Maze of Sothoth – Soul Demise
Label: Everlasting Spew Records
Though there are no rules about what the lyrical content of a death metal album should be, it’s still surprising when I find a band that doesn’t focus on gore or Satanism. Taking a different road, Italy’s Maze of Sothoth tackle a subject that is just as sinister as anything Deicide or Incantation have covered: HP Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos.
Soul Demise, the band’s debut full-length release, is a brutal/technical death metal smorgasbord, with lyrics that pay homage to The Great Old Ones. Maze of Sothoth create a sound that will certainly have fans of Suffocation and Deeds of Flesh foaming at the mouth, with heavy and technical riffs, and deep, guttural growls similar to Frank Mullen’s. The lead guitar work on tracks like “At The Mountains of Madness” and “Seed of Hatred” manage to add a level of melody (though, very dark melodies) that isn’t often found on a brutal/technical death metal release. The musicianship is flashy without coming off as pretentious, and the brutality couples nicely with the jaw-dropping solos, keeping Soul Demise from becoming an atonal mess.
Despite their young age, Maze of Sothoth sound like seasoned veterans, thanks to their considerable musical prowess and the excellent production that went into this record. Honestly, I would put Soul Demise against just about anything released by Willowtip or Unique Leader Records, two labels renowned for their high quality death metal releases. If you like your death metal heavy as hell, with technical musicianship, in the vein of Suffocation, give Maze of Sothoth a chance. Though they aren’t breaking any new sonic ground, they’re extremely good at what they do, and several steps ahead of most other bands their age.
Quintessenz – To The Gallows
Label: Evil Spell Records
Who says one-man black metal projects have to be of the suicidal depressive variety, and be recorded extremely poorly (or super lo-fi “on purpose”)? If that’s the rule, Germany’s Quintessenz didn’t get the memo. Boasting a thrashy, old-school black metal sound, To The Gallows is the second full-length release from Genözider, who has named his project Quintessenz.
With a sound that pays just as much homage to Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory as it does to Mayhem or Darkthrone, To The Gallows has a classic 70s or 80s vibe, with lots of melody to spare. “Endless Night” is a great example of how different Quintessenz is from the usual solo black metal release; melodic twin-guitar solos, vocals that are actually sung (gruff, though they are) rather than shrieked, and a melancholy acoustic interlude in the middle. Similarly, “Gloomweaver” has a fast, melancholy black metal riff, but once again, the vocals sound like a mix between Tom Warrior or Celtic Frost/Triptykon and King Diamond’s lower register, with some guttural death growls and shrieks mixed in as well.
Quintessenz takes a little bit of each era of black metal, mixes it in a boiling cauldron, and creates one extremely potent concoction that leaves me wanting more and more. Heavy on melodies, gothic atmospheres, with a touch of heavy thrash metal, To The Gallows manages to take black metal back to the basics, without sounding derivative or too beholden to the obvious influences. If you’re looking for something with an old-school flair, definitely consider picking up a copy of Quintessenz’ latest release.
Spectral – Arctic Sunrise
Label: Boersma Records
Having observed their twentieth year as a band back in 2015, Spectral‘s latest album gets some suitable shake-up from the guitarist and bassist getting replaced shortly before its recording, with the drummer and that new guitarist departing after its completion. The shuffling of members aside, the line-up for Arctic Sunrise still puts together a very solid blend of black and death metal.
Songs like “Evil Takes Control”, “Nuclear Assault”, and “Vengeance in Blood” do a nice job of melding the spirit of ’80s death with the bleaker, raspier toothiness of ’90s black, jamming out head-banging riffs while shrieking and hammer-bashing, striking a very enjoyable balance between the two energies. The main point of modern connection is in the production, which keeps things generally clean, but finds room to brush some grit into the percussion channel and guitar filters. There are also some sparingly-used keyboards, which lend a cool ethereal touch to a few key moments, and while the music clearly draws heavy inspiration from the golden years of its musical components, the band seems fairly open to experimenting with how to bring those elements together.
The weirdest moment would have to be the appearance of the melody from children’s song “Glunk Glunk Went the Little Green Frog” in “In Battle with Fire & Steel”, but aside from that eyebrow-raising inclusion, the album feels like one with very few mis-steps. Given that half of the band was new for the recording of Arctic Sunrise, fans should feel reassured of continued quality for Spectral‘s future output as long as song-writer Teutonlord sticks around, and new-comers (like myself) have a good reason to check out the rest of the band’s catalog.