By Craig Haze
With the festive season being a confusing nightmare of rampant consumerism and endless celebrations of myths well past their use-by date, it’s easy to get behind. I’m sitting on a stack of albums that thoroughly deserve a review. Solution: short and snappy write-ups. These reviews may not be as in-depth as I’d normally write, but that’s no reflection on the quality of the albums covered.
First up is a triptych of death metal. Each band represents a different branch of Señor Death’s family, and each serves as a reminder of the hefty muscle that lurks in the underground.
Horrendous— The Chills (Dark Descent)
Reading up on Horrendous before I sat down to give their debut full-length The Chills a spin, I discovered a thread of criticism bemoaning the fact that the band sound a little old-school. Somehow the band’s obvious fondness for a ’90s Stockholm sound had become an issue, albeit for a minority of death metal fans.
There’s no denying the band craft a vintage sound, but then, Horrendous clearly weren’t aiming to reinvent the wheel with The Chills, and if we’re willing to celebrate a plethora of other retro-inclined death metal acts, then why not Horrendous? The answer to those who think the band’s Entombed and Grave worship reeks of nostalgia seems fairly straightforward: there are a million other progressive or technical death metal bands to choose from. It’s your choice, you know what you’re getting here, and as it happens, The Chills is an excellent album—stacked with rough, raw, and yes, throwback death metal.
I’ll skip comparisons, suffice to say Horrendous’ songwriting and arrangements have many of the hallmarks of that classic Swedish era of death metal. But it would do the band a huge disservice to simply say they mimic the period. There’s ample variation on The Chills—melodic riffs, icy doom-like flourishes and gritty thrash is mixed in as well. Tracks like the opening trio, “The Womb”, “Ripped to Shreds” and “Altar”, all have distinct characteristics, as do the rest. There’s really no sense of ‘same old, same old’ here—aside from the fact that all the tracks have a similar weightiness—and by the time the epic, multipart final track, “The Eye of Madness”, rolls around, there’s ample evidence that Horrendous don’t deal in uninspired clichés. In fact, if “The Eye of Madness” is anything to go by, the band’s future direction will be very interesting indeed.
Horrendous haven’t set out to produce anything revolutionary, but just because the band happens to look upon the ’90s with some affection doesn’t mean The Chills is worthy of less attention than some technical whizz-kids. As it stands, The Chills more than serves its purpose, which is, at the end of the day, to provide some unyielding death metal. On that count, Horrendous have definitely delivered.
Ominous Crucifix — The Spell of Damnation (FDA Rekotz)
Ugly, fetid and obstinate. That about sums up The Spell of Damnation, the debut album from Mexican occult death metal maestros Ominous Crucifix. Thirty-eight minutes of churning and fervently esoteric odes that’ll be tempting, at least to some degree, to fans of Sonne Adam, Ignivomous or Teitanblood.
Filled with primarily mid-tempo dirges, The Spell of Damnation essentially crawls from one track to the next with little regard to any huge change in cadence. Admittedly, that could be a problem, especially if you were after something a little more dynamic, but it suits the sinister rhythm of the material well. There’s no great stylistic leap between “Defiling the Altars of an Absent God”, “Church of Death” or “Repulsive Sanctification of the Absurd”, nor are any of the other tracks substantially different in tone, but there’s a steadfastness to the album—a sense of determined, vehement occultism.
The Spell of Damnation is only Ominous Crucifix’s first full-length, and after a split, demo and EP there’s still plenty of time for the band to develop—not that they really need to in any great regard, as they’ve certainly found their chosen path. As it is, I’d be happy to recommend this to any fan of diabolic death metal. There’s a crudity, wickedness and primordial magnetism to The Spell of Damnation that’s not easy to ignore.
Vore — Gravehammer (Self Released)
I can’t think of a single reason why Vore aren’t signed to a label. The band’s been cranking out self-released albums of mid-paced death metal since 1994, and if the stripped-back, bone-dry production on their latest Gravehammer is anything to go by, they’ve got their sound nailed down tight as a tornado shelter. Maybe it all comes down to the band’s familiarity with other acts—there are traces of Cannibal Corpse and Bolt Thrower to be found here—but it would be a hugely dishonorable charge to suggest the band are copping riffs off anyone. With 17 years of metal soldiering behind them, Vore have their own arsenal to draw from.
The band’s mix of thrash-tinged death metal meets all the requirements for anyone looking for some solid pulverizing grooves. The album’s stacked with hulking numbers: “The Unseen Hand”, “The Claw Is the Law”, “Sacerdotum Tyrannis” and “Progeny of the Leviathans” all have a great neck-snapping compression about them. There’s also no doubt the years of touring and recording have melded the band into a tight unit, and while there’s no great deal of overt technicality on offer—Gravehammer is more battering than innovative—that doesn’t take anything away from the album’s quality. It might be a touch ‘Floridian old-school’, but Vore have a long history, and if you want to make comparisons, Exhumed and Jungle Rot are both veteran acts staking out rigid positions, and no-one’s criticizing them for sticking to what they’re good at. Brutality, consistency and dedicated savagery, those are the hallmarks of Gravehammer. And it would seem, Vore as well.