Happy October! The death metal was very good this month. Five of the eight releases highlighted below fall under that broad genre umbrella, though they’re stylistically diverse in their interpretations of its tropes. They join a regal slab of classic doom, an antifascist black metal album, and a tribute to ’80s sci-fi from a survivor of the thrash revival.
On their second LP, Arizona death metal crew Gatecreeper deliver the sound of the Sonoran Desert. The inherent brutality of that harsh, sunbaked terrain seems to manifest itself in the band’s punishing buzzsaw riffs and frontman Chase Mason’s wild-eyed howl. Gatecreeper’s approach to old-school death metal worship is pluralistic. Deserted doesn’t really sound like Obituary or Entombed or Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse or Amon Amarth — but it does sound like all of those things thrown in a blender set to pulverize. While the least direct of those influences in terms of sound, the most instructive might be Amon Amarth, whose M.O. has always been memorable, catchy songwriting above all. Gatecreeper have made the one OSDM record this year that you’ll be singing along to.
Ruins of Eternity
Orodruin’s Epicurean Mass dropped in 2003 (three years before Warning’s landmark Watching from a Distance, and nearly a decade before Pallbearer formed, it bears mentioning) and quickly became a cult favorite among fans of traditional doom metal. The Rochester band didn’t break up, but they also didn’t make another record until now, so Ruins of Eternity bears the weight of 16 years of anticipation. They haven’t missed a beat. All their strengths are all full display here. John Gallo’s crystalline vocals remain one of the great vessels for raw emotion in heavy music (“Letter of Life’s Regret” is just absurdly gorgeous), and the band is limber enough to ride a rock n’ roll Sabbath gallop or drop into a lachrymose dirge, often within the same song. Give this one a couple of years; its cult classic status is on the way.
In the blissful naiveté of 2013, Vastum introduced a lot of us to the term “incel” on their song of the same name. In 2019, police departments mobilized undercover agents to try to stop incels from opening fire in cinemas during comic book movies. Credit to Vastum for anticipating the very specific hell we live in. The San Francisco band emerged in 2013 as one of the edgier outfits in the burgeoning old-school death metal scene. Their lyrics unpacked sexual taboos with unusual seriousness, and their live set was one of the few death metal shows that felt dangerous, a seething spectacle that saw frontman Daniel Butler stalking the floor of a pitch black, fog-choked room. Since then, they’ve become one of the most reliable bands in American death metal. Orificial Purge is a fourth straight great LP in their discography, and it distills their sound to its core elements. You’ll hear the band’s signature churning, midtempo riffs, dissonant dive-bombs, and high-wire vocal interplay between Butler and Leila Abdul-Rauf. It’s not a reinvention for Vastum, but they clearly haven’t yet exhausted what’s proven over four records to be quite fertile ground.
The Baneful Choir
In the raw black/death metal—sometimes called war metal—subgenre, atmosphere is everything. Bury your guitars under layers of production muck, let your bass and drums rumble below that, wear a gas mask in your press photo, and there’s a good chance the denizens of certain message boards will embrace you. Teitanblood appeal to that crowd, for sure, but they’re one of the few raw black/death bands who weight songwriting in equal proportion to atmosphere. The Baneful Choir might be their greatest triumph yet. Throughout its 51-minute runtime, it creates an oppressive, claustrophobic world, but it populates that world with memorable riffs, stabs of expressionistic guitar that cut through the murk, and a genuinely unsettling vocal performance by Ignacio Muñoz. In a scene where it often feels like there’s nothing new under the sun, Teitanblood have crafted an unforgettable work.
Matt Harvey and Ross Sewage have carved out a very specific niche with their long-running band Exhumed, and the title of their first album laid it out clearly—Gore Metal. They didn’t name it for the guy who invented the internet. Since that opening missive, they’ve become one of the most consistent bands in death metal, churning out new gore-obsessed riff fests every couple of years. Horror is their most economical release to date, as the band grinds through 15 songs in 26 minutes. Harvey and Sewage’s Jeff Walker/Bill Steer routine of traded shrieked and guttural vocals is as dialed in as it’s ever been, and with less runtime to play with, their Slayer-inspired solos sound particularly frantic and urgent.
Disgorged from Psychotic Depths
Anyone familiar with the labyrinthine lurch of Finnish death/doom (Demilich, Rippikoulu, Demigod) will find something to love on Disgorged from Psychotic Depths. Like Denver’s Spectral Voice did on their debut album two years ago, Olympia’s Mortiferum adapt the very particular Finnish sound for an American sensibility on their own first full-length release. The result is a cousin of the post-Incantation OSDM movement that isn’t afraid to get weird with the atmospherics. Some of these riffs are so dissonant they defy reason, yet they often manage to be catchy. Mark down Mortiferum as a band to watch.
Primal Future: 2019
Joel Grind is a survivor of a dubious movement that he helped usher in 15 years ago: the thrash revival. Toxic Holocaust was one of the few bands from that scene that was worth a damn, and six albums in, Grind is still finding new ways to twist hardcore-infused thrash to fit his warped vision. Primal Future: 2019 is his stab at a concept album. A riff on the now-cliched “we were supposed to have flying cars by now” lament, Grind examines 2019 as though all the technophobic fears of ’80s dystopian fiction came true. It’s a fun theme, and it seems to have reinvigorated his signature crossover anthems, making Primal Future the best Toxic Holocaust record since 2008’s all-time great An Overdose of Death.
Behold Sedition Plainsong
It goes without saying that there are far too few black metal bands with clearly stated, right-thinking politics. Dawn Ray’d, an anarchist, antifascist trio from Liverpool, undoubtedly score bonus points with the lefty Metal Twitter crowd, and that’s absolutely fair enough. Do the songs back up the agitprop? It’s complicated. It feels like there’s a great record yet to come from these guys when they learn to apply their Panopticon-inspired atmospheric black metal to more complete-sounding songs. Perhaps the all-too-brief runtimes and simple structures are intentional, though. These are battle hymns, meant to be hurled at the ruling class, and those tend to benefit from brevity. As a rallying cry, Behold Sedition Plainsong is incredibly effective. I can’t wait to hear the music catch up.