Amongst connoisseurs of extreme metal, Finnish death metal is considered a rarefied vintage. Even in the earliest days of the genre, the scene in Finland was already forming a distinctive sound which set it apart from both the US scene and the more crust/d-beat sounds coming out of Sweden. Bands like Abhorrence and Convulse earned a reputation as some of the most adventurous death metal bands going, while other groups in the early scene would end up changing their sound dramatically and becoming mainstream stars, as did both Amorphis and Sentenced. Today Finland still produces more than its fair share of top-notch extremity, with acts like Hooded Menace and Krypts carrying the torch.
Despite Only Ashes Remain being the debut album from Sepulchral Curse, the band already have an impressive pedigree within the Finnish scene. Vocalist Kari Kankaanpää and guitarist Aleksi Luukka are both also members of Death/Doom merchants Solothus, who have already dropped an absolute belter of an album this year in the form of Realm of Ash and Blood (These boys seem to have a thing for ash…). With Sepulchral Curse though, the boys appear to have traded in the Candlemass inspired riffage of Solothus for something altogether speedier. While there is still the odd moment of doomy melancholy, a lot of Only Ashes Remain trades in classic death metal tropes, with thrashing riffs, double-kicks aplenty and frenetic soloing.
Opener ‘Within the Bowels of the Earth’ really does set the scene for the album. With no time for niceties, the track blasts instantly into a brutal death metal assault, with the musical intensity hardly letting up throughout the song. If there was ever any doubt, the band are quick to prove they’re as capable of crafting whiplash-speed riffs as Solothus are of snail-paced dread. ‘Dead Stars Drawing Spirals’ comes across as a mutated Iron Maiden, with the trademark melodic gallop of NWOBHM twisted into new, obscene forms that rattle along at breakneck intensity.
Sepulchral Curse are not a one-trick pony however. Tracks like ‘Into the Depths Unknown’ shows they are capable of some excellent twin guitar melody amongst the howling grind, and ‘Eyes Inside’ even slows down a little to display a sophisticated grasp of atmospherics that give the track a coldness that’s hard to shake. Kankaanpää’s penchant for low-register vocal terror is well known to fans of his previous work, and here he let’s himself go all out, channelling the primal aggresion of genre master such as Corpsegrinder and the almighty John Tardy. 11-minute-long closer ‘Mann Tukhien Uneen’ does a brilliant job of boiling down everything that’s good about the album into one epic song to provide a satisfying closer to an already very satisfying record.
Sepulchral Curse are not rewriting the rule book on their debut, but I don’t think that was ever their intention. What they have done is create a slice of hugely enjoyable old-school Finnish DM, bound to please those aforementioned connoisseurs.
Only Ashes Remain is available now via Transcending Obscurity and can be purchased here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader