WAKE – Thought Form Descent

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Metal Blade
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Calgary’s WAKE have been working tirelessly over the years, as can be seen by their endless touring, and the release of their sixth album. “Thought Form Descent,” which is also their debut on Metal Blade Records, sees these Canucks taking the lessons learned from their last album, “Devouring Ruin,” and expanding on them even farther. That 2020 album saw the band shed a lot of their grindcore influences in favor of more black/death metal, and saw the band embellish their songs with more mature songwriting. “Thought Form Descent” keeps running with this style, but adds in a healthy dose of melody without sacrificing any of the extremity they’ve been known for throughout their existence.

No one really wants to write the same album twice, and sometimes bands will avoid that just by having line up changes between every record. “Thought Form Descent,” however, marks the first time that WAKE retained the same line up as the previous record. As such, it’s apparent this line up gels with each other well, as they’re able to craft some long and dizzying tunes, with song lengths generally sitting between 6 and 9 minutes. Gone are the days of the 2 minute songs where riffs whiz by at maximum speed, barely giving the listener time to digest them. Here, things are felt out, layered, and nuanced as they progress, showing a lot of thought with each song. The album opener, “Infinite Inward,” shows this well, as melodies from the more relaxed intro are reintroduced at the end to create something that feels complete.

As with “Devouring Ruin,” clean guitars pop up here and there to create a little breathing room, such as in “Swallow the Light.” Lead guitarist Arjun Gill (who has been with the band on the last 4 albums) has certainly found his voice with his playing. His sense of melody is stellar, and he’s able to add in a lot of musicality and dynamics with the lead lines that he adds in over the chord work that is prominent throughout the record. WAKE uses a lot of black metal inspired chord word, sometimes keeping it more traditional by just blasting through them with tremolo picking, but also opening them up with some arpeggios and adding in tension with some dissonance. “Mourning Dirge” sees Gill’s playing add in some extra atmosphere the way it’s layered in on this song, and when some of those chord progressions open up, bassist Ryan Kennedy fills the space up in interesting ways. As I stated with my review of “Devouring Ruin,” a lot of this feels similar to Deathspell Omega, but it still sounds like the guys in WAKE playing it. “Observer to Master” probably has some of the prettiest stuff on a WAKE album yet, as the melodic bit in the middle is rather elegant, and stands in contrast to the disgustingly dissonant part right after.

“Thought Form Descent” is the third album the band has recorded in Denver with Dave Otero, a relationship that seems to be very fruitful for the band. This is also drummer Josh Bueckert’s third record with the band, and if you’ve seen him live, you know he has some incredible chops. His playing sounds phenomenal on this record, as you’ll feel every blast beat, and his more creative playing comes through real nice with nuanced ghost notes (check out that drum pattern in “Venerate” before the blasting kicks in). There’s a huge amount of atmosphere to be found among the heaviness, with extra little layers of reverb behind the madness to create a really huge sound.

WAKE has really taken their music to the next level, not only from their initial metalcore infused grind of the earlier material, but from album to album, coming into their own unique style of dynamic black/death metal. “Thought Form Descent” is a wonderfully balanced album with all sorts of shades colours, but it still manages to sound extreme and powerful. The colourful artwork itself essentially foreshadows the dynamics played here, as it is a thing of beauty, and it is hauntingly powerful at the same time.

85%

WAKE – Devouring Ruin

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Translation Loss
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Coming from the Canadian city of Calgary, WAKE have been on an absolute tear over the last six years, and have evolved a lot since they initially started grinding back in 2009. Seeing as Calgary is just a stone’s throw away from Edmonton, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this band’s growth first hand, and I’m always amazed at how far they’ve matured as songwriters and musicians, but still sounding uniquely like themselves. “Devouring Ruin” is their fifth album, and marks a major stylistic shift that sees them diving farther into black/death metal, and they do it in quite the artful manner.

Right off the bat, the band starts the album with a clean guitar strumming some chords, as if to bluntly let listeners know that this is a different beast than their last two magnificent grinding albums, “Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow” and “Misery Rites.” Those records had a lot more in common with bands like Knelt Rote or Infernal Coil, where here they start to chase things that have a little more breathing room, like Deathspell Omega. That being said, a lot of WAKE’s earlier influences are still present if you’re paying attention. The breakdown halfway through “This Abyssal Plain” sounds very metalcore-eque, but the way they let it play out is different. They turn it into a chord progression, and layer some leads on it, and the way it builds up is a perfect example of the maturity in WAKE’s songwriting.

