REVIEWS ROUND-UP: Through The Cracks Of Death: Altars – Hissing – Dead Void – Maul – Ferum – Castrator

Richard Benton watches with horror as the wounds knit, the flesh reforms, and the thing pulls itself with a sickening tear from its premature tomb.

Italian label Everlasting Spew Records has rapidly become of the leading exponents of pure Death Metal might, and recent signing Altars show that they have no intention of slipping any time soon. Ascetic Reflections, the Australian nightmare-wielders second full length album, is a writhing hellscape of dissonant riffing, abyssal atmospheres and otherworldly vocals rooted in a surprisingly effective grasp of songwriting. Portal comparisons seem popular, but Altars’ approach is much more hands on, reminiscent of earlier Altarage with Incantation’s writhing chaos and Immolation’s vast soundscapes. Though Altars can be utterly savage, their primary commitment is to atmosphere, and they have the skill to drop from brutal attacks into echoing caverns of doom ambience.


Profound Lore don’t sign Death Metal bands all that often, but when they do they’re always monsters. On their second full-length Hypervirulence Architecture, Seattle abominations Hissing continue breaking death metal into ugly, dissonant parts and reassembling them in disturbing orders. Atonal riffs and broken blasting move between lightless expanses of ambient noise, while unhinged solos spiral around fragmented blasts of inhuman roaring and bellowing. If at first Hypervirulence Architecture seems more straightforward than its predecessor Permanent Destitution, this is only because the noise and industrial elements have been stripped back to expose the strangeness of their death metal more clearly.


In a genre not exactly noted for its subtlety and nuance, Dead Void still manages an appalling demonstration of ugliness, violence and spite. Volatile Forms (Me Saco un Ojo) opens with the gruelling ‘Atrophy’, which moves from monstrous slow motion death/doom to shit-kicking crust and back over ten minutes, and the rest of the album follows that pattern throughout. Unconcerned with either technicality or dissonance, Dead Void nevertheless carry a strangely alien, bleak atmosphere that elevates them beyond the straight wrecking ball they otherwise could be. Without doubt one of the ugliest and most satisfying death metal albums of the year for those who crave nothing but violence and horror.


Though their sound is unsurprising coming from a band named after a heavy warhammer, Maul certainly make their violence stand out. Seraphic Punishment (Redefining Darkness) rides in on a bass-heavy groove that could almost be described as catchy, before proceeding to kick the living fucking shit out of you. Maul are firmly in the same category of brutalising New Old School American Death Metal dragged into the spotlight by the likes of Undeath and Tomb Mold, but with a tangible – if not easy to define – touch that helps them stand out. There’s a certain strangeness to their compositions, a labyrinthine twist that doesn’t always lead them to the most obvious place, but doesn’t blunt the impact of their attack.


The first thing anyone’s going to notice about Ferum’s debut Asunder/Erode (Unorthodox Emanations) is the cover, one of Paolo Girardi’s most gruesome and disturbing pieces – but this is far from some clumsy gross-out or exercise in obscenity. Ferum play crushing, oppressive doom/death with total self-control, stretching morbid riffs to excruciating lengths beneath vocalist Samantha’s tortured roars. There are similarities to Void Rot in the sheer scope of their sound, but rather than alien abstraction, Ferum seem to wallow in organic dread – there’s a physicality to their sound that recalls Vastum at times, a combination which results in the sound of creeping body horror.


Arguably Castrator don’t really belong in this “overlooked gems” type of roundup, as their debut Defiled in Oblivion (Dark Descent Records) has turned out to be one of the biggest Death Metal releases of the year – but I wasn’t prepared to let them pass without an acknowledgment. They initially made a name for themselves in 2015 with their No Victim (Horror Pain Gore Death) EP only to disappear for seven years. Now back with only two original members, they make up for lost time with a savage, song-driven collection of classic American Death Metal with a clear nod to Cannibal Corpse.

The idea of women repurposing the gendered violence of brutal death metal with a feminist voice has lost none of the power it had in 2015, with a Malala Yousafzai sample and lyrics about misogynistic killers and church oppression, but any neckbeards looking to score points by bashing them will be stopped in their tracks by the simple fact that Castrator clearly love death metal and play it with a total commitment and skill that’s already drawn the attention of genre grandees. One of the year’s standouts.