Diabolical Messiah – Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred

Big hooks and big tremolo riffs  are the first thing to come to mind listening to Diabolical Messiah’s second studio album; throughout the album’s short duration, those two are the defining characteristics of the Chilean veterans’ songwriting along with the nearly constant roar of the band’s vocalist. Almost every song is a brief burst of fire, burning bright and then ending after alternating and repeating the same two or three riffs in a manner reminiscent of Nunslaughter in approach, if not in sound, with nine of the ten songs on the twenty five minute album being around three minutes long or shorter. In contrast to the relatively simplistic composition, a lot of the best riffs are catchy and well-written long form melodies that draw me in consistently, demanding attention after shorter sections of ripping shorter riffs that range from the more chaotic sounds of Incantation’s fastest riffs to reminding me of Sadistic Intent and to things that are unique to Diabolical Messiah.

Despite the fact that most of the album is right around the same tempo and despite the fact that the drumming is nearly constantly doing similar blasting patterns, Diabolical Messiah know when to ride a series of short phrases and when to shift to a melody (or to do one of the relatively few slow parts) in order to keep memorability at a maximum and keep listeners engaged. Sparse harmonization adds flavor without being overused enough to start feeling saccharine, and the guitar tone and production are massive enough to really let the guitars carry the album; though death metal at its best is often a combination of catchy vocal lines, heavy and interesting drum patterns, and sick riffs, Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is, by virtue of the fantastic guitarwork overlaid over repetitive drumming and vocals, a fundamentally riff-centric album. While this would often be a bit of a detriment to me, the songwriting here is strong enough to keep me coming back consistently, and after a few months of listening, to it, I can’t recommend the album enough.  Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is a great accomplishment for Diabolical Messiah, and yet another excellent addition to the Dark Descent Records catalog.

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Ljosazabojstwa – Sychodžańnie

The occult horror of a certain type of black/death generally somewhat influenced by or otherwise in line with Mortuary Drape is one of my favorite things, and Ljosazabojstwa clearly agree, given the content on Sychodžańnie and on the demo that came before it. From the first bits of atmosphere created by a haunting organ introduction through the very last chords, everything about this EP is massive; monolithic doom-driven rhythms do combat with the vocalist’s echoing snarl, subtle keyboards occasionally provide an extra layer, and the whole package is complimented by the immense production that ties the entire package together. Ominous interludes, sometimes mid-track, build tension, and whenever appropriate buildup has been reached, well-timed eruptions launch trudging doom into ripping hellfire before spiraling back to a horrifying crawl.

Though I mentioned Mortuary Drape as a point of comparison (and a clear influence), Ljosazabojstwa are by no means a clone of anyone; chaotic tremolo melodies, pretty leads, fiery death metal, and blazing thrash merge seamlessly to form a package that fits the mood that Mortuary Drape, Necros Christos, or similar bands put me into without feeling like a pointless ripoff at any point. Though sometimes the non-metal interruptions get a bit much for me, the overall package is startlingly strong, and a welcome change of pace from the onslaught of more straightforward death metal releases that I’ve been hearing from this year so far; as a point to their credit, the interludes are well written (or well picked, for the samples), and my general distaste for lengthy and frequent interludes may well be more of a problem for me than the interludes themselves.

Ljosazabojstwa fundamentally call for a return to the occult, and I welcome it with open arms. Sychodžańnie is catchy, memorable, and excellently performed, with more than enough variety and strength of both songwriting and pacing to keep the EP interesting from listen to listen. Most great EP’s leave me wanting more from the band, and as much as I’m looking forward to hearing Ljosazabojstwa’s first full length, this is a rare EP powerful enough to merit the repeat listens and reflection to occupy me until whenever the band feels that another release is necessary.