Coming back to the Deathspell Omega influence, we can see that throughout the record in the way they utilize chords more thoughtfully. You can hear some dissonant arpeggios in their early stuff, but here it’s fully realized into a progression, which is on full display on tracks like “Mouth of Abolition.” Instead of grinding through everything in a couple minutes, WAKE takes the time to open some parts up, and on this track you can hear some active bass lines from former-drummer-now-bassist Ryan Kennedy. Kennedy’s return to the band may have very well been a catalyst in the push for a more dynamic record, and I’m sure he had something to do with book-ending the previously mentioned tracks with ambient interludes.

Looking at the song lengths alone is enough to know that WAKE really pushed for something more on this album than they had previously. They had been hinting at that kind of thing with the closing track “Misery Rites” (which is over 7 minutes), so it certainly was in their ability to push things further. There’s more lengthy songs here, and the overall album is about twice the length as previous records. “Torchbearer” exceeds 10 minutes, but by no means drags. This is another song I feel that displays some of the band’s early metalcore influences, as an earlier part in the song sounds very much like the title track of Converge’s “Jane Doe.” But make no mistake, WAKE still blasts their way through plenty of parts, as this song is full of tremolo chord progressions and powerful blastbeats. Furthermore, they do contrast these longer songs with some that are a little more concise, like “In the Lair of the Rat King,” which literally blasts off with some real janky grindcore riffs.

WAKE’s albums have had a huge increase in production quality over the years, and this is their second one they recorded with Dave Otero down in Denver. “Devouring Ruin” sounds rich, full, and heavy thanks to his attention to detail throughout the recording process. Josh Bueckert’s drumming sounds clear and powerful, and all the dynamics come out well in his playing. Vocalist Kyle Ball sounds monstrous, as his double tracked low vocals add an extra layer of demonic sound to the songs. It’s no wonder these guys have stuck with him, as they’ve also recorded their latest record with him as well.

“Devouring Ruin” is tremendous album that does black/death metal from a very different approach thanks to their background in grindcore/metalcore/crust punk. WAKE have managed to put out a record that’s both punishingly heavy and artfully creative at the same time, and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. At the time of writing this, the band are currently promoting the follow up to this record, which further pushes their new approach with a heavy dose melody and lead guitar work. If you’re reading this review because you’ve already heard “Thought Form Descent,” or you enjoyed the previous black/death/grind hybrid sound on the previous couple records, you absolutely need to hear “Devouring Ruin.”

85%

Archagathus – Coffee Grinder

Genre: Grindcore | Label: Bringer of Gore
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba| Listen: Youtube

Canadian grinders Archagathus have been outrageously prolific over the years, so much so that some of their releases may have been buried only to be resurrected a few years later for completion. After releasing their first 12″ in 2010, Archagathus released two more in 2011. One of these was the incredible “Canadian Horse” LP, which I’ve given much praise in a previous review. The other one is what we have here, the “Coffee Grinder” LP. It contains 14 tracks that were initially recorded back in 2008, and then finished in 2011. These are considerably rawer than the “Canadian Horse” LP, and not surprisingly sound more inline with the many split 7″ recordings Archagathus were putting out around the late 2000’s.

“Coffee Grinder” contains the duo of Dan Ryckman and Joe Warkentin, with the former performing all instruments, and the latter supplementing the vocal department. Some of these songs, namely “Sad Together,” “Intelligible Happiness” and “Unrealistic Janitor” have appeared on previous recordings, and are possibly the earlier verisons of these songs. The other 11 tracks are exclusive to this release, with most of them getting the job done in a mere minute. Most of the songs revolve around fairly simple verse/chorus structures that pummel away between blast beats, polka-mince beats, and punky d-beats. This should not surprise anyone who are familiar with these guys.

Despite the simple structures and fairly predictable material, there’s no shortage of sick riffs, hooks, and nuances all around to keep it fresh and something worth coming back to. The longest track, “Functional Society System” actually has an intro that builds up for about the first half of the song. “Mince Bastard” provides a simple groove that makes it instantly likeable. The usage of all sorts of vocal styles also give these songs tons of character, which prove Warkentin’s value as a second vocalist on this record. Both guys can do tons of crazy things with their voices, and that’s been a strength of the countless projects both have done over the years.

As mentioned, this is a pretty raw affair, but it is earlier on in Archagathus’ career. I think it’s entirely listenable, and even genre appropriate, so it’s certainly not bad, but there’s things like a lack of crisp attack on the kick drum. The cymbals’ high end seems a little strange, and there’s guitar hums and feedback where most folks would just clean it up. All that adds into the charm of this record, and kind of feeds into the lore about how it was initially recorded a few years earlier before the band came back to it.

Out of all of Archagathus’ full lengths, this one is probably the hardest to come by, as it’s only been done in limited runs on vinyl and tape. It is their rawest of their four LPs (it does very clearly state “raw shit” on the cover!), but it’s one I come back to often because I usually prefer listening to their longer releases instead of going through a million 7″ splits, so I’m glad the band decided to dig these songs up and get them finished. If the early years of Archagathus interest you, this one is certainly worth hunting down, even if just digitally.

