It’s no secret that most so-called ‘supergroups’ work a lot better in theory than in practise, ultimately amounting to name checking and little else. It’s worth remembering however that the notion of these sonic dream teams has conjured some spectacular things across all corners of heavy music’s rich tapestry, and whilst there is a ton of irredeemable bollocks out there, a few notable exceptions do give merit to how, when the stars align, a union of choice musicians can live up to the hype. Nowhere has this been more apparent of late than in the subterranean netherworld of death metal, where a number of moonlighting artists have embraced the gut-churning horror of the metal underground with world-class results. Here, we outline eight of the best yet to do it, some well established, others hot off the press, and all propelled by the same desire to submerge you in their own unique death metal terror swamp.
Quickly evolving beyond the limitations of a mere ‘supergroup’, Bloodbath‘s storied career and gore-strewn discography means it’s easy to forget that, aside from being one of the most revered death metal bands of all time, they are actually still a side-project. Formed in 1998 with Katatonia‘s Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström and Jonas Renkse, Opeth mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt and the multi-talented Dan Swanö (most notably of prog-death adventurers Edge Of Sanity) joining forces for a mutual celebration of thunderous old-school filth, Bloodbath have always been well versed in plundering past glories, yet maintain a steely core of modern vitality and fresh ideas that sees them as relevant and robust as any of the cutting-edge new breed. Long time observers will know Åkerfeldt to be the band’s longest-serving vocalist, however his time in the band has been something of a revolving door situation, stepping down for little over a year between 2004-05 to be replaced by Hypocrisy’s flame-throated Peter Tägtgren, yet returning for 2008’s ultra-precise and contemporary The Fathomless Mastery, before flying the nest again in 2012. From here on in, Nick Holmes of goth/death instigators Paradise Lost has taken Bloodbath right back to the scene’s first-wave template, his guttural, arid bark hammering home the timeless thrill of death metal stripped back to its cobwebbed fundamentals (seek out 2014’s Grand Morbid Funeral and 2018’s The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn if proof be needed). How the rest of the band’s journey will play out is anyone’s guess, however it’s safe to assume that anything with the Bloodbath name attached will remain thoroughly, evangelically death metal in every department.
Although bowing out after an all too short eight-year career (disbanding in 2018 and giving way to the equally savage Strigoi), Vallenfyre’s brief existence never failed to get both sharper and nastier across the space of just three records. Brought together by Paradise Lost’s Gregor Mackintosh as a tribute to his late father, the band’s ever-shifting lineup played host to Hamish Glencross (My Dying Bride), Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted) and Scoot (of pioneering grind-punk heroes Doom) amongst others, reaching their zenith on 2017 swan song Fear Those Who Fear Him, where the nose-flattening crust punk of Discharge collides with that classic, immortal death metal supremacy of both Florida and Stockholm’s formative years. Indeed, it could be argued that Vallrenfyre owed as much a sonic debt to the fiercely modern likes of Black Breath and Trap Them (perhaps in part due to the involvement of mixing board maestro Kurt Ballou) than to any of the genres elder-gods, however there is still little doubt that Vallenfyre harnessed the ancient principles of fire ‘n’ brimstone extremity better than most still in the game.
Whilst rumblings of a collaboration between Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and Cannibal Corpse‘s legendary frontman George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher seemed to take an age to come to fruition, the release of Serpentine Dominion‘s self-titled debut in 2016 was every inch the hybrid metallic treat fans had come to expect. Recruiting tub-thumper extraordinaire Shannon Lucas (ex-The Black Dahlia Murder/All That Remains) for what was patently an adrenaline-fuelled passion project, the band’s (as of yet) sole record is by no means your customary death metal affair, their thick, pulsating core of grinding extremity often enhanced by a volley of gleaming Killswitch-esque hooks, heroic Heartwork-like melody (just check out Dutkiewicz unleashing his inner Amott/Steer with an avalanche of glorious soloing) and a few brief acoustic detours à la Master Of Puppets-era Metallica. Whether or not we will hear anything further from this three-headed beast remains to be seen, however for nigh-on twenty six minutes of ferociously fun death metal jams, Serpentine Dominion echoes the calibre of its iron-clad creators with serious aplomb.
