2015 has been a damn fine year for death metal so far, and it appears that Profound Lore is looking to up the ante with their most recent salvo of releases. Indeed, the label has in its hot little hands a pair of debut full-lengths from two up-and-coming bands who’s respective takes on death metal couldn’t be more different if they tried, yet both strive for excellence in their own way.
Few bands have captured my attention in 2014 quite like Full of Hell. I had the pleasure of witnessing the quartet’s devastating, show-stealing live set back in August and was blown away by their combination of relentless intensity and determination to push the envelope of grind/hardcore deep into the realms of harsh noise. It was like someone had thrown Jane Doe-era Converge in a blender with Release Records-era Merzbow and set that motherfucker to liquefy; easily one of the most simultaneously challenging and exhilarating live experiences ever. Needless to say, when I caught wind of the announcement that they had signed a deal with Profound Lore and their debut for the venerable label would be a collaboration with the aforementioned Japanese God of Noise himself, anticipation was through the roof and then some.
Trying to keep up with Profound Lore Records is no easy task. Every year it seems that the label bombards us with more and more quality releases, and being a one man show here at THKD, I often find myself stretched incredibly thin as far as my ability to listen to and write about as many new albums as possible is concerned; some stuff inevitably slips through the cracks. In an effort to prevent that from happening, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite recent PL releases in one place. What follows is a brief rundown of each one.
It’s been quite a while since I did one of these (over a year, to be slightly more precise), but frankly there hasn’t been a whole lot of new stuff on the brutality front that’s really tripped my trigger of late. In fact, it’s only been within the past month or so that enough gory goodies have piled up to make it worth doing. The initial two installments of Oodles of Brutals were all about slam and brutal death metal, but this time around we’ll mostly be focusing on tech death. I’m pretty darn picky about this stuff, as there is an extremely fine line between mind-bending technicality and “Hey, look what we can do!” fret-wankery, so it’s a bit of a surprise that so much of this stuff has been able to grab me, but it’s a neck-snappingly pleasant one. Let’s dive in…
Chicago’s Avichi impressed the hell out of me with their 2011 release, The Devil’s Fractal, so much so that I interrogated guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Andrew Markuszewski at length about the album, and it came in just shy of making my top ten metal albums list for the year (which says more about what a strong year 2011 was for metal than it does about any short-comings on the album’s part). After three years of silence, Avichi is back with Catharsis Absolute, which sees Markuszewski continuing to refine his compelling approach to black metal.
Normally, this is the part where I get all reflective regarding the year in metal. I had a scathing year-end rant all ready to go, an ice cold glass of haterade to throw in the faces of the all the people and things that annoyed, dismayed and pissed me off in 2013… and then I read what I’d written and realized that I sounded like a complete dick. What’s the point in dwelling on the negative when there was so much good this year? I had one hell of a hard time whittling down my list to just fifteen albums, and there’s still a lot out there that I’ve either yet to hear or yet to fully digest. It’s pretty darn easy to ignore the mountain of crap when there’s an equally tall mountain of greatness staring you in the face, and yet sometimes I forget that… I guess that’s what my anti-depressants are for.
Given the players involved and the label putting it out, it’s quite surprising that there hasn’t been more hype surrounding the release of Vhöl’s self-titled debut album. I mean, we’re talking about a band that includes current/former members of the likes of Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, YOB and Agalloch on the goddamn mighty Profound Lore for chrissakes; if ever there was a modern band that should be having the term supergroup lobbed at its feet, it’s surely Vhöl. And while I (fortunately) haven’t seen too many folks chucking the dreaded “s word” about in reference to this quartet of West Coast killas, their opening salvo is nonetheless pretty gosh darn super.
No band in existence conjures the musical equivalent of Lovecraftian dread quite like Australia’s Portal. It’s one thing to simply study Lovecraft and then regurgitate the Cthulhu Mythos stories in lyrics and artwork accompanied by pedestrian extreme metal songs, but Portal take things far beyond the conventions of worshiping at the altar the great author; the blood of Yog-Sothoth flows through the veins of these men, allowing them to create an alchemical miasma of eldritch horror through music. Never has death metal sounded so alien, so extra-dimensional.
Rumors of deathrock’s uh, death, are greatly exaggerated. Pinkish Black proved it was still alive and well with their excellent self-titled debut earlier this year, and now Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch have knocked it out of the goddamn park with Ritual of Passing. This isn’t your granddaddy Rozz Williams’ deathrock though. While it might be built on a tortured foundation similar to what bands like Christian Death were putting down back in the day, Atriarch breaths new life into the genre by incorporating the musical vocabularies of doom and black metal into their approach, making their brand of diseased heaviness that much more, well, deathly.
Desolation. That’s the first word that comes to mind when listening to Longing, the debut album from Seattle doom duo Bell Witch. Perhaps it’s the sparse yet oppressive instrumentation; I imagine myself attempting to traverse a scarred, barren wasteland littered with dead bodies in various states of decay, like a hastily made mass grave in the middle of a desert. Try as I might to cross these decrepit badlands, something holds me down, a psychic/spiritual weight that forces me to crawl on my hands and knees. It is the ten ton weight of depression.