Review: Exhumed – To the Dead
Like Mr. Morrison said, it’s the Return of the Bork. I’m back from the dead with an inbox bursting with promos. Where better to start than with some sick new death metal?
Exhumed started back in the heady early ’90s as a Carcass-worshiping deathgrind act, eventually settling into a more straight death metal style. After taking a hiatus from 2005 to 2010, they’ve been back in the trenches making yeoman’s death metal for over a decade now. Their newest album, To the Dead, out today through Relapse Records, represents less a leap forward than a steady progression for this San Jose institution.
Put simply, Exhumed know what they’re about and waste no time doing it. To the Dead is a brisk, Bork-approved 39 minute ride through expertly written and performed death metal. If you’re a huge Gore Metal fan, you’ll still be disappointed—there really isn’t any deathgrind left on the bone at this point. Instead, Exhumed continue to exemplify pure death metal. If you looked death metal in the dictionary, these boys would be smiling out at you from the page, viscera dangling from their teeth or whatever.
If you’re familiar with Exhumed’s other albums or death metal in general (if you’re reading this, you either are or got horribly lost online), To the Dead won’t prove particularly surprising. Matt Harvey and Co. still write breaks where everything drops out but the bass like nobody’s business. Hell, there’s a great example of exactly that not a minute into the opener, “Putrescine and Cadaverine.” To me, that exemplifies this album. These boys know that they have the goods and they’re excited to share them with you right off the bat. What the fuck is subtlety anyway?
A decent question is how To the Dead differentiates itself from the band’s other albums. There are fewer flashes of melody than on, say, 2013’s Necrocacy (although single “Drained of Color” features an incredibly tasty melodic solo), but To the Dead loses nothing by its vicious urgency. Otherwise, having given their post-2010 albums a spin to compare, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to differentiate To the Dead from the four albums that came before it. Personally, I’d call To the Dead one of the strongest of those four, right up there with 2011’s All Guts, No Glory. Whether plowing ahead under full steam as on “Carbonized” or taking a more measured, mid-tempo approach on much of massive closer “Disgusted,” Exhumed move from strength to strength on this album.
While Exhumed’s discography isn’t notable for horrible production, To the Dead nonetheless sounds better than their other albums to my ears. Ross Sewage’s bass has the perfect amount of distortion, simultaneously creating a clear low-end and the feeling that you need to clean your ears. Harvey and Sebastian Phillips’ guitars are sharper than on Exhumed’s other recent albums, slicing through the mix in a way that I didn’t previously realize was lacking. The difference is subtle, but I prefer To the Dead’s sharper, more piercing guitar tone than the more heavily reverbed, perhaps more OSDM tone that prevailed on 2017’s Death Revenge, for example.
If To the Dead proves anything, it’s that the fundamentals matter. Well-constructed songs matter. Good production matters. Good performances matter. Judging by the results, Exhumed realized this, went into the studio and put in the work. The results speak for themselves.
If there’s one downside here, it’s that this is the style of death metal that’s most difficult to write about intelligently. It would be incredibly easy just to write “It rips/whips/slays/brutalizes,” award some toilets, and go home. But this isn’t tech death, or blackened death, or wwha thav you. While some elements border on thrash, To the Dead is built out of pure death metal. Exhumed have stayed in this lane for the better part of 20 years now, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Nobody will ever conclusively solve the innovation versus consistency debate, and I’m not sure that I have a cogent answer to it. That said, there has to be room for a band that gives the people what they want. What people want from Exhumed is a tight death metal record.
So here’s the takeaway, folks: If you like Exhumed, or if you just like death metal in general, you will like this album. Go listen to the fucking thing already and leave me alone.