80%

Misery Index/Commit Suicide split

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Willowtip Records
Location: Baltimore, Maryland/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Listen: Bandcamp

Here we have a split between Baltimore’s Misery Index and Pittsburgh’s Commit Suicide. This is the second Misery Index release, and sees them adding a 2nd guitarist in Sparky Voyles (who also played in Dying Fetus with other MI members), meanwhile Commit Suicide had just released their debut album the same year of this split. Both bands fall in the realm of death metal, but one would kind of fade away to obscurity where the other continues to release music to this day. This split is now 20 years old and came out during the early days of both bands, and is still worth a listen.

As mentioned, Misery Index expanded to a quartet for this release after their debut EP came out the year prior. Out of the three songs here, two are originals and the other is a cover. The two originals are both short and fast grinders, having a little more punk influence shining through with some of it’s rhythmic approach and to the point structure. There’s still some intricate phrasing in their guitar riffs, as with the first few riffs in “My Untold Apocalypse.” Blast beats barrage away and give away to groovier double kick patterns. “Alive” features some simpler punk riffs in its verses as Jason Netherton barks away his grievances of slaving one’s life away. The Misery Index tracks finish up with a cover by the great d-beat/grind band Disrupt, and like with many early Misery Index releases, this cover turned me onto Disrupt. They absolutely kill this song and it fits really nice alongside their two originals.

Commit Suicide’s side of the split also contains two original tracks and a cover. They play a style that has a little more in common with brutal death metal, as they have chunky, palm muted power chords that plod atop blastbeats. In fact, “In All this Revelation” features a couple different blast beats the way through, and we’re not met with a single break between blasts until a third of the way through the next track. Once “With Not Distaste” comes back from its slow break, it features some quasi-quirky grooves typical of early 2000’s brutal death metal, before taking off into more blastbeats and chromatic tremolo riffs. It’s not the worst thing on earth, but I can’t say I’ve really ever been interested in busting out any of this band’s material for a long time. Their Death cover is at least pretty bad ass, and is an easy incentive to just listen through their two tracks just to get to the cover.

This split is an enjoyable listen, and I’ll probably always enjoy the Misery Index tracks. The Commit Suicide side (which rolls off the tongue awkwardly) is a decent affair of early 2000’s brutal death metal, and both bands do some really fantastic covers of seminal bands in their respective influences. The production on both sides reeks of the early 2000’s with its drum sound especially, but that’s to be expected, and it’s honestly not the worst example of it. Misery Index has had quite the career since this split, where as Commit Suicide terminated themselves at some point after releasing their sophomore album a couple years later. As mentioned in the “Overthrow” EP review for Misery Index, these non album tracks from their early years have been compiled on a CD by the band’s own label, and that’s certainly worth checking out.

75%

Misery Index – Overthrow

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Anarchos Records
Location: Baltimore, Maryland | Listen: Bandcamp

At the time of writing this review, Baltimore’s Misery Index have just released their seventh full length, which is an impressive feat. As such, there’s no better time to take a look back at their discography, and here we have their debut release, the “Overthrow” EP. It features two former members of Dying Fetus (and a third alumni would join them long term immediately after this EP) playing death metal with some punk and grindcore influences throughout. I’m particularly keen on early Misery Index, and still quite enjoy this EP all these years later.

Misery Index’s general sound at this era has some things in common with Dying Fetus’ earlier material, which makes sense as bassist/vocalist Jason Netherton was an original member, and drummer Kevin Talley was his bandmate there too. So not only is there some familiarity in the vocals, but some of the elements of groove are similar. Misery Index makes use of some NYDM-esque chunky power chord grooves, which are certainly easy to get into, but they balance them out with a variety of other riff styles and rhythmic approaches. They’ll often do full out blastbeat sections with tremolo picked lines that get into some melodic territory, but there’s a tension in these melodies that makes these riffs sound razor sharp. Blistering double kicks and fast beats in general dominate the parts of the songs that aren’t grooving, and giving them their own unique character, and one that’s downright explosive.

Lyrically, Misery Index is more firmly rooted in grindcore, much like fellow east coast death/grinders Brutal Truth. Topics like consumerism, class war, power and control are at the forefront here, and they’re very well done. I’ve alawys adored Jason Netherton’s lyrical abilities, as he has lots to say, but uses language in a thoughtful way. There’s no need to get a dictionary, as he makes his points painfully clear with relatable metaphors of struggle and hardship. His vocal delivery is bold, powerful, yet easy enough to understand, and he’s able to create hooks throughout the songs quite effectively.

One of the only things I can complain about when it comes to this EP (and early Misery Index in general) is how it’s a victim of early 2000’s triggered drum production. Namely, the kicks sound very obviously triggered, but that’s pretty much the standard for 2001. Everything is loud and clear, but the guitars at least have a little bit of grime on them that it brings it back from to sounding too clinical.

