Eight Undervalued EP’s/Demos From 2017 That You Can’t Miss
2017 has been an absolutely massive year for people that worship underground metal of all varieties. Today I’m looking back on some of the gnarliest EPs and demos that may have flown under your radar.
A massive year means an overwhelming amount of releases; for some smaller bands, that means that an excellent demo or EP (both of which are underappreciated releases from the getgo, at least among some fans) may well be ignored, crushed under an onslaught of bigger releases. This article mostly focuses on releases that I feel could use more attention, whether that means a release already being worshipped by the primary fanbase they play for but ignored by the masses or releases ignored altogether because of their location (or a lack of marketing).
As a general disclaimer (which I’m putting in because my editor told me it’d be unethical not to mention it), I’m friends and/or labelmates with individuals in a couple of the bands listed in the article (and have a release being offered in a three-tape-bundle with one of ‘em), but the reviews themselves are unbiased (as much as possible, anyway), and their inclusion on the article is just because I think that the bands are killer.
Ljosazabojstwa – Sychodžańnie
Country of origin: Belarus
The occult horror of a certain type of black/death generally somewhat influenced by or otherwise in line with Mortuary Drape is one of my favorite things, and Ljosazabojstwa clearly agree, given the content on Sychodžańnie and on the demo that came before it. From the first bits of atmosphere created by a haunting organ introduction through the very last chords, everything about this EP is massive; monolithic doom-driven rhythms do combat with the vocalist’s echoing snarl, subtle keyboards occasionally provide an extra layer, and the whole package is complimented by the immense production that ties the entire performance together. Ominous interludes, sometimes mid-track, build tension, and whenever appropriate buildup has been reached, well-timed eruptions launch trudging doom into ripping hellfire before spiraling back to a horrifying crawl.
Ljosazabojstwa fundamentally call for a return to the occult, and I welcome it with open arms. If you feel that black metal loses something when it devolves into a cycle of sharp tremolo riffs and blast beats or that there’s just not enough of the haunting majesty of the ancients in the genre, this is a release for you.
Desekryptor – Chasm of Rot
Country of origin: USA
Chasm of Rot is fucking massive, and that’s the most immediate description of the release to come to mind; gigantic chugging rhythms charge relentlessly, and a massive low end drowns listeners throughout the course of the demo. The huge chords are punctuated by intense melodic leads that come and go unexpectedly, providing an extra layer to an already dense release. The percussion is powerful and driving, and the whole package is completed by deep, angry growling from frontman PA, who some readers might also recognize as being the sole musician behind Ecferus.
Catchy, memorable, brutal, and interesting, Chasm of Rot has certainly caught the ears of some death metal fans, but I think that it deserves a fair bit more attention than it’s been getting.
Ravenous Death – Ominous Deathcult
Country of origin: Mexico
A lot of modern death metal eschews the entire concept of being catchy- not all of it, certainly, but often the focus of a band is to crush, or forge a certain atmosphere at the expense of memorability, or to rage chaotically without giving much of a chance to grasp onto anything. That’s not necessarily a criticism- I adore a lot of stuff that does that- but a big reason why I love Altars of Madness and Scream Bloody Gore so much is that they’re endlessly catchy, and Ravenous Death deliver hooks and instant catchiness in a way that’s not at the forefront of death metal today.
Ominous Deathcult is a fairly varied affair that tears through five songs that range from massive crushers to fast tremolo-heavy somewhat more melodic affairs to the doom, gloom, and eeriness of the EP’s closer, but for all that the songs are different, they don’t sound random, and flow together satisfyingly throughout the duration of the 19 minute release. Enthralling tremolo melodies intertwine with big chugging rhythms, with just enough harmonization of the leads to attract attention without overusing harmony like some groups do. Influences from bands like Morbid Angel, Entombed, and even moments that remind me of Demigod are present but Ravenous Death have done a good job of forging their own sound even on their first release, and as much as it’s familiar, Ominous Death is not nostalgic, and it definitely stands on its own feet. Very much interested in seeing where Ravenous Death goes from here- the band has announced their pairing to Memento Mori for their upcoming full length, and given the quality of the music on this EP, it’s well deserved.
Chevalier – A Call To Arms
Country of origin: Finland
Good raw speed metal has been popping up more and more in the last few years, but this is certainly one of the best of the bunch that I’ve heard recently. Chevalier hearken back to many of my favorite classic USPM and international (particularly French) speed metal bands while forging their own sound entirely with big melodies, fast rhythms (with a few slower points that just make the rest of A Call To Arms hit that much harder), and a constant pounding drum beat in the background. Recorded in a rehearsal room, the “demo’s” lack of polish is stunningly charming, and makes for an interesting offset to the tightness of the entire performances, and speaks very, very deeply to my taste in heavy and speed metal.