Put together by Kreator/ex-Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq and former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison (both death metal aficionados in their own right), the frankly ridiculous metallic pedigree featured amongst Sinsaenum‘s ranks may have suggested ingenuity and brutality in equal measure, but few could have foreseen the gleefully unhallowed racket served up on their skin-flaying debut album Echoes Of The Tortured, and 2018 follow-up Repulsion For Humanity (both of which will most certainly make you want to douse yourself in holy water, grab your crucifix, and reel off a few Hail Marys). Built on a foundation of pure Morbid Angel-worship, the warped vocal tag-team of Sean Zatorsky and Mayhem legend Attila Csihar lends an unholy counter-balance between the former’s traditional deathly bellow and the latter’s preaching-from-the-seventh-circle weirdness, and heap on top of this the raging musicianship of these veteran fret-wranglers, numerous ripping guitar leads and a bristling undercurrent of blackened malice, and Sinsaenum offer up the sort of ungodly miasma that should have any underground devotee erupt into fits of frothing euphoria.
Possessing as remarkable an extreme metal CV as they do, there was little to suggest on face value that Vltimas would not be the ultimate alliance of underground heroes ever seen in our world. Question marks still remained however; with Flo Mounier’s Cryptopsy taking a rather head-scratching swerve into metalcore terrain on 2008’s The Unspoken King, Rune ‘Blasphemer’ Eriksen’s futuristic reboot of black metal luminaries Mayhem vexing diehard fans, and David Vincent’s well-documented dalliance with outlaw-country (not to mention the lingering memory of Illud Divinum Insanus…) all tempering expectations somewhat. Luckily, Something Wicked Marches In largely does away with any wing-flexing experimentation, instead focusing on elite-tier, shit-kicking, fire-breathing death metal rippers, the roiling chemistry of this seminal trio as potent and imperious as their collective credentials promised.
Comprising members of Blood Incantation, Khemmis and Primitive Man to name but a few, there is little doubting that Colorado-based death-metallers Black Curse are the real deal, already snapped up by extreme metal taste makers 20 Buck Spin and impressing across the board with a particularly potent take on the blackened death metal blueprint. Although with enough textual ungodliness to send most of their posturing quasi-Satanist peers fleeing to the local clergyman, the band do not hide behind atmosphere in lieu of songs, bridging the gap between early Deicide‘s bestial onslaught and the gloriously hellish sounds of black metal’s bleak and feral spirit. Just check out the band’s debut LP Endless Wound for a grade-A aural nightmare, aglow with hellfire and the gruesome, ensemble know-how of genuine death metal disciples.
Appearing somewhat out of nowhere with Shadow Of Life earlier this year, the emergence of Umbra Vitae immediately, and understandably, captured the imagination of metal diehards with its collective of true underground champions and their churning, visceral strain of mutant extremity. Converge frontman Jacob Bannon, of course, will take centre stage for most, his desperate howl a peerless foreground presence, yet it is the gleefully incisive riffs vomited from the guitars of Mike ‘Gunface’ Mckenzie (Wear Your Wounds, ex-The Red Chord) and Sean Martin (Twitching Tongues), alongside Jon Rice’s (Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats / ex-Job For A Cowboy) bone-powdering blastbeats that makes everything from the blackened, multi-limbed attack of ‘Return To Zero’ through to the glorious, groove-laden grotesquery of ‘Mantra Of Madness’ resound with the power and inherent magic of death metal done right. Whether a long-term endeavour or one-off tidbit, Umbra Vitae define the often misplaced term ‘supergroup’ better than most.
Lock members of Yob, Amera and Oathbreaker in a rehearsal room and not many would expect them to emerge with a clutch of virulent death metal tunes. Which makes Living Gate‘s debut Deathlust EP, unveiled earlier this year, a particularly unexpected but gladly received thrill, guitarists Lennart Bossu (Oathbreaker, Amenra) and Levy Seynaeve (Oathbreaker, Amenra, Wiegedood), drummer Wim Sreppoc (Oathbreaker, Wiegedood) and bassist Aaron Rieseberg (Yob, Norska) tearing through five serrated-edge cuts straight out of the Suffocation playbook. The band make no attempts to reinvent the genre, but they nail the basics with a steely-eyed zeal, the whole New York-flavoured shebang never anything less than indecently brutal and masterfully executed. Deathlust may have dropped as recently as a couple of months ago, but the prospect of a full-length will already have ears twitching in anticipation. Full interview here.
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Words: Tony Bliss