative ways to ensure every part of a composition is playing a specific role. After hearing Ghoulgotha broke up, I’ll say that this young French act is our current best hope for ruthlessly unusual death/doom refusing to be tied down to both the conventions and stereotypes of a subgenre. Highly recommended not only for fans of that band but also Dark Millennium, The Chasm, Mitochondrion, Babylon Sad, and even more experimental and eldritch bands such as Zealotry, Undersave, and Blood Incantation.
Cover image courtesy of Nekronikon.