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Ljosazabojstwa - Sychodzannie [cover art]

Soulskinner – Descent to Abaddon

Composed of several present and past members of classic Greek black metal bands (and a former Obsecration member), Soulskinner have been chugging out great death metal for two decades now between their current name and their original one. A lot of bands lose steam over that long of a period, but Soulskinner just keep putting out amazing stuff, and Descent to Abaddon is no exception. The album is absolutely massive in scope and to a lesser extent in style, ranging from a gorgeous thick atmosphere recalling some of the earlier Greek and Finnish death metal bands to the crush of Bolt Thrower, and even to moments that thrash or recall Deicide, all generally within the same song. Riffs range from a death/doom crawl to blazing speed and intensity, showcasing the band’s versatility and lack of interest in having a singular tempo to great success.

Despite a variety of influences that would overwhelm a lesser band, Soulskinner know how to effortlessly jump from one mood to another, though their real strength for me comes from the fantastic leads and the moodier bits of the album. The atmosphere that comes from the interplay of the leads and tremolo melodies is enrapturing and it’s hard to really make a comparison to any of the best sections because I don’t get the same vibe from many other bands despite the similarities to a lot of my favorites. Sometimes the leads make for a certain dreaminess that I don’t associate at all with good death metal, which adds an extra layer to an already gigantic album.

They also present an impressive lack of genuine weak points- the only real part of the entire album that actually bothers me is the breakdown in The Fall, and that part doesn’t last long enough to detract much from the entire song, let alone with the whole album. Something that some other fans of the band have criticized is that some of the leads and melodies are repeated throughout the album a bit too much, but as true as that is, it doesn’t irritate me at all; the variations on the same melodies are done well enough and are killer enough in the first place that hearing them in different contexts is a bonus more than anything else.

Overall, Descent to Abaddon is a fucking fantastic listen, and proof that Xtreem music is still putting out killer albums. Soulskinner’s previous album was finally released on vinyl last year, marking their first full length to be pressed to wax, and I really hope that this one is as well, because I’ve rarely heard an album so deserving of the vinyl treatment in recent years that hasn’t been pressed.

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Ravenous Death – Ominous Deathcult

A lot of modern death metal eschews the entire concept of being catchy- not all of it, certainly, but often the focus of a band is to crush, or forge a certain atmosphere at the expense of memorability, or to rage chaotically without giving much of a chance to grasp onto anything. That’s not necessarily a criticism- I adore a lot of stuff that does that- but a big reason why I love Altars of Madness and Scream Bloody Gore so much is that they’re endlessly catchy, and Ravenous Death deliver hooks and instant catchiness in a way that’s not at the forefront of death metal today. Hailing from Mexico and comprising of a group of scene veterans that come from more bands each than many albums have songs, Ravenous Death put their long songwriting experience to excellent use on this first EP release.

Ominous Deathcult is a fairly varied affair that tears through five songs that range from massive crushers to fast tremolo-heavy somewhat more melodic affairs to the doom, gloom, and eeriness of the EP’s closer, but for all that the songs are different, they don’t sound random, and flow together satisfyingly throughout the duration of the 19 minute release. Enthralling tremolo melodies intertwine with big chugging rhythms, with just enough harmonization of the leads to attract attention without overusing harmony like some groups do. Influences from bands like Morbid Angel, Entombed, and even moments that remind me of Demigod  are present but Ravenous Death have done a good job of forging their own sound even on their first release, and as much as it’s familiar, Ominous Death is not nostalgic, and it definitely stands on its own feet. The rare solo section is short and sweet, which is how I like them in death metal, and the production is pretty good overall. There’s only a single section I’m not particularly fond of in the entire demo- a bit of the chugging rhythm work on “Throwing Up Guts”- but given how good the release is overall, it’s a very minor complaint. Very much interested in seeing where Ravenous Death goes from here- the band has announced their pairing to Memento Mori for their upcoming full length, and given the quality of the music on this EP, it’s well deserved.

