Technical death metal, brutal death metal, slam death metal… it’s all sort of one big subgenre mish-mash to me; bands classified as one of these often have elements of one or both of the other two in their sound. It’s not a type of death metal I listen to often; I nearly tech deathed and brutal deathed myself to uh, death during college (did they even have slam death metal back then?), when I was knee-deep in bands like Atheist, Anata, Gorguts, Suffocation, Psycroptic, Necrophagist, Aborted, Devourment, etc, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate simplicity and primitivism over flashy guitar-work and five-million-mile-per-hour blast beats (which is probably why I listen to way more black metal than death metal these days). But every so often I can’t help but get a hankering for this crazy shit, so I have little choice but to dive in headfirst and see what the fuck the kidz are listening to these days…
Devourment is undoubtedly the brutal/slam death metal band making the most waves these days; their fourth album, Conceived in Sewage, is set to be released on Relapse next month. Much was made of their label offering a pre-order package geared towards women called the “bitches ‘n’ brutality pack,” complete with thong funderoos, booty shorts and tank top; apparently those upset with Relapse’s use of the word “bitches” have never actually read Devourment’s lyrics; here’s a sample from the track “Fuck Her Head Off” off of the band’s second album, Butcher the Weak:
“I know now I am bred to kill bitches / I will hack them til they’re skinless / Slice their face or beat them senseless / Until they are twitching / Devestate their battered senses / Torture them for their offenses / Violate their cunts until they bleed / They always bleed”
“Bitches ‘n’ brutality” seems pretty tame now that you’ve read that little tidbit, eh? While I’m sure the “Relapse Records treats objects like women, maaan” argument will persist, and the label did in fact change the name to the “babes ‘n’ brutality pack,” I think we can all agree that it’s a bit silly to get all bent out of shape when there are a shitload of death metal, goregrind and pornogrind bands out there making entire albums about raping and murdering “bitches” “whores” and “cunts” that no one seems to be so much as batting an eyelash at. Metalheads pick the strangest times to get all ultra-PC. I mean, did everyone forget that Relapse is the same label that approved this album cover?
But I digress; in spite of any real or imagined controversies surrounding Conceived in Sewage, at the end of the day it’s a rather average brutal death metal album, lacking much in the way of the ignorant-as-fuck, bone-crushing slams that Devourment made their reputation on. The lyrics appear to have been toned down as well, with far less emphasis placed on the homicidal sexual deviance characterized by the sample lyrics above. Whether this is evidence of Devourment maturing and evolving as a band or simply trying to reach a larger audience as a result of making the jump to a larger label is anyone’s guess, but it ultimately makes for a competent if unspectacular listening experience. Sure, songs like “Fucked with Rats” and “Conceived in Sewage” have their moments, but the fact is, there are other bands out there doing it better.
One of the bands doing it better is Katalepsy, who might as well be crowned the new kings of slam. Ok, I’m no expert on this shit, and technically these Russians have been around since 2003 so I guess they aren’t really all that new, but they are just now releasing their second album, Autopsychosis on that bastion of brutality known as Unique Leader, and it is what I like to refer to as HOLY SHIT AWESOME. Seriously, this album is so retardedly goddamn heavy and brutal, with slams a’plenty and gnarly toilet-dwelling vocals galore, that it puts not only Devourment, but just about every other band attempting this style to shame.
It doesn’t hurt that the production is absolutely perfect for this style of death metal. The sound of Autopsychosis is dark and crushing but crystal clear, allowing the listener to fully grasp just how much sonic devastation these guys are capable of dishing out. One of my main problems with a lot of this stuff is that it sounds like absolute shit, but Katalepsy refuses to let the grisly violence of their music be dulled by a sub-par recording, unlike so many of their peers.
What surprised me the most about Autopsychosis is how consistently interesting and memorable Katalepsy are able to keep things throughout the album’s forty minute duration, utilizing a mixture of deep, heavy grooves, technical prowess and pit-worthy chug. How often do you hear a brutal death metal album featuring songs that each have their own character in spite of existing within the same basic framework? If you answered “never,” then you owe it to yourself to seek out these motherfucking maniacs from Moscow.
There were a few other Unique Leaders bands that caught my attention as I trawled YouTube in search of fresh brutality (I have e-mailed Unique Leader in an attempt to get on their promo list probably half a dozen times over the years and never once gotten a response, I’m clearly just not brutal enough); one of them was Dublin, California’s Rings of Saturn. These guys appear to be all of twelve years old in their press photos, but their youthful looks belie a bizarre instrumental prowess that seems to be more influenced by video games and Star Wars sound effects than by other death metal bands. This is some seriously strange shit; I’m not sure if this is what the kids these days call “deathcore,” but to this crotchety old fucker it sounds like space invaders playing tech death.
