Diabolical Messiah – Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred

Big hooks and big tremolo riffs  are the first thing to come to mind listening to Diabolical Messiah’s second studio album; throughout the album’s short duration, those two are the defining characteristics of the Chilean veterans’ songwriting along with the nearly constant roar of the band’s vocalist. Almost every song is a brief burst of fire, burning bright and then ending after alternating and repeating the same two or three riffs in a manner reminiscent of Nunslaughter in approach, if not in sound, with nine of the ten songs on the twenty five minute album being around three minutes long or shorter. In contrast to the relatively simplistic composition, a lot of the best riffs are catchy and well-written long form melodies that draw me in consistently, demanding attention after shorter sections of ripping shorter riffs that range from the more chaotic sounds of Incantation’s fastest riffs to reminding me of Sadistic Intent and to things that are unique to Diabolical Messiah.

Despite the fact that most of the album is right around the same tempo and despite the fact that the drumming is nearly constantly doing similar blasting patterns, Diabolical Messiah know when to ride a series of short phrases and when to shift to a melody (or to do one of the relatively few slow parts) in order to keep memorability at a maximum and keep listeners engaged. Sparse harmonization adds flavor without being overused enough to start feeling saccharine, and the guitar tone and production are massive enough to really let the guitars carry the album; though death metal at its best is often a combination of catchy vocal lines, heavy and interesting drum patterns, and sick riffs, Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is, by virtue of the fantastic guitarwork overlaid over repetitive drumming and vocals, a fundamentally riff-centric album. While this would often be a bit of a detriment to me, the songwriting here is strong enough to keep me coming back consistently, and after a few months of listening, to it, I can’t recommend the album enough.  Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred is a great accomplishment for Diabolical Messiah, and yet another excellent addition to the Dark Descent Records catalog.

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Ljosazabojstwa – Sychodžańnie

The occult horror of a certain type of black/death generally somewhat influenced by or otherwise in line with Mortuary Drape is one of my favorite things, and Ljosazabojstwa clearly agree, given the content on Sychodžańnie and on the demo that came before it. From the first bits of atmosphere created by a haunting organ introduction through the very last chords, everything about this EP is massive; monolithic doom-driven rhythms do combat with the vocalist’s echoing snarl, subtle keyboards occasionally provide an extra layer, and the whole package is complimented by the immense production that ties the entire package together. Ominous interludes, sometimes mid-track, build tension, and whenever appropriate buildup has been reached, well-timed eruptions launch trudging doom into ripping hellfire before spiraling back to a horrifying crawl.

Though I mentioned Mortuary Drape as a point of comparison (and a clear influence), Ljosazabojstwa are by no means a clone of anyone; chaotic tremolo melodies, pretty leads, fiery death metal, and blazing thrash merge seamlessly to form a package that fits the mood that Mortuary Drape, Necros Christos, or similar bands put me into without feeling like a pointless ripoff at any point. Though sometimes the non-metal interruptions get a bit much for me, the overall package is startlingly strong, and a welcome change of pace from the onslaught of more straightforward death metal releases that I’ve been hearing from this year so far; as a point to their credit, the interludes are well written (or well picked, for the samples), and my general distaste for lengthy and frequent interludes may well be more of a problem for me than the interludes themselves.

Ljosazabojstwa fundamentally call for a return to the occult, and I welcome it with open arms. Sychodžańnie is catchy, memorable, and excellently performed, with more than enough variety and strength of both songwriting and pacing to keep the EP interesting from listen to listen. Most great EP’s leave me wanting more from the band, and as much as I’m looking forward to hearing Ljosazabojstwa’s first full length, this is a rare EP powerful enough to merit the repeat listens and reflection to occupy me until whenever the band feels that another release is necessary.

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Ljosazabojstwa - Sychodzannie [cover art]

Soulskinner – Descent to Abaddon

Composed of several present and past members of classic Greek black metal bands (and a former Obsecration member), Soulskinner have been chugging out great death metal for two decades now between their current name and their original one. A lot of bands lose steam over that long of a period, but Soulskinner just keep putting out amazing stuff, and Descent to Abaddon is no exception. The album is absolutely massive in scope and to a lesser extent in style, ranging from a gorgeous thick atmosphere recalling some of the earlier Greek and Finnish death metal bands to the crush of Bolt Thrower, and even to moments that thrash or recall Deicide, all generally within the same song. Riffs range from a death/doom crawl to blazing speed and intensity, showcasing the band’s versatility and lack of interest in having a singular tempo to great success.

