I was not prepared for Death. I was tipped off about this album from a bunch of people over on last.fm and after I worked up the courage I eventually gave in and decided I would have a listen. From a quick look at their last.fm profile, at their picture and at the most common tags (three of them being “black metal”, “death metal”, and “war metal”) I went into Death with the idea that ‘okay, this is probably going to be pretty heavy.’
I was not prepared how heavy Death was going to be.
Death is the sound of a thousand corpses being crushed into the ground by some huge machine, their souls screaming out in agony, and all about the sound of war and noise. All of which, it goes without saying, takes place within an impenetrable vortex of torment and suffering. This is not an album of subtleties or complexity: it does one thing and it does it really fucking well. There is absolutely no intention of fundamentally revisiting what death metal should or could sound like. Instead, they see how far they can push it in terms of extremity.
Death is almost certainly the most relentlessly extreme and terrifying album you will hear all year. I certainly can’t remember a heavier one. The drums, performed by “J”, are like a machine gun, relentlessly smashing away with such ferocity and precision that it becomes a force of its own. “NSK” is responsible for the guitar, bass, and vocals and he is really at the top of his game here. The vocals aren’t really black metal so much as a range of howls and roars ranging from shrieks to bellows to guttural growls; whatever works in the moment.
The guitars are tuned low. Really low. The mix also results in a huge amount of distortion, and seems to blend the guitars, bass, and drums into a single cacophony of fury slightly below the vocals, while also providing a kind of ‘cavernous’ sound to the record, with some echo/reverb on the vocals and drums. Among the muddied, thundering guitarwork you also have occasionally flairs of dizzying, powerful, and electrifying guitarwork. Electrifying is a good word here, I think, because in the context of the music it almost sounds like a crash of thunder and lightning above the battlefield. There are some seriously headbangable riffs throughout this album, but the two that stand out for me appear towards the ends of ‘Sleeping Throats of the Antichrist’ and ‘Burning in Damnation Fires.’
That said, at times Death is so single-minded in its approach that it can become tiring, particularly when the album clocks in at a pretty massive 70 minutes. When you listen to Death it really does demand your undivided attention, but on the other hand Death lacks the variety and dynamics to make that sustainable over such a long period. By the end it does all stand to blend together a bit, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t demand so much time to finish in the first place. You may instead have greater success listening to the first half, taking a break, and then coming back to the maelstrom in a bit. And, in general, I certainly enjoy listening to this album. I love putting it on my record player, turning the volume up, and getting lost in it until the end of the first of the two records, before I go and do something else for a bit, and come back to finish it. But after that experience is over, I can never remember exactly which track I enjoyed the most, as they all sounded so similar. There are only a few moments I can point to that were real highlights.
Death almost requires a mindset change to appreciate it. I know it did for me and for others I’ve talked to online. Fundamentally, you have to know what you want out of this album before you go into it. If you go into this album expecting some avant-garde piece of art metaphorically exploring the metaphysical consequences of the human condition… you’re going to be disappointed. If you want unbelievably powerful, cacophonous metal, representing the most brutal and dark recesses of extreme metal, extreme music taken to its most extreme, then you’ve come to the right place, and what a place it is.