Although the extreme metal netherworld is at any time armed to the teeth with young bands pushing the boundaries of heavy music, it is the heroic rebirth of death metal’s visionary horror which has defined the underground of late. Indeed, in 2018 we compiled a list of what we considered to be the elite of the new breed – those plugged into both the timeless songwriting suss of the scene’s nascent savagery and the sort of gutsy invention crucial to the genre’s ongoing evolution. However, the past couple of years have shown no signs of this avalanche of new-school heroes halting, so here we have gathered another clutch of gloriously gruesome, relatively recent death metallers (some that we missed first time, others fresh out of the box) enthusiastically upholding the notion that we are still living in a death metal golden age.
Although their lyrical inspirations may be a tad all over the place (leftist politics and action role-player Bloodborne, together at last), the first few seconds of Putrescine‘s debut EP tells you everything you need to know about their musical philosophy. Bursts of Stockholm-powered turbo-death and the lingering menace of Tampa Bay’s glory years collide for an overtly traditional yet uniquely exhilarating twenty-one minutes which, if proof be needed, hammers home the timeless thrill of death metal stripped back to its acid-damaged fundamentals. Fans of Carcass, Dismember and Bolt Thrower should of course be all over this, and although The One Reborn dropped as recently as October last year, the prospect of a full-length will already have underground devotees salivating over their From Beyond first press.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from our inaugural list, it is easy to forget that Disentomb are barely a decade into their constantly mutating career, already feeling like a consistent and reliable force and offering an all too rare glimpse into why brutal death metal (or “slam” if you will) is, in some cases, not as hopelessly one-dimensional as we may assume. 2019’s The Decaying Light is a flat-out masterpiece, tapping into an almost avant-garde sense of ‘the other’ normally reserved for black metal’s outer reaches or doom’s alien fringes. A backbone of tech-death is twisted into perverse and absurd new shapes to incorporate the lop-sided grotesquery of ‘Invocation In The Cathedral Of Dust’ or the frankly terrifying ‘Your Prayers Echo Into Nothingness’. This Australian quintet are not only the connoisseur’s choice for soul-devouring savagery, but proof positive that, in the right hands, the brutal death blueprint is just as ripe for mangling as any other subgenre we could name. In the end, cynicism is easy. Making albums as good as The Decaying Light patently is not.
As much as the recent tsunami of high-grade death metal is typified by a combination of first-wave magic and fearless cross-pollination, Vitriol’s churning, bloodthirsty onslaught is so wilfully fucked up and violent, it sounds less the work of mere humans and more something invoked from a freshly unearthed grimoire. This is nightmare fuel of the very highest order, eyebrows deep in crazed tempo shifts and emanating the dissonant strangeness of black metal. Whilst last year’s To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice may occasionally doff it’s cap to Immolation, Cryptopsy and Ulcerate, these tracks are a million miles away from the usual death metal formula (but still propelled by the same desire to consume you whole). Just check out ‘I Drown Nightly’, as the band reach their unhinged zenith with a landslide of nail-bomb riffing and some braying, squealing guitar leads evil enough to conjure mental images of Trey Azagthoth and Kerry King duking it out amid a meth binge.
Establishing their resolutely old-school approach with 2015’s Diabolus Vobiscum EP, Pennsylvania quintet Outer Heaven oozed promised. However, even the most optimistic of underground aficionados would not have foreseen the enormous leap in quality that is Realms Of Eternal Decay. Indeed, for a debut full-length it’s startlingly assured stuff, the likes of ‘Pulsating Swarm’ veering between punch drunk d-beat and pitiless blasting with all the aplomb of a ritual disembowelling. For those unwilling to look beyond the band’s defiantly traditional filth, faint glimpses of melodic death metal (‘Decaying Realms’), scabrous grind (‘Tortured Winds’) and even (whisper it) the stomp ‘n’ groove of beatdown hardcore are there to be missed, although few could turn a deaf hear to ‘Multicellular Savagery’, the record reaching its terrifying peak with a claw-hammer barrage and taking a brief detour into an atmospheric netherworld which, with any luck, may hint at an exciting new avenue for Outer Heaven to further explore. This band celebrate the eternal, demonic power of the genre’s spirit better than most.