This is a real guitarist’s album to me, with every song being chock full of tight solos that come in and out of the performance, popping up and then vanishing just as quickly, and with unexpected leads coming in and out of the rhythms constantly. Sometimes everything but the guitars drop out entirely, leaving only powerful and consciously medieval sounding leads to enrapture listeners, and every careful listen reveals new guitar parts that I missed on the previous listen. There really aren’t any choruses in the traditional sense of the word, and that’s also a cool point to me- the whole thing is a showcase of unrelenting, uncompromising prowess, a love letter to speed metal and to heavy metal that gives me the shivers. Very, very highly recommended stuff.
Fetid – Sentient Pile of Amorphous Rot
Country of origin: USA
Disgusting and lo-fi churning death metal played with the sensitivity of a caveman, Sentient Pile of Amorphous Rot rips, grooves, and chugs through four massive songs that don’t let up through the entire playtime of the demo. The band’s name, the demo’s title, and even each of the songs evokes in their names the general purpose of Fetid: to drown listeners in horror, rot, and the eternal decay of the foul, heartless grave. The riffs are pummeling, sometimes grinding, and are consistently memorable. Jumping between various takes on many of the same lurching verse riffs, tempo changes are frequent through the course of the demo, and never leave the listener time to get comfortable at any particular speed (though there’s a certain speed and style to each of the changes that is repeated throughout the demo). Ripping sections of grinding death return to constantly pummeling groovy sections, and each are regularly offset by sections of doom and gloom that hark back to the stylings of massive ancient death metal like Autopsy or Rottrevore. The low end is absolutely massive, the drumming is extremely competent, and the production is fantastic.
For the uninitiated, this band is a continuation of sorts of Of Corpse, who should naturally be checked out as well if Fetid appeals to you.
Curved Blade – Coiled Together
Country of origin: USA / Canada
Those not familiar with Curved Blade in any way apart from the music would probably be stunned to find out that the band is composed of members from various notable punk-infused and hateful black metal bands; the reason for the surprise would be because Coiled Together is a gorgeous piece of synth-filled majesty that spends far more time trying to lure listeners into a trance than trying to bash in their heads with savagery. The only thing that ties the bands associated with Curved Blade together with Curved Blade is that Coiled Together is as simple as black metal gets; as much of the 7” is slow and mesmerizing as it is faster, and the overall effect is something that I really can’t put into words. All I can say is that I listened to this probably six times in a row the first time I heard it, imported it immediately, and still can’t stop listening to it.
Ensepulcher – No Sanctity In Death
Country of origin: USA
Though I’ve slowly grown tired of the HM-2 sound, Ensepulcher are savage enough and strong enough as songwriters to kick ass anyways. A lot of the massive, hateful nature of the original Swedish death metal scene came from the punk background of their extreme metal scene, and an increasing amount of bands in recent years have attempted to replicate that to absolutely no success; Ensepulcher, consisting of Fiend (a noted Bay Area grindcore band) members, makes none of the same mistakes. Primal, filthy death metal with growls from a gutter, d-beats from the grave, precise chugging gallops and rhythms slicing through sensitive ears in a way that I really didn’t expect to hear from a band from California this year.
The songs are wonderfully short without losing any sense of completeness, raging fast like too much of the Swedish death metal revival forgets to do; even when the band slows down, they don’t lose power, and the brief slower bits serve as catchy respites that add power and memorability to the rest of the tracks. If you’re a fiend (sorry) for punky Swedish-sounding death metal assaults and are tired of failed modern attempts at recreating that sound, maybe this one can convince you that there’s still good underground HM-2 stuff coming out.
Horns & Hooves – Morbid Lust
Country of origin: USA
In some circles, Horns & Hooves is one of the more promising and highly regarded black metal bands to explode from the fertile Brooklyn scene in recent years, combining just the right amount of fiendish and mischievous evil with a solid core of potent black metal perversion to create an intensely fun, memorable, and killer listen. The wicked delight with which the vocals on tracks like “Morbid Lust” and “Cuckholded By Satan” are delivered should really sell the EP to anyone that wasn’t already convinced by the eye-capturing (to say the very least) cover art or the insane riffage contained within. The riffs are as old school as any filth-purveyor could hope to sling, and for all that the band is a two-piece with each member handling several instrumental duties, the songwriting doesn’t reflect any of the weaknesses that many smaller lineups have- the whole EP sounds as professionally done as any other black metal EP.
If you like the idea of an endlessly catchy release about the pleasures of Satanic hedonism being stuck in your head for the next week, then this is a release for you.