Along with the four original songs presented on this EP, there’s also a cover of Terrorizer’s “Dead Shall Rise.” Funny enough, I ended up checking out Terrorizer because of this cover, and as such I think it’s a great rendition. It’s a nice lean 15 minutes, perfect for a band’s very first release, and certainly something that takes me back to my teenage years when I was getting into more extreme music. The tracks on “Overthrow” have been re-released on a compilation CD with several other of their EPs/splits, which is also a great way to enjoy these early Misery Index tracks.

80%

Nyctophobic – War Criminal Views

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Morbid Records
Location: Germany | Listen: Bandcamp

Nyctophobic were a grindcore band from Germany who I seldom see mentioned, even among fans of the genre. They were active for 17 years before calling it quits, and released two full lengths in that time. Their debut from 1996, “War Criminal Views,” is a crushing display of death metal infused grindcore that is sure to appeal to fans of all the classics, as it has plenty in common with the likes of Agathocles, Brutal Truth, Napalm Death, Excruciating Terror, and especially their fellow German grinders, Blood.

Blood is clearly the most similar band to Nyctophobic, as they fuse together death metal riffs with grindcore structures, and they even shared members between the bands at one point (although this record contains no member connections to Blood). The songs don’t waste any time pummeling the listener with riff after riff. There’s some primitive grooves that come through the downtuned guitars, which is certainly reminiscent of what Excruciating Terror was doing at the same time over in America (both bands’ album covers are certainly reminiscent of each other too). They’ll throw these groovier parts in between primitive jackhammer blastbeats, which are usually played underneath simple tremolo picked death metal riffs.

Lyrically, Nyctophobic focuses on themes that are fairly common in grindcore – sociopolitical topics, anti-war, anti-racism, etc. This is certainly in line with Napalm Death, Agathocles, and Brutal Truth. Songs like “Responsiblities” get into some Napalm Death “FETO” territory with both the riffs and pacing, which is some god-tier grindcore as far as I’m concerned. Speaking of Brutal Truth, the way these lyrics are delivered certainly remind me of “Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses,” as they’ll layer in high pitched screams and low death growls at the same time, and the highs sound a lot like Kevin Sharpe does on that record. They also utilize some pitchshifting effects, which also draws comparison back to Agathocles. The dynamics in these vocals certainly translate into a good variety for these shorter songs.

The production is fairly on point for mid 90’s grindcore, especially with it’s distorted bass that sounds absolutely grimy. The drums sound somewhat raw, but in a very appropriate way. The snare doesn’t get lost in the blasting sections, nor does the kick. The way all these rumblings come together is again very much like Agathocles’ “Theatric Symbolisation of Life,” which they even go as far to cover the title track on that album, as if to tell unsuspecting listeners what to expect. There’s a lot of samples of dialogue throughout this record that kind of sets the tone with the lyrical themes. Sometimes they feel like they drag out a little too much, but that is only a minor complaint.

If you like grindcore that leans more into death metal, “War Criminal Views” is a necessary listen, and honestly should be mentioned in the same breath as the bands I’ve compared this record to. It’s a pretty straight forward record that has enough dynamics between blistering fast sections and groovier parts to drive it home. It’s a full 40 minutes too, which by modern grind standards is a bit long, but the way Nyctophobic utilizes the time makes it feel very complete.

80%

Grave Infestation – Persecution of the Living

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Invictus Productions
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia | Listen: Bandcamp

Grave Infestation are a new band out of Vancouver, but the way they play death metal makes it sound like they’re from the depths of hell. These Canucks put out a pair of crushing demos in 2019 (which have been compiled on a compilation LP and released alongside this record), and needless to say, they made a strong impression on myself and many other death metal fans. For those unfamiliar with Grave Infestation, they contain three members of AHNA, and continue the absolutely sinister style of death metal that resulted in the former band’s apex album, “Crimson Dawn.” There’s a clear refinement of sound and vision here, as Grave Infestation eschews the punkier elements of their old band’s sound, and dives further into morbid death metal.

If you were hoping to hear the Sacrilege influences that were prominent in AHNA’s later material, those are not to be found here. This applies both to those thrashy style of riffs, and the vocals. Drummer Anju Singh focuses entirely on drums and leaves the vocal department entirely to guitarist Graham Christofferson, who has some deathly low growls and bestial snarls that are perfectly suited for what Grave Infestation is playing musically. However, there are certainly lots of elements from the members’ previous band that show up here. The overall tone is still very sinister and hellish, and this is achieved in a variety of ways. The lead guitar work is especially at the forefront of this, as reverb drenched guitar abuse is peppered throughout each song, sounding more like torture than any sort of virtuoso playing, and I mean that in the best way possible.