Cerebral Rot make no bones about their musical and spiritual doctrine. This is a frothing, snorting eruption of unhallowed noise, staked somewhere between Autopsy‘s pioneering doomdeath and the schlocky atmospheric underpinnings of Convulse. It is delivered as a spike to the heart of those who might try to drag death metal forward, and away from the well of Satanic horror that once defined the metal underground. Indeed, last year’s Odious Descent Into Decay sounds more like the work of battle-scarred veterans than a debut full-length, the gloriously grotesque ‘Primordial Soup Of Radioactive Sewage’ and ‘Repulsive Infestation Of Cadaver’ splurging mid-paced gems which barrel along on a bedrock of brutal simplicity, a focus on hooks and atmosphere making for a deceptively catchy collection of tracks which dial back the tempo for maximum heaviosity, and ensure that when they do take flight into the blastosphere (‘Swamped In Festering Extrementia’), it hits home with a jackhammer impact. Gruesomely satisfying.
Harnessing the power of death metal’s purest form whilst simultaneously plugging into the multi-layered approach of the modern underground, Witch Vomit may owe a hell of a lot to Autopsy and Left Hand Path–era Entombed on first listen, yet just like any other like-minded band of their generation, the Oregon four-piece are still testament to 25 years of death metal evolution. Sophomore record Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave offers as much in the way of blackened other-worldliness as it does in muscularity and spite. Everything is resolutely death metal in conception and delivery, a riot of unpleasant ideas with snatches of harrowing doom and vintage Heartwork–like melody routinely shattering the stasis. There are no gimmicks, no Portal-esque inky fug or hyper-technical flash – Witch Vomit are instead simply content with tossing their myriad of influences, old and new, into a roiling cauldron and spewing the resulting brew down our lug ‘oles.
As confirmed with considerable fury on 2018’s Specter Of War EP, Creeping Death are zealous advocates of Swedish death metal’s legendary buzz-saw bluster, something that could be said about countless HM-2 devotees the world over. However, what the band have also mastered on their debut full-length Wretched Illusions is a ruthlessly direct songwriting approach that informed the seminal likes of Grave and early Sepultura, all underpinned by an extra nitro-boost of high-velocity thrash and double dipped in subterranean terror. From the hardcore-tinged bellicosity of ‘World Decay’ and the ferocious nose-flattening rampage of ‘Peeled From Reality’, the whole heat-blasted shebang is delivered with unnerving levels of aggression, and, from what we can only imagine given the joyously ‘come and have a go if you think your metal enough’ approach of Wretched Illusions, a big shit-eating grin on the Texan’s faces.
Impressing across the board with the unhallowed onslaught of their debut LP Animus and their bone-pulverising onstage power, Venom Prison always looked to be something beyond their underground peers, steering new fans towards the delights of blood-caked extremity whilst gleefully stoving in the patriarchal skull of death metal’s traditionally misogynistic underbelly. They were rightly labelled as “the next big thing”, yet Venom Prison could not sound any less interested in crossover success, their remarkable sophomore effort Samsara attacking like the aural equivalent of a spree killer plunging their rusty scissors into every exposed throat within reach. The quintet eschew any contemporary sheen and modern polish, instead opting for an unhinged, stomach-churning sonic ethos that owes more to Dying Fetus or Suffocation than any of the overly-precise new-breed, delving into the scabby, pulsating heart of death metal’s immortal essence and carving their name into its beating flesh. Never anything less than eye-poppingly intense, Venom Prison reek of bloody violence and iron-clad self-belief, and it’s absurdly exciting.
Blending pinpoint tech-death freewheeling, refined songwriting chops and touches of shrew progressive ingenuity, Turkey’s Burial Invocation may have been around for over a decade now, but the emergence of their debut full-length Abiogenesis in 2018 brings to the table yet another essential deathly delight. As with the majority of their peers, the band are well versed in plundering past glories, yet maintain a steely core of modern vitality and fresh ideas. And so, whilst they may employ the lobotomised slam grooves of Suffocation and plenty of Death‘s latter-day melodic flair, some subtle shades of black metal weirdness balance out the otherwise stridently sprawling assault. Elsewhere, a twelve-minute-plus title-track introduces some Slayer-esque hellfire and slow-motion horror alongside its sublime guitar histrionics, and ‘Tenebrous Horizons’ closes the record on a sort of mutant acoustic/classical string section hybrid that is tailor made to jangle nerves and trouble dreams. This is death metal of the very highest calibre.
