As a country home to the second most active volcanoes in the world, the driest place on earth and the oldest mummy on the planet, Chile is pretty fucking metal right off the bat. It’s a shame, then, that its vibrant extreme metal scene has been somewhat overlooked by us here in the UK for some time. As much as we like to boast about metal’s global impact, the metal press, and in turn the genre’s fans, can be somewhat blind to scenes popping up abroad.
The Chilean scene, like any other in 2020, boasts styles across the heavy music spectrum, but its defining sound right now is that of death metal. To say this, though, still does the scene a disservice, as even if we limit the scene to this one subgenre, the range of approaches on display, from technically complex prog-death to crust punk-infused savagery, is still staggering. If you’re unconvinced, let us prove it to you, as we take a dive into this hotbed for subterranean malformations and hellish brutality to unpack the wealth of creativity on display.
Though the country has a storied history of extreme metal, even tracing back to the ‘80s during the Pinochet dictatorship, this list should give you the briefest of introductions to the contemporary Chilean death metal scene.
One of few Chilean bands to attain notable recognition outside of their home country, Torturer (initially formed as Torture) began back in 1989 and are still going strong to this day. Their latest record, Conjuro IV, is an impressive bout of death-thrash, but trace back to their releases in the early ‘90s and you’ll find even more impressive offerings. 1992’s Oppressed By The Force is an important album in the Chilean death metal scene’s progression, with gut-punching dynamic leaps that stretch out to ensnare the listener like the tentacled limbs of some unworldly creature before hoarse vocals drag things back into the doom and gloom of reality.
This duo, who have between them featured in the likes of Inanna, Trimegisto, Death Smell, Perpetuum and Sol Sistere, dropped their debut album Ceased To Be just last month after several promising EPs, splits and demos over the past few years. Admittedly, if you’re seeking innovation you’re better off looking elsewhere, but there’s nothing wrong with playing the music you love to an established audience, especially when you’re this fucking good at it. From start to finish, Ceased To Be is classic old-school brutality aglow with weighty riffage and delectable distorted solos. Plus, in the slower moments, hints of death-doom can be found here too.
The sound spewed forth by this Talca-based horde is one of sheer brutality, but crucially not one of monotony. The band’s sound is ever shifting, striving for new forms of extremity and seldom coming up short in its search. There’s shades of everything from doom to grind to be found amongst the noise here, but the band’s feet are planted firmly in OSDM for the most part, with churning grooves that seem to dig deeper and deeper into your psyche as they go. This is dense, chaotic and ridiculously fun stuff.
The dense and malicious atmosphere concocted by Santiago’s Dominus Xul is truly gripping, and their cavernous sound, demonic riffing and love for a doomy atmosphere makes for one hell of an experience. The band’s first release came more than two decades ago now, clearly inspired by a then at the top of their game Incantation, but they split-up after the death of vocalist Danny Grave in 2000. Ten years later, however, the band returned with guitarist Claudio Salinas taking over vocal duties, and subsequently released the magnificent The Glory Of The Ancient Ones in 2011.
A band closely aligned with Dominus Xul and formed in 2001 soon after that band’s then indefinite hiatus, Melektaus retain the same proclivity for malevolent auras, but prefer a more direct strain of death metal that’s first and foremost fast and technical. Their tracks frequently launch out of the gate, steamrolling everything in their path as they barrel forwards with unstoppable momentum. Their latest full-length dropped at the tail-end of 2019 and showed no signs of the band’s power waning, its dizzying tempos and gloriously sick tone serving up 36 minutes of utterly barbaric death metal delights.
If you’re here hoping to find something unhinged and chasmic, you’re in luck. Infamavs’ sound is gloriously guttural, with old-school leads soaring over gloomy Portalisms and relentless percussion. The Coquimbo-based band’s cavernous take on the genre is less formless than you may expect, and yet remains suitably cacophonous throughout, with the raging onslaught often whizzing by in a swirling maelstrom of blastbeats and full-throttle riffage. Think early Incantation with less prominent doomy sections and you’ll have some idea of what to expect.
Probably the oldest band on this list, Death Yell can trace their history right back to 1986, and have the claim to fame of having released a split with Finnish legends Beherit back in ‘91. Unfortunately, though, they spent the next 21 years broken up, and it took until 2017 for their debut album to see the light of day. Despite coming out just a few years back, though, the record is very much a blast from the past, skirting the line between first-wave black metal and straight-up death metal. It may be several decades too late, but it’s still a ton of fun.
This venomous ensemble are as much thrash as they are death (perhaps more so), with sleek production that lends itself more towards the former than the latter. With that said, however, the band’s music boasts a hefty weight, with guttural growls and some hellish riffing drawn straight from death metal. Things are kept pretty simple throughout 2015 debut Perdify, which makes for an irresistibly catchy release full of infectious chugging riffs and some delectable solos, whilst some tight drumming confidently holds the release together.
With lyrics that seem to operate in a middle ground between personal turmoil and otherworldly science fiction, Ripper’s sound is a fierce mashup of death metal and balls-to-the-wall thrash, as if you’d caught Sepultura halfway between Schizophrenia and Beneath The Remains, only with a tech-death element adding an extra level of dynamism. Their latest EP, Sensory Stagnation, was released in Autumn 2019 and is an impressive display of their skills, but for their best work you’ll want to seek out 2016’s Experiment Of Existence. The album jumps out of the gate with such power that you’ll be in awe a mere few tracks in.
