Blood Spore – Fungal Warfare Upon All Life

Out now on Blood Harvest Records

Citizens of Arkham, beware, for the undiscriminating portals to the cosmic nether has summoned another pesky anti-creation to raze your insignificant little town. With a band logo as inscrutable and impossible as the most obtuse of eldritch horrors, Blood Spore has crashed onto the American Death Metal scene like a meteor from the outer rims of unfathomable space with their debut project, Fungal Warfare Upon All Life. Focusing on the shroomy specimens of Lovecraft’s universe as opposed to his more popular underwater creatures, the quartet peddles in a particularly damp and moist form of Doom/Death suitable to their subject matter.

            Lurching threateningly out of a shadowy vale close to your childhood home, “Hostile Fruiting Bodies” slobs, gushes and rushes like the most repulsive of Lovecraftian slime. Moving from grimy Doom to brisk elephantine stomps to tremolo riffs buzzing like fat flies around withering crops, the track presents a survey of everything the subgenre Doom/Death has going for it in 2020. Swaddled in a warm and musty production, the opener succeeds in introducing the listener to the fetid world, but fails to plant its mycelia firmly in his/her cerebral cortex.

            “Cede to the Saprophyte” goes further in its scene-setting, chiming and clanging like murky invocations in the midst of a hilltop stone circle. The band manages to introduce a certain gothic melodiousness to the ceremony without wandering too far from their Death Metal habitat, deepening the atmosphere. As the bass snakes around the guitar like a purple tentacle from an unseen and unwanted void, the vocals are layered in an overwhelming manner, heightening the sense of foreboding. The track one-ups the preceding one significantly, pulling the listener further into the sickening mythos of Lovecraft. 

            The lyrics do not try to hide their allegiance to the mysterious H.P, painting a world in familiar, nauseating greens, even including references to specific stories in his canon. “Apex Colony” is both the final track on the EP and the most substantial one. Depicting a humanity as doomed as can be, the track has an urgency to its first minutes that proves riveting. Spewing out choppy riffs and infectious beats, the band comes together nicely, stretching their fingers towards greatness in unison. After a mid-song dirge as slow and revolting as Yog-Sothoth waltzing with a limp, the track unfortunately segues into vague riff-soup in its latter half, concluding the EP on a weak and less than horrifying note. 

            Blood Spore’s dedication to the creepy craft of our favourite gloomy curmudgeon is undoubtedly passionate, and Fungal Warfare Upon All Life is an oftentimes enjoyable toe-dipping into a thick and pungent pond of iridescent puke. With a more varied vocal attack and some slightly more distinctive ideas, the full-length (that hopefully is on its way) should very well be worthy of your attention. If you need some sonic slime to further soggify your next read-through of The Dunwich Horror, then paste this piece of rotten tofu to your vinyl player and savour the sickly odour emanating from the speaker.

6.5/10

Imprecation – Damnatio ad Bestias

Out on Dark Descent Records

In the many years since the genre of metal was dragged kicking and screaming onto the international stage in the late 70s, there’s been quite a lot of turning stones going on. The trusty metal wayfarers have dug their shovels into every seemingly fruitful mound of earth across the lands, making entire subgenres, waves and local scenes out of the resulting produce. But while there’s almost no such thing as an unturned stone in metal anymore, some stones have been turned more times than others. 

            Gleefully old-school, satanic as a church-burning Norwegian second-waver, and filthy as the boys in Cianide dragged through the amorphous mass of flesh on the cover of Mental Funeral; Imprecation has found their hallowed stone and are content with turning it over until Sisyphus has finished pushing his. This putrid form of death metal will continue to spread its malignant wings throughout the continents as long as there are humans walking and breathing and willing to perform the necessary rituals. There are no expectations of originality whenever you put on one of these discs, the only thing that matters is whether the band in question manages to rumple your work suit and offend your neighbors.   

            Imprecation is definitely up for the task, untidying suits and upsetting the countenance of neighbors with fierce determination. The band of black-clad brothers have delivered two previous full-length helpings of blasphemous barf* before venturing on the task of bringing us the latest one, Damnatio ad Bestias. The formula hasn’t changed to any considerable degree; the band is still pumping out grimy death metal colored in at the edges with some atmospheric keyboard and samples. The most substantial upgrade from the previous records to this one might be the production, which is noticeably beefier and fuller on the new record. With the production on their side and two previous albums behind them, Imprecation set off into the world to wreak havoc on the uninitiated.