To say that Ossuarium have a recognisable sound would be slightly misleading, because despite rarely taking the rev-counter beyond mid-pace, their crippling, slow motion tank crawl showcases something that bit more highly evolved than a simple tribute to death-doom’s established churn. Indeed, whilst their debut LP (2019’s fantastic Living Tomb) does instantly recall the early slug-trail thunder of Finnish masters Sentenced and Convulse (not to mention the timeless pummeling of Aussie pioneers dISEMBOWELMENt and the grim melancholy of the Peaceville Three), the disorientating texture and tone of black metal and a deliciously progged out, subtlety kaleidoscopic intent offers a wickedly immersive take on the subgenre’s snail-pace sludge, with plenty of unnerving things going on in the background that honour a host of metal’s often feuding factions without ever losing that subterranean bottom end.
Of Feather And Bone
With the best death metal bands you can just feel it, and although Of Feather and Bone‘s hateful blizzard of noise may draw comparisons to the ultra-influential likes of Incantation and Mortician, this stuff still transports us to a unique world of crime-scene Polaroids and bloody hand prints that underground diehards will instantly embrace. Indeed, despite hailing from Denver, Colorado, there is a distinctly New York-flavoured darkness here, the band’s stripped down, three-piece format ensuring that everything tears with a primitive intent and skull-shattering nastiness. If you need your sonic extremity bold and progressive look elsewhere; this is death metal that eschews any notion of melody and the cross-pollination of genres, and is never anything less than indecently brutal, hurling crippling riffs and channelling a Cocytusain river of molten-hate into their own singular vat of bowel-loosening monsterousness.
Formed in 2013, there is an argument to be made that rampaging Croydonites Abhorrent Decimation are either the UK’s best kept underground secret, or just bewilderingly overlooked in death metal circles. The quintet nimbly straddle the often-tricky divide between state-of-the-art extremity and the ancient principles of atmosphere and straightforward songwriting, knowing exactly when and how to bend the rules yet harking back to a time when memorable hooks were fundamental. Debut record Miasmic Mutation was a groove-driven, shrewdly accessible dose of death metal supremacy, yet 2017’s The Pardoner is genuinely even better, with as many shades of piano and string-led grandeur as the thunderous filth of the old school. Abhorrent Decimation plant one foot firmly in the 21st Century whilst fully embracing the timeless familiarity of the past, are both sinew-wrenchingly brutal and deftly sophisticated, and deserve more eyes on them.
Clearly students of the Cali/Floridian heyday, Superstition‘s infernal blitzkrieg of serrated-edge death is old school to the bone. This is refined violence straight out of the Possessed and Morbid Angel playbook, lethally to-the-point cuts of sonic bloodshed spiking us in the gut via some Slayer-saluting discord and the vicious, flailing fury of early Entombed taking us on some occasional swedeath detours. Superstition make no attempts to reinvent the wheel, but they nail the basics with a steely-eyed zeal, dizzying successions of riffs and the virulent stench of evil billowing from every tempo shift and dynamic turn. Evangelically death metal in every department.
Yet another acquisition of the scene’s ultimate taste makers 20 Buck Spin, Vastum’s largely mid-paced strain of stomping fury could easily come across on paper as another groove-powered retread of time-honoured ideas. The reality however is a death metal band who embrace a sort of gothic disquiet and dark versatility. The Bay Area five piece usher in a freshness of sound on their latest LP Orificial Purge with innumerable tweaks and a idiosyncratic formula, coming across like Megadeth with rabies one minute, Rippikoulu’s cataclysmic doom-thud the next, before evoking the dual vocal spew of Carcass and tossing in a touch of ceremonial weirdness via some Gregorian chanting and lingering atmospherics. As with the best of extreme metal’s modern heroes, Vastum know how to play to new strengths as well as old.
For more, click here to check out our piece on the Chilean death metal scene.
Words: Tony Bliss