The ebb and flow of percussive approach here also really adds to the evil feeling of this record. There’s a certain primitiveness to the drums, as they aren’t flashy, but they give the needed velocity to the fast parts like in the beginning of “Plague of Crypts,” and can let the creepiness of the riffs shine through by opening up a bit like on “Slaughter, then Laughter”. Even just basic cymbal-kick shots like midway in the title track add so much power by doing something simple. They utilize blastbeats too, but go for the more primitive “goat blast” style that works very well with the style of riffs here. Really, at the end of the day, each individual piece of this record is relatively simple, but it is greater than the sum of its parts. Again, there’s no flashy embellishment on “Persecution of the Living,” and everyone works together to make each song vile.

Much like previous output by the members of this band, this record was recorded at Rain City Recorders by Jesse Gander, and he’s managed to make sense of this downtuned filth. Each instrument is easy to spot in the mix, but much like the songwriting, they come together to form something greater than the sum of their individual parts. The way the grimy bass backs the guitar creates such filthy torrent of sound, and again, this is something that these musicians have put to practice with their other bands like AHNA, Ceremonial Bloodbath, and Encoffinate. Seriously though, scope that bass tone in the break in the title track – when the guitars come back in, it’s really apparent how complementary all the tones are with each other.

Coming back to the previous demos, there are a couple re-recorded tracks from the second demo that appear at the end of this record – “Human Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Eternal Oblivion” – and then none from the first demo. These re-recordings sound as savage as ever, and fit right into the rest of the record. For those keeping score, that means six of the songs here are new, as the other two are just short intro/outro tracks. It clocks in at about 37 minutes which is an ideal length to digest such a dense and evil album.

I’m having a hard time finding other bands to compare this too, because although this is certainly in the vein of old school death metal without question, it doesn’t have any obvious influences up front. Surely there is some Autopsy influence with the creepy leads and doomier sections, but I feel like Grave Infestation has done a good job mixing things up and never feeling like a worship band in any regard. This just further strengthens the case that death metal fans just need to hear this record – it does everything death metal is supposed do, and delivers a range of killer riffs in a powerful package. If you loved AHNA’s progression towards death metal, Grave Infestation will surely satisfy.

85%

Besieged – Violence Beyond All Reason

Genre: Death/Thrash Metal | Label: Unspeakable Axe
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba | Listen: Bandcamp

It’s been over a decade – 12 years to be exact – since Winnipeg’s Besieged has put out a full length. They put out a couple songs on a 7″ in 2015, but the band has been relatively quiet other than that over the last while. Finally, these Canadian thrashers have released their sophomore album (which is technically their third album if you count the scrapped debut from 2005), and fans of the band will not be disappointed. Their signature style of ripping thrash metal with a little bit of death metal brutality is displayed in full force on “Violence Beyond All Reason,” and does so in relentless fashion.

First and foremost, Besieged have not strayed away from what makes them great in the first place, and that’s providing an absolute onslaught of vicious riffs. The obvious comparison is Sepultura, specifically some hybrid “Schizophrenia” and “Beneath the Remains.” There’s plenty of other brutal thrash bands or death/thrash acts from that era that are probably also a huge influence on these guys, but you get the idea. Besieged waste no time on their latest offering, as there are very few moments for one to catch their breath. The drums might drop back for a moment with some quick guitar build up, such as in the intro of “Paragons of Brutality” but other than that, Besieged push the pedal to the floor as much humanly possible. This speed is coupled with some impressive finger dexterity in the riffs, as they twist and turn around intricate patterns that are easy enough to digest, but are clearly creative and well thought out in their construction. In simpler terms, this isn’t some copy cat worship record, and these riffs provide plenty to chew on.

The guitar work doesn’t stop with the riffs, as the lead playing further displays some fretboard wizardry throughout the record. Another thing I’ve always liked about Besieged is their inclusion of solos that sound like they’re right out of the 80’s thrash era. Dive bombs fly into complex runs with the utmost smoothness, and are further enhance with tasteful bends and the odd quick arpeggio. The lead guitar tone is exquisite. It cuts through the mix with ease, is full of life, and is a shining example of what a lead tone should sound like. It doesn’t feel overly drenched in any effects, but there’s certainly something there to give it a little extra texture, such as in “One World Coma,” and there seems to be a wah pedal present throughout a lot of the solos. Again, very much in line with its 80’s thrash influences, and is executed at a very high level.

The production is generally really great on this record, especially with the way the guitars and vocals are done. There are some tasteful vocal effects thrown in here and there, as well as double tracking to give them some extra power. The drums, however, aren’t as satisfactory to my ear, and for two reasons. First, the toms are very boxy sounding, and they stick out a little funny because of this. Second, the kicks are very clicky. This isn’t much of a problem for most of the record, but there’s some parts in “One World Coma” where the drums become the focal point, and the typewriter kicks become so apparent. Otherwise, the drum performance is just as ferocious as the riffs, and the interaction between the riffs and drums is what propels this record the whole way through.