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Necrot – Blood Offerings

Necrot is a band that’s best described as being absolutely pummeling, with no intention other than to pound listeners into submission. They don’t play technical or complex music, they don’t sell themselves as introspective- they just crush and rip their way through their approach on death metal, and that’s why so many people have come to love them in recent years. Pounding and groovy riffs are reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, the least mystical sections that Demigod conjured, or some of the other groups that extremely prolific members of the band are also involved with, but despite being reminiscent of other groups Necrot have their own distinguishing flavor that I keep coming back to. Brief moments of melody pop up for just long enough to draw attention and vanish just as quickly, adding an extra layer to an already extremely catchy album. Vocalist Luca Indrio rasps over the music at a pitch that’s just a bit higher than what listeners unfamiliar with the band might expect from their music, but he does so excellently, perfectly fitting the music, and timing his assaults well with the riffs and the primal drumming, which ranges from more standard death metal beats to some punk ones, always perfectly suiting the music, and often carrying a riff far further than it might otherwise be palatable.

Though I said earlier that the band willfully steps away from complicated songwriting, that isn’t to say that the composition was done carelessly- there’s a large variety of influences integrated into the album, and each song flows excellently through them, and even at their most similar, extremely well written transitions separate riffs that on a less competent album would blend together, leaving behind a distinctly memorable assault. On a related note, despite many sections of extreme repetition of a single riff or group of them as well as sections that spend a lot of time developing a single idea, Blood Offerings does an excellent job of avoiding overstaying its welcome at any point, and will likely be in my rotation for a long time. After the hype that Necrot built around themselves through years of excellent shows and several killer demos, it’s nice to see them deliver.

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Engulfed – Engulfed in Obscurity

Engulfed in Obscurity is the debut album from longtime scene veterans Engulfed, all of whom have been in Engulfed and other bands for the long years leading up to this spectacular album. Massive and multifaceted, Engulfed take cues from Incantation and Dead Congregation to bring a long and harrowing death metal assault that stays as focused and punishing from the moment of conception until the very end. Massive tremolo picked rhythms play against quick melodic lines that sometimes harmonize with the rhythms and sometimes dart off to do their own things, and Diabolical Conquest-esque harmonized slower bits of trilling doom make for a good counterpart to the blazing tempos that the album sometimes reaches towards.

Though the album is fairly straightfoward in its style, the delivery is anything but, with the band doing their best to keep both guitars from playing the exact same notes for longer than a bar or two and with no riff being repeated more than a few times. Frequent tempo changes and jumps from melodicism to punishment are extremely compelling, and vocalist/bassist Serkan’s powerful howling adds an extra demonic flair to the mix. The drumming, though locked into a few similar patterns, changes up tempo and moves back and forth from pattern to pattern enough to keep from ever getting stale, driving everything forth wonderfully, and the drums are mixed excellently (save for perhaps a tiny bit of clickiness at points in the kick, which is a very minor issue on this album), which is always something that I listen to.

Overall, especially for a debut, I can only call this album a massive success, and say that I’m already looking forward to the EP that the band promises is coming next year.

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Listen and buy (Blood Harvest Records)

Image source: Blood Harvest Records

Brief List of Generally Essential Death Metal Releases

Death metal dates back to the mid-1980s and has had a tremendous amount of releases in the subgenre since then. This list is just a brief primer for people new to the genre and doesn’t attempt to serve as anything other than a small selection of important releases to listen to in order to understand as a genre. Discussion of each band only relates to their most influential material, as this is a discussion of death metal and not a primer for each band- that means that there won’t be much detail about later catalog stuff from each one, and the recommended listening list will be more tailored towards early influence.

Possessed (San Francisco, California): One of the first and most influential of the bands playing the extreme thrash that would evolve into death metal in subsequent, Possessed’s 1984 demo, “Death Metal,” was not only one of the earliest and most influential extreme releases, but is often credited (to limited controversy) as naming the genre itself. Their 1985 release of “Seven Churches” was a landmark in extreme metal that’s hailed as one of the most influential of all time and is sometimes called the first death metal album.

Recommended listening: Seven Churches (1985)

Master (Chicago, Illinois): Early brutal thrash prelude to what would become death metal. They had a punishing album recorded as of 1985 but that was shelved due to conflicts with their record label (though it was still heavily distributed by tape traders at the time), and instead debuted with a 1990 self-titled album. Notable also for heavy overlap with legendary death metal band Death Strike‘s debut, with Fuckin’ Death sharing many songs with early Master material due to Mittleburn and Speckman’s involvement in each.

