Maybe it’s just me, but it really seems like death metal has been enjoying something of a resurgence in the last couple of years. I’m not sure why that is—perhaps it’s a natural sort of course correction after the inexplicable popularity of deathcore—but I couldn’t be happier about this newer wave of bands that are embracing a more old-school or ‘cavernous’ aesthetic. That’s not to say that every practitioner of the style is able to find the right balance between memorable riffs and atmosphere, but those that do—bands like Blood Incantation, Dead Congregation, Vanhelgd or Chthe’ilist—have moved beyond simple Demilich-worship and released some of the most compelling albums of the last few years.
Add The Ominous Circle to the list of bands that get it right. On their debut full-length Appalling Ascension, the mysterious Portuguese outfit lead the listener down a darkened (left-hand) path of sinuous riffs, shifting tempos, and suffocating atmosphere that sets a very high bar for death metal in 2017. What I find particularly enjoyable about the record is that they manage to create that atmosphere without resorting to the ‘bottom of a well’ layers of reverb a lot of bands use to cover for lackluster riffs. The production here sounds very natural, meaning the band achieves the sense of dread that permeates the album much more organically. The riffs on Appalling Ascension sound fucking evil because they are fucking evil.
That being said, I do wish the album had started differently. At a little over four minutes, the droning feedback-and-spoken word “Heart Girt With A Serpent” feels a little too long to really be an effective opener; instead of setting a sinister tone for the rest of the record, it kind of drags. Fortunately, that’s really the only misstep the band makes on the album. Second track “From Endless Chasms” comes roaring out of the gates with one of the fastest riffs on the album, interspersed with more mid-tempo sections that feature some really nice cymbal work – in fact, the drumming is excellent all throughout the album, with more variety and nuance that one usually finds with this type of music. There’s a really solid groove in the main riff of the mostly mid-tempo “Poison Fumes” that makes it one of the highlights of the record. My favorite track is “A Gray Outcast,” which has a slower, natural harmonic-laden chorus riff that’s easily the sickest one on the album. Epic closer “Consecrating His Mark” also uses slower tempo riffs great effect, ending the album on a harrowing note.
Appalling Ascension will be available on January 27 both digitally and in physical formats in the US via 20 Buck Spin.