Despite a variety of influences that would overwhelm a lesser band, Soulskinner know how to effortlessly jump from one mood to another, though their real strength for me comes from the fantastic leads and the moodier bits of the album. The atmosphere that comes from the interplay of the leads and tremolo melodies is enrapturing and it’s hard to really make a comparison to any of the best sections because I don’t get the same vibe from many other bands despite the similarities to a lot of my favorites. Sometimes the leads make for a certain dreaminess that I don’t associate at all with good death metal, which adds an extra layer to an already gigantic album.

They also present an impressive lack of genuine weak points- the only real part of the entire album that actually bothers me is the breakdown in The Fall, and that part doesn’t last long enough to detract much from the entire song, let alone with the whole album. Something that some other fans of the band have criticized is that some of the leads and melodies are repeated throughout the album a bit too much, but as true as that is, it doesn’t irritate me at all; the variations on the same melodies are done well enough and are killer enough in the first place that hearing them in different contexts is a bonus more than anything else.

Overall, Descent to Abaddon is a fucking fantastic listen, and proof that Xtreem music is still putting out killer albums. Soulskinner’s previous album was finally released on vinyl last year, marking their first full length to be pressed to wax, and I really hope that this one is as well, because I’ve rarely heard an album so deserving of the vinyl treatment in recent years that hasn’t been pressed.

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Ravenous Death – Ominous Deathcult

A lot of modern death metal eschews the entire concept of being catchy- not all of it, certainly, but often the focus of a band is to crush, or forge a certain atmosphere at the expense of memorability, or to rage chaotically without giving much of a chance to grasp onto anything. That’s not necessarily a criticism- I adore a lot of stuff that does that- but a big reason why I love Altars of Madness and Scream Bloody Gore so much is that they’re endlessly catchy, and Ravenous Death deliver hooks and instant catchiness in a way that’s not at the forefront of death metal today. Hailing from Mexico and comprising of a group of scene veterans that come from more bands each than many albums have songs, Ravenous Death put their long songwriting experience to excellent use on this first EP release.

Ominous Deathcult is a fairly varied affair that tears through five songs that range from massive crushers to fast tremolo-heavy somewhat more melodic affairs to the doom, gloom, and eeriness of the EP’s closer, but for all that the songs are different, they don’t sound random, and flow together satisfyingly throughout the duration of the 19 minute release. Enthralling tremolo melodies intertwine with big chugging rhythms, with just enough harmonization of the leads to attract attention without overusing harmony like some groups do. Influences from bands like Morbid Angel, Entombed, and even moments that remind me of Demigod  are present but Ravenous Death have done a good job of forging their own sound even on their first release, and as much as it’s familiar, Ominous Death is not nostalgic, and it definitely stands on its own feet. The rare solo section is short and sweet, which is how I like them in death metal, and the production is pretty good overall. There’s only a single section I’m not particularly fond of in the entire demo- a bit of the chugging rhythm work on “Throwing Up Guts”- but given how good the release is overall, it’s a very minor complaint. Very much interested in seeing where Ravenous Death goes from here- the band has announced their pairing to Memento Mori for their upcoming full length, and given the quality of the music on this EP, it’s well deserved.

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Necrot – Blood Offerings

Necrot is a band that’s best described as being absolutely pummeling, with no intention other than to pound listeners into submission. They don’t play technical or complex music, they don’t sell themselves as introspective- they just crush and rip their way through their approach on death metal, and that’s why so many people have come to love them in recent years. Pounding and groovy riffs are reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, the least mystical sections that Demigod conjured, or some of the other groups that extremely prolific members of the band are also involved with, but despite being reminiscent of other groups Necrot have their own distinguishing flavor that I keep coming back to. Brief moments of melody pop up for just long enough to draw attention and vanish just as quickly, adding an extra layer to an already extremely catchy album. Vocalist Luca Indrio rasps over the music at a pitch that’s just a bit higher than what listeners unfamiliar with the band might expect from their music, but he does so excellently, perfectly fitting the music, and timing his assaults well with the riffs and the primal drumming, which ranges from more standard death metal beats to some punk ones, always perfectly suiting the music, and often carrying a riff far further than it might otherwise be palatable.

