Engulfed – Vengeance of the Fallen

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Episode III: The Riffs Strike Back

Turkish death metal warlord Mustafa Gürcalioğlu (definitely didn’t copy-paste that) is quickly becoming one of the most accomplished riff-sorcerers across the cadaver-strewn fields of the death metal genre. With Decaying Purity he forged a distinct brutal death metal sound that hearkened back to its ’90s roots yet did so sounding fresher than far more modern fare. Elsewhere in the multinational group Hyperdontia he travelled to the roots of the primarily American classic sound and demonstrated alongside Mathias Friborg of Sulphurous and Taphos an eye for some of the most smoothly unfolding, subtly foreboding riffing in recent years.

One project of his has gotten notably less attention—the blackened death metal act Engulfed. While they had been around for when the OSDM movement was first exploding, releasing the 4-song Engulfed in Obscurity EP in 2012 and then a fairly well received debut, Engulfed in Obscurity, in 2017, they never seemed to become as well-regarded as one would have thought. Their combination of distinctly late 2000’s to early 2010’s black metal-tinged atmosphere with post-Incantation/Morbid Angel style riffing was in the right place at the right time but perhaps the genre was too crowded even for their talents. As the world slowed to a virus-induced crawl in 2020, taking even the already disease-ridden death metal genre for the ride, Engulfed has reared its head again this time with another 4-song EP, upping the ante in intensity and ambition just as Mustafa had with his other projects.

Engulfed’s sound has been compared to Dead Congregation before and it’s not hard to find the similarities between them. Calling them a clone however is somewhat inaccurate as where Dead Congregation has meticulous song construction and carefully festered atmosphere, this Turkish terror-trio had a ravenous barbarity to their assault eclipsing stylistic compatriots such as Cruciamentum, Vacivus, Necroven, and even the mighty Greeks that so inspired them. Combined with an HM2 buzzsaw sound on Engulfed in Desolation, it was clear sheer impact was their strongest factor though at times the songs did not quite feel fleshed out enough to justify their length or otherwise carry that savagery for prolonged periods.

Vengeance of the Fallen thankfully addresses this, trading in the Swedeath buzz for a fleshier, clearer tone that helps to illuminate not only a stronger grasp of structure but also a far more putrid atmosphere to accompany it. Whereas they previously ran on sheer bloodlust, the new Engulfed has a newfound meticulousness, juggling a wider array of tempos utilizing a stronger grasp on melody. This in turn leads to a stronger contrast between riffing and songwriting, still capable of moments of gale-force destruction tempered by moments where they rein the aggression in so the wormier, creeping aspects of the band can move to the forefront. All of this grants drummer Aberrant more room to work in compact fills and cymbal hits. He doesn’t absolutely dominate the kit or the instrumentation, but his increased presence adds moments of sudden, skittering tension that only further elaborate on the visceral intent.

The largest and most important upgrade however comes in the form of the way these songs are written and structured. Armed with far-improved musicianship, they match it with songs that twist, slither, stalk, and charge in a smorgasbord of variety in violence. Single-string melodic riffs serve as waypoints and markers throughout a song’s length while beefier lower-register notation swirls feverishly around the trails delineated by shape and phrasing. Gradual variation in tempo and phrasing brings momentary dips in frenzied action and energy, allowing melodies to be reshaped and recontextualized and with it the rhythms that follow.

Fairly simple harmonies between both capitalize on the interplay, bringing in particularly emphatic moments of triumphant power as both threads of focus unite for the EP’s most forceful moments. Assisting them are mournful semi-discordant solos that emerge to establish thematic climaxes, appearing just when it seems they might get complacent if only to ride the waves of teeming and virulent activity and crash against the faintest suspicion of mellowing out. While it’s not outright shreddy, being vaguely in a more expressionist style with relatively more strain and bendy phrasing used than a more melodic shreddy type, their balance of seemingly off-key wailing and tortured melody encapsulates well the kind of morose, ominous atmosphere at home in this kind of death metal.

It’s similar to Sadistic Intent in a sense though they do not get quite as showy as those Americans but follow the same idea of emphasizing atmosphere over virtuosity. In some senses the songwriting does feel a bit closer to both recent Hyperdontia and Decaying Purity not so much in style as but how much busier the songwriting is, matching or even outstripping the others on occasion in terms of how well they juggle all these thematic threads.

Demonstrating clearly that neither he nor any of his other bands ever grow comfortable with simply being ahead of the pack, Mustafa and the rest of Engulfed double down on all of their strengths to better realize their ambitions. Whereas their prior material, for all its commendable hellishness, was still held back by somewhat unwieldy songwriting, Vengeance of the Fallen demonstrates a mastery of not only placement and forging of deathly technique but a great skill in fitting together a great deal of moving parts in an impressively organic, kinetic manner. The only real shortcoming is that they do insist on having fadeout endings on two tracks, “Rites Abandoned Heretics” and “Scorched”, which while not crippling does clash with the carefully paced approach to composition.

There is not a single riff found weak or not up to the task but the endings of both songs do feel as if they come dangerously close to overstaying their welcome. This is especially so when the two other tracks on the album end very sharply and abruptly but with just as much if not more power and confidence. Nonetheless this is not a step but a bound towards blackened death supremacy for Engulfed, putting them miles ahead of the grand majority of the classic/blackened styled death metal mob. At a compact 25 minutes, this is an excellent late 2020 appetizer, a prelude to a hopefully even stronger sophomore album. Hail to Mustafa and his refusal to not stop increasing the calibre of his death metal arsenal.

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