Condemned to the System
Nausea = Repulsion + Napalm Death + Majesty
It’s a given that January is going to start with a lot of nausea, but this Nausea is a different kind. It’s the band of grindcore (not the crust punk band) legend Oscar Garcia, who did the vocals on Terrorizer’s World Downfall album. Nausea is back with a new full-length with Garcia handling vocal and guitar duties along with original drummer Eric Castro and some new blood. Unlike Terrorizer’s new material, Nausea retain all the raw glory they did on their Crime Against Humanity record. Condemned to the System is balls-out grind: The drumming is beyond magnificent—there are so many grind records that would love to sound like this album does. This shocks the system so much more than anything Napalm Death has done in over a decade, and I fucking love Napalm Death. As far as “comebacks” go, this gets two big thumbs up right in the eyeballs of the scene. –Bryer Wharton
Shadows of the Dying Sun
Insomnium = Dark
Tranquillity + Katatonia + Swallow the Sun
Continuing to build their stronghold of melodic death metal, Finland’s Insomnium offer up their sixth full-length record without a ton of surprises and with all expectations met. Speaking of said stronghold, Insomnium seem to go out and pillage and destroy other melodic death metal bands that add way too much modern style into their mix. The band sticks to their guns here, with heavy riffs meaty enough to satisfy the hungriest of heavy metal folks. The meat is backed by a ton of melodic guitar work—it’s what has made and continues to make Insomnium a band to always listen to, even if melodic death metal isn’t quite your fancy. Pace shifts and many vocal change-ups keep things interesting throughout. What Insomnium do in regard to melodic death metal may be a bit of a farther cry from what the genre started as, but that leaves room for Insomnium to carve their own name in stone—or metal. –Bryer Wharton
Funeral Circle = Devil + Candlemass + Witchfinder General
These days, it’s hard to be epic unless you release a quintuple-picture wooden box LP of your eight-hour album. Funeral Circle set out to be epic doom metal, but unlike Candlemass, Funeral Circle, for the most part, retain a crunchier groove-riff-burdening album featuring slower tunes with sparse guitar solos and leads. When those leads and solo licks do kick in, the impact is much harder. Funeral Circle’s greatest achievement is a clever balancing act of being atmospheric and blatantly heavy with equal emphasis on creating memorable songs. The band’s debut, here, reeks of an older time without getting that unfortunate label-slap of being a throwback artist. The production, especially for the vocals, has a chamber “echo” music feel that is all very important for doom fiends—if there is no sense of dread, it’s not doom. –Bryer Wharton
Dark Descent Records
Lantern = Autopsy + Hooded Menace + Sepultura (Beneath the Remains era)
This Lantern does not burn brightly—drenched in atmosphere, this dirge-meets-speed/groove death metal record is one of the better records you will hear all year. Initially, when “Rites of Descent” chimes the funeral death metal bell, expectations are torn. Higher-end guitar tones start to set the thick, murky atmosphere of Below. Then things get really interesting, as the pace and momentum shift seamlessly from the dirge to groove and fast, old-school thrash-styled Americana death. Just when your neck starts to stiffen and sore, the dirges slow things way down, and it’s almost like you’re listening to a different record. “Interesting” is an understatement—this laughs at the death metal genre conventions, and pushes your psyche into dark, angry moods. Dark Descent Records found a blood-stained diamond here—this is a sleeper of cult death metal record in the making. Push play and die. –Bryer Wharton
Season of Mist
Destroyer 666 = Bestial Mockery + Sodom + Denouncement Pyre
There’s that old saying that good things come to those who wait. I know that I waited patiently, and the time quickly came for a new Destroyer 666 album. The Australian black/thrash band picked up notoriety after their first EP, Violence is the Prince of This World, and with each release—be it a full-length or an EP—the momentum bursts like the raw, ripping, anthemic, violent music that Destroyer 666 create.
Wildfire follows what was a fairly disappointing album that was 2009’s Defiance. Defiance tread water for Destroyer 666 in a lot of ways, and most songs blurred to the next. Although, I could get past a bit of that, and there was still some great playing to be heard. Unfortunately, on Defiance, most of the playing was obscured by a nasty drum trigger sound that outweighed everything else, turning tracks into a blundered “duh-duh-duh” sound that repeated loudly in my head.
Well, have no fear: Seven years later, Wildfire makes a huge, dominating statement—the qualities that made Phoenix Rising and Cold Steel … for an Iron Age so great are back in force with some new dynamics rounding out an album that doesn’t tire upon massive repeated listening. The feel of the album screams old-school thrash—some songs have that anthemic fist-pumping quality. That said, there is that trademark blackened quality that Destroyer 666 are known for; just mix those thrash anthems with the grit of early Bathory and Venom. The lineup—other than K.K. Warslut, who founded the band—is all-new for Destroyer 666. The two new members each boast the pedigree of previous bands: Drummer Perracide has been in Benediction and In Aeternum, and guitarist R.C. played in Grave Miasma.
