Sepulkrustacean’s Catacomb Ventures: Five Skin-Crawling Oddities from the Underground
Some say there’s little in metal that’s truly obscure nowadays thanks to the internet, filesharing, youtube, cultural marxist Lizard People from Nairobi and so on. To an extent this is true; even the “underground” bands most of us turn our eyes to tend to represent slimmer portions of the iceberg than we might expect. Yet for every Timeghoul and Mortuary Drape there are countless others, equally as creative and talented, who still pass under the radar due to the fact there is simply too much music to actively analyze and experience at once. In my Catacomb Ventures, I hope to draw attention to hidden gems, forgotten experiments, and alternate conceptions of genre and subgenre that passed on the ears and eyes of most. Welcome to the Crypt.
Necrodeath – Into the Macabre (1987, Nightmare Productions)
Released the same year as Sarcofago’s landmark monument to antichristian extremity, I.N.R.I., Necrodeath’s debut bears many similarities as an unholy warhorde made of the most savage parts of thrash metal and the earliest strains of death and black mutating out of them. However they differ considerably from the Italians’ more prominent Kreator/Sodom/Destruction inspired flesh flaying riffage and semi comprehensible snarling that passes for vocals, but even more importantly is their approach to structure. In a way reminiscent of classic Morbid Angel, they pair two sets of savage riffing against one another, letting them eviscerate one another in a few short cycles before the mutual battle damage destroys both. In the wake of this devastation, a longer series of riffs emerges to elaborate upon the works of their predecessors, introducing more variety in tempo and dynamics as they explain then violently conclude with a deathlike finality. For the standards of its time, this is quite ambitious; the band had a better grasp on balancing its raw energy and intensity levels than the average Nuclear War Now! band, though its crackly, trebly production even on F.O.A.D. Record’s 2012 remaster may be too much for some. However those looking to see how death and black metal managed to separate themselves from their thrash roots, even while retaining the technique, will find this album insightful for the conditions of the late 80’s and why it was such a fertile breeding ground for the genre.
Conscious Rot – The Soil (1994, Fight Zone)
A personal favourite of mine as far as demos and EP’s go, nearing classic Timeghoul in ambition and execution. These Lithuanians started off playing hammerheaded deathgrind with a dark Finnish style vibe but here they turned into a fusion of Suffocation/Monstrosity/Infester style rhythmic bludgeoning, labyrinthine song structure, and technical coordination with the death knell doom dirges, arching tremolo leads, and interwoven melodic sensibility comparable to groups like early Sentenced, Carnage, and Iniquity (whose later material they bear an eerie resemblance to). The end result is chaotic and viscerally percussive like an early brutal death band, focused on weirdly winding structures and eldritch riff configurations, but beneath that a sense of narrative gradually rises with more consonant tremolo texturing, frequently detouring into sections of gutwrenching doom or even kickhappy, somewhat hardcore inspired sections that help balance out the intensity. There are a few odd moments here that almost bring to mind say, Demilich or maybe even something like Embrionic Devourment on Stream of Solidarity (1993) but these are more implicit than wildly overt. You can hear and purchase all seven songs plus the entire Congenital Passivity (1993) demo via the Bandcamp link below.
Umbra Nihil – The Borderland Rituals (2008, Epidemie Records)
An old contact of mine once described this band as a more genuine version of Opeth many years ago, but personally I find this sells this simply bewildering band short. Avant-garde would be an appropriate prefix to slap ono this kind of doom metal, but this is far from Unexpect or Diablo Swing Orchestra, sidestepping the usual “juxtapose random genre y onto mish-mash of metal styles z” approach for something closer to King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator released from a run-down mental asylum after a decade or so and then force fed Reverend Bizarre and Black Sabbath. Each song starts with deceptively simple but quietly unsettling themes; riffs played purposefully off key, quasi melodies that loom menacingly over staggering zombie-like chords, and theatrical semi singing just barely in tune with the rest of the song, often sounding like they’re singing underwater. It all sounds incredibly “wrong” initially, but songs gradually fold around and explore multiple angles and variants of core ideas, letting tension and discomfort mount as they gradually warp into strange and alien landscapes, wherein the listener realizes this is the part when the faceless eldritch wraith monsters dismember them with anti-matter crab pincers or something. This musical language of raw discordance avoids becoming the gimmick by being the vessel that explains each track rather than the centre of attention, resulting in doom metal that’s structurally thorough in a way typically reserved for death or black metal yet every bit as disturbing as Demilich or later day Gorguts.
Melektaus – Nexus for Continual Genesis (2012, Australis Records)
Dissonance is cool and all, and yes you should be salivating on your favourite Ulcerate and Abyssal albums at least five times a month, etc. etc., but I feel many of us miss out on the possibilities of melody. Brutal death has benefitted quite heavily from implementing Immolation and Gorguts influence in recent years as bands like Castrensis and Defilementory have shown, but Melektaus’ sophomore makes it clear consonance is equally valid. Best described as “old school brutal death”, this lives up to the moniker, less due to sounding like Deicide and Suffocation but rather the placing the most malevolent sorceries of groups like Morbid Angel and Shub Niggurath (Mexico) in a reasonably technical, high speed package. While they have a dry and very crunchy production job, the band use it to highlight various immediately striking melodic patterns across a variety of riff archetypes, from choppy chunk-and-crunch motions to racing tremolo leads that almost sound like earlier Finnish death metal set at the speed of Cryptopsy. Clarity is the goal here with a focus on clearly phrased riffs in structures that, while complex, are not convolutedly so and know when to streamline to better let storming melodies manifest and soar. In a way this is brutal death metal for old school death fans who’ve long since turned backwards baseball cap slambro fare and spastic scatterbrained blasturbation into a running gag and those who believe melody and raw extremity are not enemies but allies.
Henosis – Unleash the Ophidian Essence from the Reverse of Creation (2016, Apocalyptic Productions)
Sure nuclearapocalypticgasmaskedgoatsodomy or “war” metal is a common topic of discussion and for many is the face of the grimier pre-Norse/Swedish styles of black metal, but the genre had quite a few alternate forms that predate or coexisted with the usual Mayhem/Emperor/Dissection/Marduk fare. Italy’s Henosis will likely be compared to classic Mystifier in their broad strokes of doomy power chords and stripped down tremolo patterns that churn in repetitive hypnotic patterns, but they differ in their usage of eerie lead guitar to vary up harmony and longer, semi-narrative song layout working in layers of sweeping, tidal momentum. At least on the newer songs, two eight minute ones and an 11 minute monster, which feature considerably more variety in tempo and riff shapes, whereas the three that return from 2014’s Apotheosis Pulsio CLVI EP violently bash their way through layers of NWN warbro pleasing madness into simple but feral and satisfyingly climaxes. In other words, the issue with this album is that while all the tracks are strong, the older ones simply don’t compare very well to just how substantially improved the newer ones are. It’s not a crippling flaw by any means but like with Chthe’ilist’s Le Dernier Crépuscule it does make the album a bit inconsistent quality wise, almost like a compilation of excellent newer tracks and shakier older ones with an enhanced production job. Still worth your time if you prefer your black metal to be less snow covered forests and co-opted orthodox Christianity and more ancient catacomb rituals and first edition Mortuary Drape LP’s.
Many thanks to SEPULKRUSTACEAN for this wonderful guest list. I’ve been a fan of Umbra Nihil and Henosis for some time now, but Melektaus is new to me and tickles my grundle in a very satisfying manner. What’s doing it for you, citizens? – W.
(Cover Photo VIA Zdzisław Beksiński)