Clocking in at a mere 26 minutes, the 7 songs on “Violence Beyond All Reason” is a lean affair with zero filler. It is a little disappointing that it’s not longer, especially considering how much time there’s been between albums. Of course, it’s always better to have quality over quantity, and Besieged excel when it comes to what matters. “Violence Beyond All Reason” is without a doubt a worthy follow-up to “Victims Beyond All Help,” and is almost as if the similar album titles is a clue that they haven’t deviated from what made them great in the first place. Fans of late 80’s death/thrash like Demolition Hammer, Incubus, Morbid Saint, and of course, Sepultura need to get this in their ears immediately!

80%

Culted – Oblique to all Paths

Genre: Black/Doom Metal | Label: Relapse Records
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba | Listen: Bandcamp

From the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg comes Culted, a band that play a unique concoction of doom and black metal with various experimental elements thrown in for good measure. Culted doesn’t seem to play live – their vocalist lives overseas in Sweden, and had never met any of the Canadian members until very recently. “Oblique to all Paths” is the band’s second full length, and it’s one of those albums just seems perfect for a gloomy, grey day. The dreadful Canadian winter that blankets cities like Winnipeg comes through in this music, with it’s slow dirges and eerie atmosphere that seethes throughout the record. I discovered this band a handful of years ago through some of the members’ other bands, and this record has found itself in my listening rotation many times since.

First thing I should note is the length of this album. It’s long, and I tend to to prefer albums that stick to a single LP in length. However, this style of music naturally lends itself to being drawn out – it is doom metal, after all, and atmosphere is the name of the game. Individual parts don’t necessarily feel like they’re repeated to the point of redundancy, but there is certainly an element of ebb and flow here, with Culted taking the appropriate amount of time to build things up. The opening track, “Brooding Hex,” is almost 20 minutes long, and takes this approach to the extreme, and certainly does sound brooding with darkness.

The song that really sold me on this record is the second track, “Illuminati.” It gets into that heavy Neurosis territory of sludge/post-metal, but it sounds far more horrifying. There’s also a healthy dose of industrial metal in their approach to groove and pacing that makes me think of Godflesh at their most monolithic. The main riff in the aforementioned song really combines the two influences well, with a Godflesh like rhythm and Neurosis like leads over top of it. The transitions between songs get kind of noisy and create these unsettling soundscapes that again remind me of Neurosis. The vocals give it this really harsh and evil tone, which is something that could be associated with their vocalist coming from Scandinavia. At times, they seem to get overdriven/distorted, and it just makes this stuff sound even uglier.

Another element that really keeps me coming back to “Oblique to all Paths” is the use of modulation effects on the guitar leads. Despite the down tempo approach of these songs, Culted manage to create a ton of dynamics by placing in all sounds of strange sounds on top of them, and just generally experimenting with cool sounding effects. “Transmittal” is a great example of this – there are some cleaner guitars soaked in a chorus effect and with a delay on it. It’s a simple part, but it breaks up the song nicely, and sounds really chilling. The use of dissonant melody and clashy, diminished chords is extremely tasteful, almost like a more industrial feeling Deathspell Omega at times. “March of the Wolves” gets super eerie too with some higher arpeggios drenched in more effects that gently feedback out once they are finished.

Furthering the dynamics of this record, the production really helps. When things are quieter or building up, they feel like an open abyss. Conversely, when it’s time to be loud and heavy, it hits particularly hard with layers of rhythm guitar coming together. Despite the dense guitar tones in parts like this, the bass still manages to cut through with a grimy pulse, and I must emphasize the Godflesh influence on how the bass works with these songs. The drums on this record also sound extremely natural and balanced. The mix is very much focused on creating huge sounds with the layers of guitar and whatever else is coming in to create atmospheres, but the drums never get lost but are also never distracting. Sometimes they throw in some delays on the drums to further that industrial feel, and it’s super effective.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear a bleaker version of Neurosis, look no further than Culted. This record feels cold, dreary, and soul crushing, and is absolutely perfect for those days where the world just feels grey. The balance of heavy, eerie, and experimental parts on this record are well balanced, and all serve towards a greater dynamic that is as satisfying as it is unsettling. “Oblique to all Paths” was the bands’ last release with Relapse, as the band has gone onto work with Season of Mist (and are currently recording their fourth record at the time of writing this). That being said, this 2014 release has been my favourite from Culted thus far, but I certainly look forward to hear what other sonic hellscapes this band comes up with.

