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Friday, 13 January 2023

Reviews: Obituary, Beyond The Black, Defy The Curse, Wothrosch (Reviews By Matt Cook, David G, Erick Willand & Matt Bladen)

Obituary - Dying Of Everything (Relapse Records) [Matt Cook]

Simply glancing at Obituary’s exhaustive discography, one would be forgiven for assuming the pivotal, keystone death metal band had already died long ago. With album names like The End Complete (1992), World Demise (1994) and Frozen In Time (2005), the Floridian five-piece took the very idea of death and regurgitated whatever came to their sadistic minds.

Dying Of Everything is the group’s latest foray into the themes of permanent finality, and is unsurprisingly encumbered by a brand-new slab of sticky, floor-of-a-dive-bar metal. Frontman John Tardy apparently is married to the concept for life. His trademark guttural singing has been carrying the OSDM torch since the late 1980s, when it all started, and here it’s no different. It’s also his uncanny ability to come off as a vicious, psychotic person while still emanating an air of pacifism and personality that separates him from the pack.

Maybe it’s that juxtaposition that has endeared fans for so long. Or it could also be Obituary’s flourishing rhythm section, spearheaded by axemen Kenny Andrews and Trevor Peres, bassist Terry Butler and John's brother Donald on the kit. Thrashy tremolo fills and down-tuned riffing is Obituary’s bread and butter. And even though the production value isn’t as primitive sounding, the record still expertly captures the veterans’ identity.

Opening on the barn-burner that is Barely Alive, Dying is 45 minutes of intensity. War literally begins with sounds of a destructive battle and the eerie distorted voice featured on the title track is but a mere jumping off point for one hell of a damn good riff. Lucky for fans, Dying Of Everything is a six-year answer to Obituary’s self-titled record from 2017. At this rate, Tardy and Co. might still be doing this well into their 60s.

And who wouldn’t want to watch a quartet of near-octogenarians tearing it up on stage, screaming and hollering about death? 8/10

Beyond The Black – Beyond The Black (Nuclear Blast) [David G]

On the first spin I have to admit that this self-titled album, by German quartet Beyond The Black, felt a little on the weak side. There was a slight weary resignation on my part to another one of those symphonic metal bands that I seem to spend a curious amount of time being dismissive of. With each successive listen I’ve found myself torn between excitement, frustration and exasperation.

Where Beyond The Black truly excel on this release is when they decide to unleash, what I believe is called in the modern parlance, “bangers”. First instance of this, Is There Anybody Out There, opens the album invitingly. The star of the show is unquestionably the revved-up Mel C-alike Jennifer Haben, having a similar kind of timbre and edge to her voice as the former Spice Girl, and really keen to belt it out over the slick chords.

The title of Best Banger is reserved however for Winter Is Coming; move past the it-has-gotten-tired-now Game Of Thrones ephemera and you have verses that deploy jagged shards of hard rock guitar. Rather quickly the band build to a glorious earworm of a chorus that spins around Haben’s spiralling vocals and short but powerful descending chord pattern. It’s really early in the year, but I’d be surprised if something this catchy comes along again in 2023.

Naturally the album is interspersed with power balladry, the more interesting exemplar of this approach is Free Me, verses punctuated by juddering guitars with a backdrop of symphonic wash. Naturally less on edge here, the singing is no less powerful but the rougher edge falls away and it neatly shows how well Haben can inhabit or take over the space of the song. Less successfully Wide Awake begins with an effete acoustic section that ponderously layers a few cliches on, leading to the inevitable squealing guitar solo and cries of “WOAHOHHH”. No. NOHOAHHH.

Elsewhere Into The Light is a rather enjoyable mid-tempo romp that has a solid stomp and catchy vocal hook. Reincarnation integrates a bit of folksy nonsense that just reads as a hackneyed. Dancing In The Dark opens with some throat singing, and whilst not particularly strong is a bit nod-worthy. I Remember Dying is a gradual song; building, building and building but not really finishing, perhaps more I Remember Edging?