Recommended listening: Unreleased 1985 Album (2003), Master (1990)

Death (Altamonte Springs, Florida): Another early influential band that sometimes gets credit for naming the genre. Started off named “Mantas” before changing their name to Death, and released several thrashy demos in between 1983 and their first album in 1987, with the most notable of the demos being the “Death By Metal” tape. Their debut album, 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore”, is considered by many to be the first death metal album by the people that aren’t calling either Seven Churches or Necrophagia‘s debut the first death metal release. Primitive, fast, and obsessed with death, the early Death material is the blueprint of much of the earliest death metal to come into existence, and many members went on to form other incredible bands. Albums following 1988’s “Leprosy” became more technical and progressive, and are influential on those subsections of the genre; fan favorites from the later era are 1991’s “Human” and 1995’s “Symbolic”.

Recommended listening: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Leprosy (1988), Human (1991)

Morbid Angel (Tampa, Florida): Another band from Florida. Their debut wasn’t the first piece of death metal to mark a significant departure from the genre’s thrash roots, but it’s certainly the most popular early release to do so. Its influence can be felt everywhere on death metal; swirling Satanic chaos is the order, and 1989’s “Altars of Madness” is the delivery. They made heavy use of minor key tremolo picked melodies, and the way that they used power chords was heavily copied by later bands. Several of the songs from their first two albums are are rerecorded from their original debut, which was shelved for some time after an altercation between Morbid Angel’s original guitarist and drummer. Their fourth studio album, 1993’s “Covenant”, is also notable for being one of the first popular death metal releases that was significantly downtuned.

Recommended listening: Altars of Madness (1989), Blessed Are The Sick (1991)

Bolt Thrower (Coventry, England): Bolt Thrower started off as a aggressive, grinding monster with 1988 debut “In Battle There Is No Law!” but quickly became slower and more crushing with future releases. 1989’s “Realm of Chaos” had dropped a lot of early punk influence, and was the last record of theirs to heavily feature it. By 1991’s “War Master” they had settled into the mid to low paced style that they’re known for today.

Recommended listening: In Battle There Is No Law! (1988), Realm of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness (1989), War Master (1991)

Pestilence (Enschede, Twente, Overijssel, Netherlands): Starting off as a thrash band and changing to death metal after their debut, 1989’s “Consuming Impulse” was influential not only on later death metal guitarwork with heavy emphasis on chromatic chugged rhythms and sharp leads but also on their vocals, with the album’s vocalist Martin Van Drunen being one of the most revered death metal vocalists of all time. Followup albums were increasingly progressive.

Recommended listening: Consuming Impulse (1989), Testimony of the Ancients (1991)

Autopsy (Oakland, California): Formed by former Death drummer Chris Reifert, Autopsy heavily influenced and defined early death/doom with their demented, filthy mess of slow early death metal on their 1989 debut “Severed Survival”. While most bands were pushing to be more intense than their contemporaries with fast tempos, Autopsy was going the opposite direction with slow ones.

Recommended listening: Severed Survival (1989), Mental Funeral (1991)

Obituary (Gibsonton, Florida): Yet more Floridian death metal. Obituary took heavy influence from Celtic Frost to present brutal slabs of death metal that alternated between many Frost-esque mid-paced sections and ripping thrashy ones. Viscerally filthy and always complimented by now-legendary vocalist John Tardy’s often unintelligible slurred gutterals, 1989’s “Slowly We Rot” was one of the most brutal releases of the ’80s.

Recommended listening: Slowly We Rot (1989), Cause of Death (1990)

Entombed (Stockholm, Sweden): An early innovator in the Swedish death metal sound as Nihilist, Entombed’s chainsaw guitar tone and aggressive riffing influenced waves of bands to come. 1990’s “Left Hand Path” is one of the definitive Swedish death metal albums, and 1993’s “Wolverine Blues” is widely credited as the first Death ‘n’ Roll album.

