For some folks it’s all about the band, and nothing else. But I’ve always been a fiend for labels—ever since I bought my first Black Sabbath LP and stared at the Vertigo label swirling as it played. I’m an unashamed label geek, and I’m obsessed with the thought that some hidden gem is lurking out there right now, on some label I’ve yet to discover.
One band off a label leads me to another, and on it goes. Although it’s not always a successful fixation—some labels are obviously a lot more consistent than others—I’ve spent 25 years indulging it. Every new label I encounter presents me with an opportunity to unearth a treasure trove of sonic rewards. In honour of this, I’m going to be starting a new series of posts on sixnoises that take a look at some of my favorite labels.
Which brings me to Dark Descent—the Colorado-based label I first encountered with Miasmal’s crushing, old school death metal debut in early 2011. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to review a few of the label’s bands, notably Entrails, Horrendous and Anguish. (If you’ve not heard the debuts from the later two, seek them out immediately, they are magnificent).
Dark Descent specialize in releasing albums that adhere to a few simple precepts: they must be raw, they must be unrelentingly visceral, and they must be steadfast, authoritative metal. There’s no superficiality or posturing to be found on Dark Descent’s roster. The label primarily deals in unembellished death metal—straight-to-the-bone minatory assaults—but there’s also room for doom-laden and exploratory ventures.
Dark Descent has been my saving grace as far as death metal is concerned, being one of a very select few labels that reignited my passion for a genre I felt was becoming stale. Here’s a look at some of their most recent releases, along with a couple of utter classics.
Netherwards is the debut full-length from Seattle’s deathly doom deacons Anhedonist. With four songs spread out over 40 minutes, the band’s debut is a viciously sustained purge of throat-scraping vocals, asphyxiating atmospheres and slowly pulverizing guitar. It takes a great deal of skill to retain anyone’s attention when crafting epic funereal suites; more so when they come slathered in emotionally corrosive finishes like Anhedonist’s laments. But the band easily ensure a shadowy hypnotic magnetism runs through Netherwards by layering lingering melodic traps among the filth and ruination. “Saturnine”, for example, has its moroseness cut with some ringing, enriching harmonies, while “Estrangement” contains sweeping, almost uplifting riffs to ever so slightly ease the pain.
Netherwards is superbly produced, soaked in distortion, and shrouded in misery. It’s dense and resoundingly fetid, yet the occasional cleaner, faster or marginally brighter sections only emphasize the album’s requiem-like and inescapably toxic nature. Wonderfully morbid and hugely discomforting—brilliant all round.
Weregoat are a Portland-based trio featuring members of Aldeberan and Ritual Necromancy. Any questions you have about the band’s sound after reading their moniker and the album’s title or perusing the artwork are quickly answered by the album’s first track, “Nuclear Cunt”. Salt in a wound raw, oozing with a cavernous, insanely reverb heavy mix, Unholy Exaltation of Fullmoon Perversity is 25 minutes of the most subterranean blackened death metal possible. Weregoat strip things down to their skeletal essentials, strap it all to a sacrificial altar littered with putrefying body parts, and summon up some of the most debased and powerfully vomitous tunes imaginable. Unafraid to slow things down to a stomach-churning pace, Weregoat are welcomingly aberrant. Extremely dark and idiosyncratic sorcerers of the highest order.
Remember this legendary sci-fi and fantasy themed US death metal band from the early ’90s? No, me neither. But thanks to Dark Descent you’ve now got the golden opportunity to tune into some primeval yet intricate material that never really had the opportunity to see the full light of day (or night, depending on your astronomical predilections). Timeghoul tread the same path as many celebrated ’90s Floridian outfits by combining guttural dirges with eccentric flourishes of speedy and complicated guitar work. But they also inject plenty of clean vocals into the mix, accentuating the complexity of their material as much as its fury. Containing the band’s two demos, 1992’s Tumultuous Travelings and 1994’s Panaramic Twilight, the album is as jagged and scabrous as you’d except, but no more so than plenty of early underground ’90s outfits. To the band’s credit, they’re able to pack a whole bunch of innovative ideas into the tunes without rendering them muddy or overblown.
I’ve sung the praises of Horrendous over on Hellbound. But I’m going to revisit The Chills here for good reason. The band’s debut attracted a few criticisms upon release because it adhered to a familiar period—that the being ’90s Stockholm era of death metal. But let’s cut to the chase. Although the group’s tones may be reminiscent of yesteryear, their memorable and commanding songwriting easily nullifies any concerns about them being clones. Horrendous are fantastic and distinctive, and the more I’ve listened to their debut, the more I realize The Chills will be sitting high on my end-of-year list for 2012. Stacked with melodic riffs, doomier mid-paced tempos and a gritty thrash-worthy undercurrent, the band’s songs are filled with nuanced harmonies while remaining utterly hostile. It’s a finely tuned balance, with squalid bass-heavy blasts set against plenty of expansive icy riffs. “The Eye of Madness”, the album’s final multipart number, is a real highlight, showing a remarkable depth of compositional strength. But all the tracks are equally powerful.
There’s utterly fetid and nasty metal, and then there’s Portland’s Ritual Necromancy. The band took things to a whole new level of uneasy listening with their debut, Oath of the Abyss. Slathered in festering crust, Ritual Necromancy’s utterly primitive death metal assault seethes with a sinister vileness. As gloomy and arcane as you could possibly get, the band hardly create music at all. Instead, they seem to have dragged some monstrous amp-devouring behemoths from the netherworld and let them loose in the studio. It’s one of the most genuinely baleful albums I’ve heard. Even when the band release more luminescent incantations, on “Cacophonic Dementia” and “Penitence”, the claustrophobic miasma is only very briefly lit. The album remains unremittingly malevolent throughout. Beautifully ominous.
Archaeaeon was originally self-released by Canadian outfit Mitochondrion in a limited run of 666 copies (of course) back in 2008. Thankfully, Dark Descent had the good fortune and sense to pick it up and rerelease it. Anyone who’s familiar with the band via their much acclaimed 2011 Profound Lore release, Parasignosis, would be well advised to snap this up. Remastered by Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice, and many others) Archaeaeon is a massively underrated or—perhaps more accurately—yet to be discovered piece of death metal history. As far as debuts go, it’s as complete as you could hope for. Like the band’s later work, it’s an imposing display of harnessing the chaotic heart of death metal and nailing it to an unfalteringly forward-thinking vision. Expansive, elongated tracks stir with a boiling core of esotericism and odium. Serpentine riffs, spiraling solos and truly rotten vocals collide with atonal progressive passages in a ritualized frenzy. Hugely impressive, Mitochondrion is one of the leading bands in the realm of inventive and genuinely innovative death metal.
Sometimes you encounter an album that you think deserves endless praise and it’s a bit of a struggle not to shout about it to the heavens—even though you’ve already written about it elsewhere. Anguish’s debut falls into that category. I wrote about it for PopMatters, and you can read that review right here. But, before you go, let me just say that Through the Archdemon’s Head is an unending banquet for any fans of European doom. Like Horrendous’ debut, it will in all likelihood be sitting high on many end-of-year lists in 2012. It is authentic doom of the very highest caliber. Thick with the traces of European doom history, the band may be recognizably traditional, but they are beholden to none. It’s an imaginative album with plenty of ragged and raw enthusiasm. If you consider yourself a doom fan in any regard, this cauldron of thoroughly wicked tunes is mandatory listening.