It’s frustrating to hear an album with such a stunner as Winter Is Coming housed alongside such something so vapid as Wide Awake. I can’t fault the band for playing to such a significant strength in Jennifer Haben’s voice, but there are tracks when they show they can add to that energy with the songs backing her up. Then there are moments where they fall into easy, well-trodden ground that sounds trite. 5/10

Defy The Curse: Horrors Of Human Sacrifice (Hammerheart Records) [Erick Willand]

Oh yeah! This album wastes no time what-so-ever and comes a-blasting the second you hit play. No creepy intro ambience, no screams with chainsaws wailing just ... BOOM and song one, Leading Into The Realm Of Torment punches you in the gut as it runs right past you. It’s rolling and thunderous, a good indication of what’s to come.

Defy The Curse are four old dudes who clearly know what they’re doing with a collective death metal pedigree stretching over a dozen bands including Legion Of The Damned and Mangled. And that experience is clear as track two continues the rolling death assault on your eager eardrums. Existence Consumed rocks on in with swagger like an early Bloodbath song and your skull will move in time, you can’t help it. 

The Tower Of Suffering (my favorite title on the album) slows the pace but only briefly as it lures you in with a nice swaying crunchy riff that leads into the meat of the song and quickens the pace. It’s a song that ‘feels’ shorter than it actually is and that’s a good thing. 

Track 4, Endless Curse starts with my fave death metal cliche, a horror movie clip, and yeah they do it again and I’m still here for it. I love that stuff and this song rocks, this is death metal done right...short, fun, and packed with energy. And the next few songs stick to this with purpose fueled by talent built on experience. 

Swarms starts with a great punchy drum beat that stomps through the song nicely, tied up with the most urgent vocal delivery so far and it’s a song that goes right into my personal playlist. The Oppressor on the flip starts with a slicing guitar riff that rolls like a tide and makes for one of the more fun songs here. Title track Horrors Of Human Sacrifice just ‘feels’ heavy and gives me Incantation vibes, not a bad thing. 

Eidolon The Blind is the second song that starts with a clip, from the same source too. (I recognize it but just can’t place it.) Good death metal, yes. Memorable song, no not really. Track 9 is Desolate Void, the shortest punkiest song on offer, a quick 1 minute and 56 seconds. I dig it but something about it feels out of place, like it should have been the last track I think. 

Serpent Cult and Panopticon, 10 and 11 respectively are both solid songs with Serpent Cult having a wicked ending and Panopticon having a great galloping mid section that keeps your head moving until the riff slips right back into the slower starting riff that then guitar bleeds slowly into the opening of the final track, Dreameater

This is the top shelf song of the album with committed vocals and perfect guitar tone that makes me think of razors. Add the howling wind in the background of it all and I’m sold. I dare say, maybe Dreameater should have been the title track, regardless it’s another song in my personal playlist and that means it wins. 

Cover art by Rafal Wechterowicz, aka ‘Too Many Skulls’ is great and in the new age of AI art any band that uses real art at this point gets an extra point in the end. If you dig your Death Metal with a bit of swagger and a touch of doomy riffage then this is a clear buy. Which brings the total for Defy The Curse to a respectable 7/10

Wothrosch - Odium (Hammerheart Records) [Matt Bladen]

Inspired by extreme soundscapes, Athenian band Wothrosch are very much on the extreme end of the musical spectrum. The sludge/black metal assault similar to brutalists such as Anaal Nathrakh and fellow Greeks Septicflesh (perhaps more in their early years). 

Just a trio of guitars, bass and vocals there's a veracity to this album that even comes in on the slower doom dirge of Disease where the tremolo picked clean leads are in opposition to the crushing, knuckle dragging sludge rhythms. The title of the album comes from “the state or fact of being subjected to hatred and contempt as a result of a despicable act or blameworthy circumstance” so this album is accusatory in it lyrics rallying against the those who are determined to step on the masses. 

Atmospherics abound come on the defining black metal crush of Sinner, Purge again continuing the full on assault but brings in more melody. It's distressing and introspective in its style, the heaviness and pace of the music making for hard going until it speeds up Mass which features Niklas Kvaforth, supplying additional vocals and misery. Odium is a very intriguing album, it's loud and noisy but possibly lingers a little too long in the slower realms for some, though that makes for more discomfort and distress, which is their ethos. 7/10

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