Recommended listening: Nihilist (1987-1989) (Nihilist demo compilation 1987-1989), Left Hand Path (1990), Clandestine (1991)

Deicide (Tampa, Florida): Originally named Amon and put out two demos under that name before changing their band name to Deicide. One of the absolute most popular death metal bands to ever exist; their first two studio albums are an exercise in Satanic excesses, chunky groove, sharp leads, tremolo picked rhythms, and Glen Benton’s hateful vocals. 1990’s “Deicide” was mostly rerecorded ’80s demo songs from the Amon name and its followup consisted of more new material written specifically for Deicide.

Recommended listening: Deicide (1990), Legion (1992)

Nocturnus (Tampa, Florida): Nocturnus is best known for their contributions to early tech death and for having quite possibly the heaviest keyboard usage of their time, along with their connection to Morbid Angel by way of being formed by former Morbid Angel drummer Mike Browning. Their 1990 debut, “The Key” is a keyboard-laden and technical concept album, and their innovations in atmosphere in a death metal setting were extremely important to the development of the genre.

Recommended listening: The Key (1990)

Suffocation (Long Island, New York): The origin of brutal death metal, Suffocation’s first EP was the first CD ever released on Relapse Records, and 1991’s “Effigy of the Forgotten” is widely recognized as the first brutal death metal album and was immediately widely copied throughout the New York death metal scene. Featuring some of the lowest gutteral vocals yet recorded in death metal, Suffocation’s heavy emphasis on tempo changing was uncommon at the time, and their love of chugged low-string breakdowns was quickly adopted as a hallmark of the upcoming brutal death scene.

Recommended listening: Human Waste (1991), Effigy of the Forgotten (1991), Breeding The Spawn (1993)

Immolation (Yonkers, New York): The sound of early Morbid Angel taken to their chunkiest chromatic extreme, with a massive guitar tone, complicated drumming, and the bestial roar of bassist Ross Dolan. 1991’s “Dawn of Possession” was a New York take on a classic sound, and is another of the most important classic death metal albums of the early years of the genre. Later albums dropped some of the fury of Dawn of Possession to become more dissonant, creepy, and angular, punctuated by massive grooves.

Recommended listening: Dawn of Possession (1991), Here In After (1996), Close To A World Below (2000)

Incantation (Johnstown, Pennsylvania): The progenitor of the now popular cavernous death metal style, Incantation’s 1992 debut, “Onward To Golgotha” is slow, massive, and murky, with an emphasis on alternating lower-string tremolo picked rhythms and higher melodies punctuated with pinch harmonics. Recommended listening: Onward To Golgotha (1992), Mortal Throne of Nazarene (1994)

Demigod (Loimaa, Finland): Finnish death metal’s off-kilter melodies and emphasis on the low end really shines through in Demigod’s 1992 debut, “Slumber of Sullen Eyes”. They codified the odd Finnish death sound, and their sound can be found in a tremendous number of bands following them.

Recommended listening: Slumber of Sullen Eyes (1992)

Lantern – II: Morphosis

This has been a great year for both Dark Descent Records and for fans of death metal, and Lantern have provided with II: Morphosis an excellent addition to both groups. Strange, atmospheric, and with a lot of subtle layering and melodies, Lantern is one of the more compelling and ambitious of the recent Finnish death metal bands, and their return with their second full length album is absolutely welcome. They have a talent for lengthy and complex composition, a fantastic and multitalented drummer (who is also the guitarist and bassist), and a willingness to sometimes completely abandon strange atmospheric sections to have periods of crushing death metal that sets them aside from many of their peers as a unique and captivating entity to be watched. Vocalist Necrophilos has an incredible voice that’s unique and powerful, howling over the music that Cruciatus has so adeptly written.

Right from the first song on the album, Black Miasma, the tone for the future material is set: sections of spacey, psychedelic trippiness, soundscapes of awful terror, ripping death metal, and sections that crawl down almost to being death/doom; from there, the entire album continues in its vein. That being said, each song has its own unique flavor, with the main focus being the interesting guitarwork, which ranges from crushing rhythms to great sections where both guitars are doing entirely different things to fantastic soloing. The lyrics, which I normally don’t focus on much, are also very well written (albeit with a sometimes humorous focus on rhyme scheme), and Necrophilos’ voice lets you hear each word clearly without straining.