82%

Ethereal Gloom: the Essential Death/Doom Albums

Death metal is obviously my favourite genre of music, and I’m no stranger to doom metal either. The two styles have been fusing together with each other since the late 80’s, and have been complementary to each other in many ways since. Bands like Autopsy realized the slow, heavy riffing of Black Sabbath, Trouble, and Saint Vitus was the perfect counterpoint to the extreme speeds that death metal had been pushing since its formation. The hybrid genre has many different iterations and niche styles now, such as the more cavernous sounds pioneered by Incantation, the Celtic Frost/Amebix fusion by Winter, and the more melodic or gothic approaches by bands like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia.

There is, however, one style of death/doom that I absolutely can never get enough of, and it’s the kind that includes gloomy, ethereal melodies to create some of the most sombre atmospheres I’ve ever heard. This specific style was honed in by the great Australian band diSEMBOWELMENT on their only full length, “Transcendence into the Peripheral” (1993). This album was absolutely monumental, and featured songs that ranged from brutal grinding sections to some truly melancholic pieces. Many death/doom bands have existed throughout the years, but it feels like a lot of them weren’t taking note of what diSEMBOWELMENT achieved on this record, or maybe they just couldn’t pull it off. Regardless, it feels like this style has seen somewhat of a resurgence over the last decade plus, with more bands coming out that capture the same feelings. To me, it is the perfect kind of music for a dreary winter day, which is something that is in no short supply up here in the Canadian prairies. I hope that in reading this, you can find something to get lost in during the most awful part of the year.

Disembowelment – Transcendence into the Peripheral (1993)

As mentioned, this was the album that really started this sound, and ever since hearing it in my late teens, I’ve been absolutely enamored by it. There’s huge death metal riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incantation record, likewise, there’s evening some grindcore parts that show the band’s roots when they were playing that style under the moniker of Scum. What really sets this album apart from other death/doom records at the time was the more atmospheric pieces. The clean guitars and Gregorian chant-like vocals on tracks like “Your Prophetic Throne of Ivory” are so hauntingly ethereal, and yet so beautiful, you can truly get lost in it. The willingness to experiment on this record really sets it above and beyond anything else. I love the inclusion of the stand-up bass – the outro of the record sound so ominous with its usage. It doesn’t get much better than this, and if you haven’t heard this record, you are truly depriving yourself of an outer-worldly experience. Note that this has been reissued throughout the years, and there’s a self-titled compilation that includes the EP and demo tracks on a second disc as well!

Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (2017)

I’ve reviewed this album before, and I honestly think it’s the best thing since “Transcendence into the Peripheral.” Featuring 3 members of Blood Incantation, this band had a lot of hype before dropping their debut album, and it masterfully executes this style of death/doom. A lot of the death metal influence on this record sounds like it was influenced by the classic Finnish death metal bands, and they really hit out of the park with the slow, atmospheric stuff. Their use of layering in modulated guitar leads takes it to the next level, and everything about it just sounds massive. I am anxiously awaiting a follow up.

Krypts – Remnants of Expansion (2016)

This Finnish band has been on my radar for a bit. I thought their demo was cool, but the debut full length didn’t really strike much of a chord with me. That changed with their sophomore release, as it gets into some territory that sounds like the desolation one would feel in cold outer space. There’s some great lead work intertwined with all the heavy low end, which is bound to hook anyone in who appreciates this style. The follow up to this record is also fantastic, so don’t sleep on that one either.

Sinistrous Diabolus – Total Doom//Desecration (2013)

Sinistrous Diabolus are an old cult band from New Zealand, having released a demo in 1993, and finally dropping this monumental full length 20 years later. I bought the LP pressing immediately upon hearing the one track that was premiered online, the album closer “The Essence of Divinity Given to Abstraction of the Human Mind.” This track truly harnesses a similar vibe to diSEMBOWELMENT, with it’s usage of clean guitars and orchestration. They have some other material that really focuses on dirgey soundscapes, which is also enjoyable unto itself.

Anhedonist – Netherwards (2012)

Anhedonist kind of led this style in the early 2010’s, starting with “The Drear” demo before unleashing this massive piece of death/doom a year later. There’s some truly gloomy stuff on here, and a variety of sounds at that. One track in particular bends more towards the melodic side, but the album’s epic closer spirals into some truly dark territory. There’s quite a variety of twisted vocals soaked in despair, which is also mirrored in the lead playing as well. Anhedonist, like many death/doom bands, has a limited output, but all of it is worth checking out.

Assumption – Absonditus (2018)

I stumbled upon this Italian death/doom band a few years ago, and I was immediately taken by their ability to tap into that diSEMBOWELMENT sound while expanding on it at the same time. There are only two members of this band, with one of them handling drums, and the other layering in everything else, including flutes. Flutes certainly aren’t an instrument that comes to mind when one thinks of death metal, but the way it’s utilized on this record creates a unsettling and eerie atmosphere. This album is a mere 3 songs clocking in at 36 minutes, making it pretty easy to listen to on repeat. Both the previous EP and demo are great, but they really knocked it out of the park with this release, and I am eagerly awaiting a follow up!