This quartet are easily one of the most impressive outfits currently operating out of Chile, with a sound that touches on prog-death without ever foraying so far as to abandon the savage core of their malevolent sound – imagine Opeth if Mikael Åkerfeldt wasn’t quite as obsessed with prog. Relentless, technically proficient percussion keeps things rolling along but it is the dynamic guitars that stand out here, mimicking greats like Immolation, Death, Atheist and early Cynic whilst simultaneously carving out a niche that’s all their own.
This outfit naming the opening track to their debut album ‘Crystal Palace’ is pretty hilarious if you’re a follower of the English Premier League (perhaps the band are fans, who knows?) but musically they are no laughing matter. The Temuco-based outfit have been around for a decade now, and released their first full-length Abstraction in 2018. It’s a blistering album full of stunning musicianship and, as scorching solos leap out from nowhere and tempos shift at the drop of a dime, the band’s ability to surprise makes for a thrilling experience.
This Santiago-based outfit’s legacy is even longer than their name, stretching back to 1997 when they initially formed under the less demanding moniker Swarm. Their recent output, though, is just as impressive as their early work. Unaussprechlichen Kulten’s sound is thick and barbaric, bolstered by muddy production that helps the tracks grind forward like rusted machinery splattered with blood and matted hair. The band’s dense, dissonant sound also plays host to an understated hallucinogenic element that’s certainly befitting their Lovecraftian name as well as their mysticism and witchcraft-obsessed lyrics.
Though this quintet formed back in 2012 and unleashed an impressive demo that same year, their full debut EP didn’t see the light of day until November 2019. If you’re wondering what the hell the band were doing during that time, the answer can be found by looking into some of the member’s other projects (a few of which feature elsewhere on this list) but the wait was ultimately worth it. Repugnant Remains’ crusty death metal is initially reminiscent of early d-beat as the riffs gallop forwards with a punky intensity, but things quickly evolve into more grotesque malformations.
As a band who opt for something a bit more out-there, tracing Cenotafio’s progression since their first release five years ago tells the intriguing story of a group refining their grand ambitions into a sound that’s truly staggering. The duo don’t do things by halves, their compositions frequently extending well beyond the ten-minute mark and often finding justification for doing so. Throughout their blackened blasts of death metal mayhem, the band are as concerned with building an atmosphere as they are crafting an onslaught of thrilling riffs, and often manage to do both at once. Latest record Larvae Tedeum Teratos is the most complete realisation of their bold sound, building on the already impressive La Fatídica Excrecencia De La Subtierra with aplomb.
There’s something refreshing about Atomic Aggressor’s simplified approach to the death metal genre. The quartet’s no-frills approach doesn’t rely on bold atmospherics or sweeping displays of technical proficiency, it gives you exactly what you want when you’re craving straight-up death metal, executed with immense quality. Their early demos from the ‘90s are well worth your time, making 2008 compilation Rise Of The Ancient Ones an absolute must, but 2015’s Sights Of Suffering boasts sleeker production if that’s more your thing.
Any arguments about the respective merits of black and death metal are made especially redundant when you realise just how exciting the potential is when these two styles team up for one single audial assault. In the case of Exanimatvm, the Punta Arenas band’s strain of death is frighteningly dark, aglow with bestial black metal influences that drag the music into the very depths of sonic depravity. Check out the band’s 2016 full-length debut Dispersae Et Tormentvm for a dive into their sinister world.
This list is primarily about cataloguing the current Chilean death metal scene, but sometimes all you want from your death metal is fucking savagery, and Death Smell’s debut demo is the place to go for exactly that. The promise shown on The Gift Of Blasphemy (their only release, unless you count a split featuring the exact same set of tracks) makes it all the more sad that the band disbanded in the latter stages of 2009, but we’ll always have this vicious demo to return to, and when a release is this enjoyable, perhaps that’s all we need. Thankfully, what you will elsewhere find on this list is some of the band member’s other projects.
Though they’re yet to drop a full-length effort, Horrifying have fast become one of Chile’s hottest prospects. The band’s 2017 EP, Impure Ways Beyond Shadows, is easily one of the most intense releases to be found on this list, boasting a frighteningly raw and scathingly brutal approach that delights in a remorselessly frenzied sound. It’s worth diving through the entirety of their relatively short back catalogue though, as their demos (as well their split with Excoriate) are equally punishing, shot through with technical proficiency and malevolent dissonance.
Finding a grotesque middle ground between blunt-force ferocity and an almost formless strain of textural mysticism shot through with cavernous barbarity, Wrathprayer’s sound is bolstered by a vast yet bleak atmosphere, though the songs themselves are always powered first and foremost by rampaging riffs and inventive percussion. For UK listeners, the closest comparison is probably scene favourites Grave Miasma, but there’s also something blackened lurking here, dragging the group’s music even further into the Luciferian abyss.
Chile also has a wealth of black, thrash and doom metal acts, amongst others. Do some digging and let us know if you find anything cool! In the meantime, why not click here to check out our piece on Finnish death metal?
Words: George Parr