“Is this where I shall witness my last?
Is this the way my days are bound to pass away;
In despair and solemnly aghast?”

As a final note, the production is as solid as you’d expect from Dan Lowndes, and the cover art is fucking phenomenal.

Listen and buy here.

Image source: https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ii-morphosis


Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation

Abhorrent Manifestation can’t be shoehorned into a single line, but if I had to do so, it’d be to call it an amazing showcase of ripping primordial death metal devastation. Now that my favorite newer San Diego based extreme metal band have finally given us a full length release this year, it’s easy to see that Ascended Dead have been refining their approach through the years between their first demo and this album. Continuing in line with their prior material (and reusing three songs from said earlier material), Abhorrent Manifestation rips right into full bore right from the start, blasting through sections that sound as angry, chaotic, and uncompromising as any death metal has ever been. The only real break is a pretty acoustic instrumental halfway through the album, letting listeners up a bit before cutting through listeners like a scythe all over again.

Image Source: Ascended Dead’s website

The sharp and technical leads that constantly pop up over the blistering rhythms remind me of Morbid Angel on a bender mixed with the aggressive insanity of Necrovore, and CK’s relentless, powerful drumming showcases exactly why he was recruited to Funebrarum. Insane solos break away with swirling madness before vanishing as quickly as they came, while the howling vocals roar over the whole thing with the power and anger needed to drive this sort of music, always perfectly complimenting the vicious instrumentals. The whole thing is tied together by the excellent production that the album has, which keeps the aural assault from becoming exhausting or from blending together.

The main deal breaker for most bands that attempt a similar form of music is that they don’t have the songwriting chops to make their music remain interesting or memorable, but Ascended Dead have none of that problem, using their expertise from years of writing music both for Ascended Dead and for earlier bands to forge the raging songs that they play. The band describe their music as “dark, chaotic, demonic, bestial Death Metal, without limitations” and I’d say that they’ve certainly accomplished that. While the music is in a lot of ways fundamentally rooted in death metal’s early history, Ascended Dead are clearly looking towards the future.


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Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension

In Passing Ascension is an ode to the terrifying unhumanity of life, of the howling of the void, of the vast emptiness behind the veil of existence and of power of the infinite that looms above all of us. Sometimes technical, always strange, and coming from a diverse source of influences that intertwine gorgeously, Suffering Hour have created a sound that’s all their own. The band self describes their influences as ranging from Dead Congregation to The Chasm and Mgla, and you can really hear the sheer amount of things going into the album. With blistering leads soaring above slower sections of atmospheric dissonance, with each warped section providing not only a unique and memorable flavor but a fantastic listening experience for those lucky enough to have stumbled into the album, the music ebbs and flows through the forty minute duration of the album, never losing any of the power that In Passing Ascension immediately starts with.

The band refer to themselves as “cosmic blackened death metal” and that description makes sense even from the very beginning of the album. In Passing Ascension opens with a mixture of the various types of riffing and atmospheres that make up the release before launching into the album proper. Swirling and layered guitarwork, relentless drumming, and varied vocal styles showcase the band’s songwriting and technical ability, while frequent tempo changes keep any one song from becoming monotonous. Shifts in direction from ripping death metal to slower sections of slowly scraped eerie chords a la some of the more dissonant modern black metal bands keep the pace of the album from ever getting too familiar; intense attention is required to absorb the nuances of the music, lest the listener lose pace and get lost in the chasm that Suffering Hour creates with their music.

Moving past the songwriting, it’s important to note how great the production is; mastered by Resonance Sound Studio, the album is dynamic, massive, and clear without ever feeling overly clean, and each instrument is given its own space to breath and exist in a way that often gets lost with this sort of material. Guitar, drum, and bass tones are on point, as is the mixing of the drums (often a tough point for extreme metal bands).

This release has impressed me on every level, and I eagerly await my copy of it getting here on wax. I’ve been excited for this to come out since the first singles put out by Blood Harvest Records, and the album doesn’t disappoint.

Support and listen here.