Live Burial – Unending Futility

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Exercises in Putridity

Emerging from the mist-shrouded tombs of England all the way back in 2012, Live Burial formed just in time for the first wave of ’90s death metal revivalism to enter full swing. An onslaught of primordial carnage dripping with filth and wrapped in otherworldy atmosphere was set upon the bloated titans of blast-worshipping and cleanly polished brutal technicality that for so long seemed unmoving and insurmountable in their grip upon the genre. Live Burial at this time were a doomier, slower kind of death metal still creeping from the coffins of their birth, but by 2016 where this corpse once dragged itself across graveyard soils, now it sprinted screaming, dripping, and hungry with a newfound tenacity and refined musicianship, taking the filth and thrash of death metal’s origins and enhancing it with arcane knowledge honed from years of practice. Quite a few at this time oddly enough advertised them as a “death-doom” band and to a minor extent the slower ringing chords, Van Drunen-esque shrieks, and weighty riffs did lend some credence to this. It also demonstrated a puzzling ignorance of the band’s rapidly shifting tempos, hyper-energetic drumming, and spiralling arrangements of berserk riffing.

Oddly enough, rather than further combat this misconception that they could be placed in the same category as Spectral Voice or Ataraxy, the terror from Newcastle upon Tyne returned 4 years later not only with improved musicianship but a sound that reined in the foaming rabies-infected mayhem of their debut with a sinister sense of deliberation and a stronger usage of the slow burn and dreadful churn of the doomier end of the ’90s. Yet one should be wary to think this cadaver shambles dumb, sluggish, and blind to its potential victims. The new Live Burial brims with all the foul reek you remember but further elaborated structures, careful use of impressive musicianship, and a sharp ear for fitting dreadful atmosphere to varied structure has turned them from catacomb dwellers to rotting behemoths that should be on the watchlist of all lovers of the damned and obscure.

The sound of this 5-piece hearkens back to the past but it’s specific enough that it doesn’t fit into many of today’s condensed over-arching sounds. The semi-hardcore leanings and chug-thuggery of the caveman and Swedish schools find little here to call their own and while it is quite doomy, the distantly grind-evolved roots of Finnish death metal and the Pacific Northwest Scene it spawned don’t fully find much similarity with their sound either. While the death/doom element is stronger, it is not a full-on eardrum-grating, stompy Asphyx clone yet it is not the sepulchral and sludgy Sabbath-ism of Cianide or Coffin nor the almost rocking Autopsy branch either. A few moments hint at a slight touch of black metal yet any semblances to the ritualism of “cavern” bands doesn’t fall very far either. In spite of all of this, it does not have the kind of alien, outsider sound we would associate with today’s dissonant or otherwise eldritch experimental acts. Yet in spite of this, their sound is not really going to be “new” on the surface to the vast majority of listeners. It is after all possible to simultaneously carry on ideas by your predecessors without simply trying to become them.

So what does Unending Futility sound like? Quite a bit of it can be traced to the genre’s thrashing roots almost like a classic US death metal band or more accurately a healthy portion of the Dutch scene, featuring rigid charging rhythms contrasted by the death-knell judgement of ghostly ringing chords, shifting and mutating over a varied series of manic blasts and carefully supportive and unobtrusively involved kit work. They do not shy away from relatively more lightweight chords used to create a foggy, haunted atmosphere and are as comfortable with that as they are jagged, bone-snapping twist-on-a-dime riffing, even displaying moments of wild soloing in a classic heavy metal vein.

All the while drumming works with subtle accenting so smooth you’ll almost miss it, marking areas of tension and suspense with low-key high-efficiency fill work before bursting into moments of explosive intensity. Most unusual is the bass playing, going beyond merely intensifying the guitar and rather weaving harmonies and melody lines of its own, sometimes taking the lead for interludes and complementing riffs with notably contrasting notation. This music might be made in the image of death metal’s embryonic, dripping beginnings but the band makes it clear with their distinct reinterpretation and augmentation of classic ideas they are far from interested in a pedestrian re-tread and the genre as a whole is stronger for it.

A look at the track lengths also suggests a change in songwriting with the album’s second half featuring three progressively lengthier epics while the album opens with a trio of 5-minute tracks. The latter of these are the more direct and visceral of the album’s 6 metal tracks (one song is a short and gorgeous acoustic/bass interlude). While they do still have moments of mournful funeral procession gloom, they’re more memorable for their rapidly shifting patterns of riffing which display the sharply improved musicianship quite clearly.

Live Burial aren’t quite as frenetic as they were on the debut, using sharper and choppier phrasing interspersed with moments of sudden tension-mounting slower riffing, and in turn they create a sound that balances varied intensity and weighty, foggy atmosphere with refreshingly visceral expertise, letting the rhythm section carry forth even through slower moments with excellent bass melodies and actively involved drumming. Like with many bands either doom-leaning or with both feet in the death/doom camp, they love to resolve these moments of pure fury by bleeding them out into these doomy portions but they avoid the oftentimes static sense of motion that results from these through their excellent musicianship. A good variety of riffing, at times explosively livid and others eerily subdued, helps narrate this voyage through these nightmare passageways as they control explicit intensity and more sparse, slower, implicit moments in a careful dialogue of energy and entropy.

By contrast the second half of the album isn’t as overt and immediately gripping. Chords ring out slowly amidst a haze of heavy, suffocating reverb while basslines frequently take the lead when it comes to shaping melody and song direction. Aggression is used in more controlled bursts, varying up broad and slowly morphing themes to break them into needling, burrowing, frenetic forms for short breaks in the steady zombie-like trudges. The resulting sound rather than stabbing one through the sternum slowly worms its way in, unveiling additional layers of harmonies and chords that slowly grow thicker and thicker like some moldy growth across the subconscious broken up by moments of nightmarish, sprinting terror.

Quite a few of the riffs they use are simple hanging chords that in many cases would turn quite tedious but they’re used as branching off points for more distinctly shaped guitar work and thankfully due to the bass guitar they end up becoming a sort of a springboard for the rest of the band to play off of. It is unsurprisingly long winded (maybe a little too much) but it has a very strong grasp of how to portray an engrossing mood while using that as a way to gradually morph it into an overarching story. While it would be a mistake to call them a proggy band, I do get the sneaking suspicion on these tracks that they’ve been thinking a lot on how to play around with the idea of agonizingly long doomed epics as there’s quite a bit more content here than just a simple reliance on pure intimidation factor and funeral weightiness.

It has been a long 4 years but Live Burial, presumably in a bid to annoy everyone who believes any slower crunchier death metal with shrieky vocals is quoting nothing but the Asphyx rulebook, has not only retained that vileness and feverish intensity of their stellar debut but also enhanced it even further than before. They might not attack with the same absurd fury that caught so many off guard but split into two parts, one that lunges and storms its way across tombstones and old bones and the other that slowly drags you into a ghoulish netherworld, they compensate with far more versatility and variety. The increased importance of drum and bass also further distinguishes them from their contemporaries, allowing both instruments to play a stronger role in spicing up songcraft or at times even subtly taking the reins. It’s a strong example of how to be a classic style band without sounding redundant, refusing to simply rest on a strong aesthetic and the beloved appeal of your inspirations. In a time when it seems the once wide horizons of the ’90s revival movement are starting to narrow and cocoon themselves, Unending Futility breathes a necromantic vitality into dried flesh and bleached bones.

4/5 latrines of long-dead kings

You can purchase the album at the Transcending Obscurity bandcamp.

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