“Traitor” gets the speedball rolling at a dizzying thrash tempo set upon whirlwinds of riffage—it’s also the first exposure to the nice, natural, live-production sound that the album oozes at every moment. Crank Wildfire up loud enough, and you may as well be at a Destroyer 666 show wherever you’re jamming this record. “Artiglio Del Diavolo is an aggressive but tightly written, all-instrumental track that sets up the next song, and it’s a face-melter—it’s the first gut- and face-punch track from the record. “Hounds at Ya Back” opens up with a calm melody until its first punching riff. Its lyrics are catchy, and it’s a hell of a song that’s up there as one of the best tracks that I’ve laid ears to this year.
The record manages to stay fresh by not taking the balls-out approach. The follow-up cut, “Hymn to Dionysus,” slows the tempo in a good, not-making-me-yawn kind of way—just the beginning, though, which is heavily atmospheric until it rips into less thrash and more black-sounding territory. The varying paces and styles go further with the following few cuts, like the title track, “White Line Fever” (not a Merle Haggard cover), and “Die You Fucking Pig!” With album closer “Tamam Shud,” there’s a mix of mostly slow tempos with a few fast bits for good measure. Add it all up and you get an album that isn’t just a fistful of speed and insanity, with clean, clear production and catchy songs—what more could you want? Nothing. Wildfire marks a point of maturity for Destroyer 666 but also returns to what made them stand out: catchy, notable songs. With all I’ve gushed already, I’ll close the review with a bad pun: This Wildfire is one that won’t be put out. –Bryer Wharton
Gravehill / Mordbrand
In Nighted Waters
Gravehill / Mordbrand = Hellhammer + early Grave + Sodom + early Entombed
This isn’t your average split 12”—hell, what is an average split release anyway? You have two bands, sometimes doing completely different things, or two bands doing some likeminded things. While Cali’s Gravehill and Sweden’s Mordbrand run in similar genre circles, the music from both bands is not just diverse with regard to the split but also explores a bit of newer territory for each band. Gravehill’s Side A is the band’s previously released but highly limited (to cassette) EP, Skullbearer. Side B for Mordbrand is a brand-new EP titled In Nighted Waters. Maybe this was not initially meant to be a split, but it is now—well, more of a two-for-one option on vinyl: two EPs on one piece of wax.
Starting off, I’m going in reverse order of the split here. I hadn’t heard a lick of music from Mordbrand, but this introduction is outstanding, mostly straight-up Swedish death. It has that jugular-pulling, dirty, Swedish death metal guitar style running through it to pump out heavy and heavier riffing. The production is quite clean while keeping a raw edge throughout. Tempos, however, are multifaceted. There is some minimal keyboard work. The keys do not take an ounce of the death away and do not populate every song. The opening riffs from “Decimation Reigns” set the tone for the bands’ five decimating tunes. When Mordbrand aren’t pummeling with riffs, the breaks—interchanges from riffing and downtempo melodic stuff in between—keep things rolling like a rocket-fueled steamroller. “Parishioners of the Bleeding” has some great tremolo riffing that doesn’t really play out on any other songs—just a bit of the diversity that populates In Nighted Waters. It all ends in a fantastic bang. “Where Existence is Null” is a downtempo track that gets your mind thinking, “OK, this is going to close out a bit slow and dreary.” Nope! “Compost Christ” lays the sucker punches with a jackhammer fist that forms fast, chunky riffs with all the violence you expect from Swedish death metal elite!
Skullbearer is good insight into what more can come from the veteran blackthrash Gravehill. The songs are similar but quite different when compared to Gravehill’s last full-length, Death Curse. The four tracks, almost 20 minutes long in total, fly by. The emphasis on the blackthrashing is shown from the start with “By the Edge of our Knives,” offering the speed, grime and ugliness to make blackthrash shine. Things get slowed down significantly with the second cut, “Redeemed in Blood.” Gravehill’s usual ugliness puts a bow tie on or some shit. Granted, it’s a shitty thrift-store bow tie. Tempos are slowed, songwriting is more complicated, and it shows the band in a light that develops over the EP. They’re not just purveyors of speed and filth, but every inch and corner of filth. Hell, if you have ever met the guys, you know that they are pretty damn filthy. “Redeemed” is really the only slowed-tempo cut. The rest rages on ripe with gravel-gargling vocals to fit right in with the intensity of it all. The satisfaction at the end is a fine one. I enjoy the idea of two standalone EPs turning into a split LP. Thanks, Gravehill and Mordbrand, for some beautifully ugly tunes! –Bryer Wharton
Vircolac = The Ruins of Beverast + Primordial + Arcane Sun
Here we have another sweet little demo from an at-the-moment-pretty-unknown band, once again from the German Iron Bonehead label. Before I gush about Vircolac, I have to say that I absolutely love the fact that the label officially releases bands’ demos for more mass consumption. Consume and repeat is what you will want to do with this multiple-subgenre-tackling Irish band. They execute black, death and doom metal quite well, pumping out the atmosphere of dread heavily, with an equally dark and aggressive nature—all presented in a humble set of four songs (more like three: The first is an intro track). This band’s way of transitioning from gloomy, almost epic death/doom (at times) to blazing, gritty blackened styles does exactly what a demo should do—leave the listener wanting more. –Bryer Wharton