Review: DeathronedDemo MMXXIII

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The Spectre Over Surabaya

Emerging from the ever-crowded Indonesian death metal community, Surabaya’s Deathroned are not a band I was particularly familiar with, something which made their latest EP all the better on a first encounter. I only recently became familiar with their last EP, 2020’s Perdition Liturgy which did not exactly endear me with its Sunlight Studios buzzsaw death metal sound. Some of it had a slight Gothenburg-melodeath tinge (another irritating factor) yet there were moments of sinister melody that while somewhat smothered by the now tedious HM-2 sound, were not entirely buried. Fast forward three years and the band are not a whole lot less Swedish—simply a very different form of it. Rather than a Swedeath based more heavily in its punk roots, the new Deathroned moves towards a realm of blackened atmosphere that lets its melodies take on a more prominent role. It is an unexpected shift at best lightly hinted at previously but a welcome change of pace that elevates this band beyond being yet another OSDM act to a fresher voice in the movement. It may be classic death metal but not all death metal from the late ’80s and ’90s gets equal attention, something these Indonesians are addressing.

Deathroned’s sound belongs to an obscure but not insignificant realm of Swedish death metal, neighboring the iconic approach of bands like Dismember and Entombed yet born from a very different mindset. Blackened at heart via the extreme end of late ’80s thrash, transforming post-Slayer and Pentagram (Chile) tremolo melodies into a form that lets them express a morbid nocturnal atmosphere. The closest I can think of to them is Grotesque circa Incantation. Other Swedes such as Bloodstone, Unanimated, and Necrophobic also come to mind, possessing a similarly thrashy base mutated into a blackened, melodic form. On top of this is an oddly softer touch at a few moments; rocky even in a way that evokes Stench (Sweden), Tribulation, Morbus Chron, and Necrovation. Clean guitar and even somewhat rocky riffs appear in fleeting, tantalizing glances that wisely keep their runtime short yet add an almost personal dimension to the occult evil present. Tenacity may be this two-tracker’s bread and butter but it does not shy away from dynamic juxtaposition almost as a proggier band might. A lot of its black metal elements already emphasize less definite and rhythmic technique so contextually the at times jangling notes and drifting chords end up being oddly appropriate.

Versatile is the easiest way you could sum up the 10-minute runtime, unifying interrelated styles through a focus on lengthy tremolo passages doubled down on with simple, effective harmonies. Propulsive melodies emerge embedded into winding riff patterns, varying with layered harmonies as they shift to suit the needs of altering tempo. Neither song repeats riffs much in its runtime, ever unfolding with new additions and variations that result in a consistent sense of motion in theme and pacing. The variety mentioned in the prior paragraphs is carefully woven into the guitar work but there are various times it becomes more obvious. Fast thrashy skank beats pop up quite frequently yet the music itself remains ever-evolving in a way beyond the boundaries of that genre. Lead guitar evoking classic heavy metal manifests with some gorgeous solos employed strategically to capitalize on or resolve a portion of the song. Clean guitar manifests not as interludes but breaks in intensity that subtly enforce a continuation of theme and atmosphere, the actual notes being played simply less distorted continuations of main melody. There is very little in the way of crunchy or chuggy guitar work on another note, with the demo almost entirely geared towards fluid shifts in momentum between riffing patterns.

Both songs near five minutes, on the lengthier side of medium-length songcraft, yet with how smoothly everything is joined together they feel a minute or so shorter. Both are well-fleshed out yet with little in the way of throwaway connective tissue riffing. You can fast-forward to anywhere in their runtime and there will be a vivid melody or a mystifying mellower portion. While the roots of their style can be found in thrash, the lack of palm-muted staccato riffing or rapid shifts to blasting you might hear in a conventional American style band are absent here. In a way that evokes bands such as Cruciamentum and Obscure Infinity (circa 2015 for both), song structures are relatively low on repetition and heavy on melody. All are coming from thrashy or American roots but with a less jigsaw-puzzle and smoothly unfolding narrative sense of development. Its atmosphere may be very old school in nature but the deliberate variety on display and the intuitive way its various sections connect reflect a very contemporary mindset. This style was never very popular and often served as a sort of evolutionary bridge from the primitivity of the late 80’s to the refinement of the death/black metal styles to come.

The musicianship while simple is effective and tasteful, with guitars taking center stage and the rest of the band backing them up. Bass is just high enough in the mix as to be easily discerned from the higher register guitar work, pulsing along in its shadow. Vocals are an almost punk-like desperate howl, a far cry from guttural expectations and taking on a slight blackened character whenever he holds a vocal line. It is a far more manic and unhinged approach, by far the rawest thing on the demo. Drumming thrashes and blasts along only to be interrupted with flurries of quick fills, spartan in execution with small moments of flair. The cymbals often fog up the sonic space not to an obfuscating detriment, adding a frenzied vibe to both songs’ most aggressive moments. It certainly is not production that would pass on Century Media, Nuclear Blast, or Xtreem. Yet the foggy atmosphere of oppressive night that shrouds both songs is a welcome change after churning through the sterile plasticity of countless more “professional” releases.

Deathroned’s latest evokes the same sensations as listening to those bands mentioned in the first half of the second paragraph yet as these styles were so disparate, just like them they end up having various idiosyncrasies of their own. Funeral Chant (USA) and Avlivad (Sweden) come to mind in terms of shared musicality though they have a far larger focus on rabid barbarity. The closest to them is another obscure Indonesian act, Nocturnal Kudeta, who shifted towards a similar sound on their last release and recently changed their name. Having pushed arguably into the outer edges of early melodic death/black metal, Deathroned have transformed the remnants of late ’80s youthful naivete and barbarity into a realm of sinister deliberation and honed tenacity. It is the best example of a band maturing, focusing down on a few particular aspects of their sound for a concise statement of intent. They have gone from being yet another cadaver of many in the crowded catacombs of “OSDM” to a more enticing act, exploring a part of genre history rarely touched upon and we are all the better for it.

4.5/5 Incantations to Long-Buried Toilets ov Hell

You can hear and purchase this demo on Deathroned’s bandcamp.

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