The band’s second album, Dingir, will be out on the aforementioned Unique Leader in February, but in the meantime it is available as a legit free download at this location. To put it simply, Dingir sounds like a video game soundtrack from extra-terrestrial hell. I doubt these kids were even alive when 8-bit Nintendo was a thing, but they seem to have channeled the robotic bleep-blooping that characterized the music of those clunky old games and added in a heaping helping of intensely finger-fucking shred. Maybe they got abducted by aliens and were forced to play guitar for hours on end aboard the death metal mothership; whatever the case, these kids make a freaky intergalactic racket that has tons of potential.
Most importantly though, when I listen to Dingir, I’m for some reason reminded of the hours I spent playing Galaga at Shakey’s when I was a kid; man I loved that fucking game. And remember those potato-skin-thingies they had at Shakey’s? Those things were the shiznits!
The final and probably most all-around impressive of the Unique Leader bands that caught my attention is San Francisco’s Fallujah, who released their debut full length The Harvest Wombs back in 2011; I actually managed to score a copy of this one for $1.05 at my local 1/2 Price Books. The quintet plays an atmospheric, progressive brand of death metal that’s both technical and hard-hitting, but also possessed with a keen sense of melodicism that really pushes the music to stratospheric heights.
I’m reminded of Cynic’s metallic spaciness and Anata’s knack for making memorable, song-centric tech death when I listen to The Harvest Wombs; Fallujah doesn’t sound like either of those bands, but the music they create is in the same spirit; progressive, epic and skillfully executed. The guitar-work of Rob Maramonte and Scott Carstairs is downright mind-blowing in places, and they don’t shy away from peeling off mesmerizing leads that lend the album an astral vibe. These guys can play, but there’s no masturbatory shred for shred’s sake to be found here; everything is in service of building a better song.
In a time when half the genre is regressing towards the HM-2 addled sounds of Sweden circa 1990 and the other half to the cavernous murk of early Incantation and Immolation (not that there’s really anything wrong with that, mind you), Fallujah’s metaphysical prog-metal is probably the least fashionable thing a death metal band could possibly be doing right now. It’s easy to look back to past glories for inspiration, but Fallujah are staring straight ahead on The Harvest Wombs, third eyes open to the sounds of the future.
No discussion of brutal or technical death metal would be complete without making mention of Willowtip Records, who have been right up there with Unique Leader as the be-all-end-all label for this shit for a long time. The Pennsylvania-based label has one hell of brutal/tech death doozy on their hands in 2013 with Defeated Sanity’s Passages into Deformity. I’ve seen quite a few folks who know a lot more about this stuff than I do already calling this the brutal death metal album to beat this year, and in listening to it, it’s easy to see why, even for a virtual novice such as myself. In a nutshell, Passages into Deformity is so insanely OTT in all aspects that it’s hard to imagine another band pushing the envelope for this style any further.
Defeated Sanity hail from Berlin, and their fourth album is undoubtedly a marvel of German engineering; a technically sound engine of aggression built for maximum destruction. From the slice ‘n’ dice guitar tone, to the almost constantly blasting drum-pummel, to the dope-as-fuck bass playing, every aspect of Passages into Deformity is intended to rip your face off and beat your bleeding body into the concrete. Of all the albums we’ve looked at so far, there is no question that Defeated Sanity’s is the most unrelentingly front-to-back brutal.
Passages into Deformity is quickly becoming a favorite for me and I’m looking forward to digging into Defeated Sanity’s back catalog to see what I’ve been missing out on. In the meantime though, this album pairs nicely with Katalepsy’s to give me just about all the skull-raping brutality I need this year… though that won’t keep me from investigating further.
I reckon that wraps it up for Oodles of Brutals… I’ve really been enjoying checking all this stuff out and I’m just scratching the surface here, so this might become a regular thing, provided I can find enough stuff I dig to keep it going; I just got a couple promos from Comatose Music the other day so the floodgates (bloodgates?) may already be opening. I suppose time will tell if I stay on this kick long enough to continue, or if I end up burning myself out the same way I did back in the early 2000s. Either way, it’s a refreshing change of pace from the more-than-steady diet of black metal and doom I seem to have been on for the past few years.
Before I sign off though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain what inspired this whole undertaking. I recently rediscovered my appreciation for early Cryptopsy as a result of spending some quality time with Rage Nucléaire, the new project of that band’s ex-vocalist, the incomparable Lord Worm, which in turn inspired me to go back to the source. I honestly didn’t forsee ever revisiting Cryptopsy, as they have been doing nothing but disappointing me for the last several years (though to be fair I still haven’t heard their latest album), but blasting back through Blasphemy Made Flesh and especially None So Vile reminded me just how incredible this band was in the mid-nineties, not to mention influential; would any of the death metal subgenres we’ve covered here even exist if not for their pioneering work? I don’t fucking think so.