Inverloch – Distance Collapsed (2016)

Two decades after the monumental diSEMBOWELMENT full length, a couple former members formed Inverloch to continue down that same path. They released an excellent EP in 2012, and then this full length four years later. There are many elements and parts throughout the record that beckon back to a particular moment on “Transcendence into the Peripheral,” acting as a clear statement on what the band intended this album to sound like. It’s by no means as incredible, but honestly, what is? This is still a great album and is totally worth anyone’s time who loves their former work.

Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia (1993)

Finland’s Rippikoulu was a cult band that released two demos and then fucked off until people caught onto how great those demos were through the power of the internet years later. “Musta Seremonia” was their second demo, and it’s one of the heaviest recordings from the Finnish death metal underground in the early 90’s. It’s a little on the raw side, but again, this is a demo, and it kind of adds to its cult appeal. But make no mistake, this stuff is massively heavy, and has the right eerie atmosphere, and its influence can certainly be heard via many of the contemporary bands featured on this list. There’s some evil sounding synthesizer parts that further add to the doom and gloom on this cult piece of death/doom. It’s been reissued a ton in recent years, so definitely seek it out!

Mortiferum – Disgorged from Psychotic Depths (2019)/Pervesed in Torment (2021)

Seattle’s Mortiferum are the only band on this list where I’m mentioning more than one album, and it’s honestly because I can’t choose between the two. Both of them are masterful displays of death/doom, as they are full of massive riffs and perfectly dirgey lead playing, drenched in nice modulation. There’s definitely a good dose of Finnish death metal influence throughout both albums, and it’s sure to satisfy your cravings for crushing desolation. Bonus trivia fact: the bassist on their demo was in Anhedonist, so you know this is worthwhile!

Void Rot – Descending Pillars (2020)

Most of the bands on this list are relatively new bands, and I believe Void Rot are probably the newest band on this list. This Minneapolis quartet put out an EP and split before this album, both of which really piqued my interest. Much like Mortiferum, they utilize a lot of midpaced tremolo riffs backed with double bass that give away to more open parts. They fill up a lot of the space by throwing in some arpeggiated chords and simple lead melodies. The atmosphere is also very similar to Krypts, so you’re bound to enjoy this record if you want more of that.

Worm – Foreverglade (2021)

Florida’s Worm has been around for a decade now, but they didn’t start off playing dismal death/doom. They ditched their initial black metal sound on the sophomore album, “Gloomlord” (which also rules), and then followed it up with this monster last year. Much like Inverloch, there are some parts on “Foreverglade” that sound almost directly lifted from diSEMBOWELMENT, but they’ll change it up just enough that it’s different. Specifically, they borrow some of the clean guitar chord progressions, and it sounds just as dark on this record. Worm does have some elements that set them apart from every other band on this list, and that’s namely the inclusion of neoclassical lead guitar playing. Contrasting with the open space of the real doomy sections, they’ll throw in these sweep arpeggios on top. These guys seem to have a lot of creativity in them and hopefully they keep pushing it.

Womb – Split w/ Disciples of Mockery (2001)

Womb consists of three musicians who also played on the debut Incantation LP. Craig Pillard (who fucking sucks as a human, but undeniably was on some great death metal records) is on vocals and 2nd bass guitar. That’s right, Womb features two bassists and no guitars, and they somehow manage to create a very ethereal atmosphere by putting some modulation and delay effects on one of the basses. Songs like “Thong” are so perfectly done, and it provides great contrast to some of the more monolithic (and dare I say, industrial influenced) riffing such as in the opening track. The band only released the songs that are on this split, but apparently have a full length that has been shelved for years. If there’s one unreleased album I’d love to hear, it has to be the Womb album. Alas, Disciples of Mockery at least got a full length out (which features the three members of Womb configured into a quartet with the usual dual guitar set up), and I’ve always loved that album.

I hope that anyone who bothered to read this list found something to go listen to. This is by no means a definitive list, as you can really find yourself crawling down a hole to find similar sounds (and in discussing this list with a friend, he mentioned Decomposed who are worth a gander too). There’s a great band out here in Alberta, Nephilim’s Noose, who put out a solid full length in this vein of death/doom, and I’d feel like a schmuck if I neglected to mention them. You may find that funeral doom satisfies your craving for grief and desolation, as that style eschews the fast parts and emphasizes on the slow parts. If that sounds attractive to you, definitely don’t sleep on bands like Evoken, Esoteric, or Mournful Congregation. This is perfect music for days where everything looks grey, and if you’re like me, it’ll help make the worst days feel a little more tolerable.