Though I said earlier that the band willfully steps away from complicated songwriting, that isn’t to say that the composition was done carelessly- there’s a large variety of influences integrated into the album, and each song flows excellently through them, and even at their most similar, extremely well written transitions separate riffs that on a less competent album would blend together, leaving behind a distinctly memorable assault. On a related note, despite many sections of extreme repetition of a single riff or group of them as well as sections that spend a lot of time developing a single idea, Blood Offerings does an excellent job of avoiding overstaying its welcome at any point, and will likely be in my rotation for a long time. After the hype that Necrot built around themselves through years of excellent shows and several killer demos, it’s nice to see them deliver.

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Engulfed – Engulfed in Obscurity

Engulfed in Obscurity is the debut album from longtime scene veterans Engulfed, all of whom have been in Engulfed and other bands for the long years leading up to this spectacular album. Massive and multifaceted, Engulfed take cues from Incantation and Dead Congregation to bring a long and harrowing death metal assault that stays as focused and punishing from the moment of conception until the very end. Massive tremolo picked rhythms play against quick melodic lines that sometimes harmonize with the rhythms and sometimes dart off to do their own things, and Diabolical Conquest-esque harmonized slower bits of trilling doom make for a good counterpart to the blazing tempos that the album sometimes reaches towards.

Though the album is fairly straightfoward in its style, the delivery is anything but, with the band doing their best to keep both guitars from playing the exact same notes for longer than a bar or two and with no riff being repeated more than a few times. Frequent tempo changes and jumps from melodicism to punishment are extremely compelling, and vocalist/bassist Serkan’s powerful howling adds an extra demonic flair to the mix. The drumming, though locked into a few similar patterns, changes up tempo and moves back and forth from pattern to pattern enough to keep from ever getting stale, driving everything forth wonderfully, and the drums are mixed excellently (save for perhaps a tiny bit of clickiness at points in the kick, which is a very minor issue on this album), which is always something that I listen to.

Overall, especially for a debut, I can only call this album a massive success, and say that I’m already looking forward to the EP that the band promises is coming next year.

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Listen and buy (Blood Harvest Records)

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Image source: Blood Harvest Records

Lantern – II: Morphosis

This has been a great year for both Dark Descent Records and for fans of death metal, and Lantern have provided with II: Morphosis an excellent addition to both groups. Strange, atmospheric, and with a lot of subtle layering and melodies, Lantern is one of the more compelling and ambitious of the recent Finnish death metal bands, and their return with their second full length album is absolutely welcome. They have a talent for lengthy and complex composition, a fantastic and multitalented drummer (who is also the guitarist and bassist), and a willingness to sometimes completely abandon strange atmospheric sections to have periods of crushing death metal that sets them aside from many of their peers as a unique and captivating entity to be watched. Vocalist Necrophilos has an incredible voice that’s unique and powerful, howling over the music that Cruciatus has so adeptly written.

Right from the first song on the album, Black Miasma, the tone for the future material is set: sections of spacey, psychedelic trippiness, soundscapes of awful terror, ripping death metal, and sections that crawl down almost to being death/doom; from there, the entire album continues in its vein. That being said, each song has its own unique flavor, with the main focus being the interesting guitarwork, which ranges from crushing rhythms to great sections where both guitars are doing entirely different things to fantastic soloing. The lyrics, which I normally don’t focus on much, are also very well written (albeit with a sometimes humorous focus on rhyme scheme), and Necrophilos’ voice lets you hear each word clearly without straining.

“Is this where I shall witness my last?
Is this the way my days are bound to pass away;
In despair and solemnly aghast?”

As a final note, the production is as solid as you’d expect from Dan Lowndes, and the cover art is fucking phenomenal.

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Image source: https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ii-morphosis