            “Temple of the Foul Spirit” Kicks off the proceedings with some dour and crawling OSDM, commencing the ritual in a suitable manner. The snaking, mildly off-kilter riffs turns the mind to the more calculated evil of Necrot, while the slower trudges reminds me of the dungeon-crawling cretins in Vastum. The tempo veers all over the spectrum throughout the record, making for a constantly exhilarating ride. The latter half of “Morbid Crucifixion” Bolt Throwers its way out of the speakers like an armored tank trawling around the seven planes of hell, before “Baptized in Satan’s Blood” sprinkles some black metal fairy dust over the infernal concoction. The keyboard is used sparingly but effectively, always bringing something extra to the track when it decides to rear its head.

            The record continues in this vein for its 37-minute span, letting the diversified riff-attack make up for the lack of true variation. Along with the winding structure and the dynamic treatment of tempo, the band comes a long way without really needing to change up their core components. What does end up missing is the stand-out moments needed to push the band from good to great. The only song that really sticks out from the bunch is “The Shepherd and the Flock”, with its grinding slow parts and a guitar solo that sounds like Satan relieving himself of a particularly stubborn tapeworm. Delivering more tracks like this might make Imprecation a bigger competitor when it becomes time to take stock of which 10’s death metal bands managed to turn the stone most skillfully. 

            If you have an unending hunger for the rancid meals offered by the grotesque chefs of the underground death metal scene, then Damnatio ad Bestiasis as good enough a recommendation as any. The band obviously has a burning passion for fiery racket, so throwing some coin in their direction is a great way to assure them that there are still cave dwellers out there willing to receive unholy sermon. Imprecation probably won’t instigate any paradigm shifts any time soon, but within the walls of the ever-turning mills of death metal, they are definitely pulling their weight.

*This is nothing but a compliment of course.

7.0/ 10

Scáth Na Déithe – Pledge Nothing but Flesh

Out on Vendetta Records

Scáth Na Déithe (Shadow of the Gods) is a death-ish black metal duo from Ireland. Consisting of drummer Stephen Todd and multi-instrumentalist Cathal Hughes, Pledge Nothing but Flesh is their second release after dropping a four track EP in 2015. Pledge was originally released independently in 2017, but the German label Vendetta Records saw the potential in the band’s bleak vision and released it anew this year. The first release of the LP in 2017 went largely unnoticed, despite Pledge’s obvious appeal to fans of dark and expansive black metal. Let’s hope the label involvement manages to correct this situation, as this band is a valuable addition to the Irish black metal scene.

            Scáth Na Déithe plays an unendingly bleak and punishing variant of death/black metal. The soundscape feels saturated with dark shades of gray and brown, the black and the death elements almost perfectly balanced. The production is earthy and organic providing the lengthy compositions with indelible grit and character. The lyrics are filled with the hopeless reflections of a tortured mind; self-loathing and desperate in the search for a way out of a hopeless existence. Taken with the four expansive tracks and the short interludes, the whole package feels epic in scope, like combining the dark mythos of Agalloch’s Faustian Echoes with Dante’s Inferno.

            The record is clearly separated into an A- and a B-side, each front-ended with a short interlude. “Sí Gaoithe” wafts through the speakers like wandering apparitions traversing a dead forest, seguing into “Bloodless”’ trudging intro. The abundance of low and mid frequencies in the mix reminds me of the destructive blackened death of Aosoth’s An Arrow in Heart, one of the most successful meldings of black and death metal in later years. The track soon picks up speed, the harsh and unintelligible vocals sounding the feral cries of a trailing woodland beast. The track flows nicely, with a couple of stand-out moments peppering its 10-minute run time. “Bloodless” is quickly followed by “This Unrecognized Disease” which explodes with a cloud of dissonant shrapnel, before sprawling out like a far-flung field of wet, disintegrating leaves.

            After 20 minutes of relentless bluster, Pledge offers its only moment of respite. “Fáilte Na Marbh” is like a stark clearing in a dismal forest, a place still somewhat graced with the memory of light. This glimmer is immediately whisked away with the arrival of “The Shackled Mind”, which is both the harshest and the best track on the album. The track sounds like a cataclysmic event driving entire communities into exile; a rumbling, flailing vortex of death and misfortune. After chasing destruction for 9 minutes, it closes off with an ominous clean section resembling the damp dungeon climes of The Ruins of Beverast.

            The album is unfortunately closed off with a ten-minute track that, despite a moment of spacious beauty towards the middle, largely retreads the ground of earlier tracks. This is but a slight tarnish on a record that is otherwise an impressive display of gravelly vision. The band has worked their way into a sound that is both comfortably familiar, yet filled with enough character and variation to sustain the interest across a full-length effort. This sound has the potential to be whittled down into an even more refined product, a process that could well create a modern masterpiece. Pledge Nothing but Flesh deserves to be admired by a bigger audience, so if you have some shelf space left for a quality death/black release, I recommend giving the online store of Vendetta Records a visit.

7.5/ 10