Ascended Dead hail from sunny San Diego, but they sound more like they were vomited forth from the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. On their debut full-length Abhorrent Manifestation, the band offer up ten tracks of gnarly death metal in the vein of Demilich and early Incantation. Yeah, I know – there isn’t exactly a shortage of bands currently playing this style of music. Very few of them, however, write songs quite as tight with riffs anywhere near as sick as what Ascended Dead bring to the table. This record is a surprisingly fun listen and a total ripper from first note to last.
I know I’ve made this point before, but for bands playing so-called ‘cavernous’ death metal, the success of their music relies almost totally on how memorable the riffs are. Anyone can throw a heavy layer of reverb on a sub-par riff and end up with a record that sounds cool but doesn’t stick with the listener for more than five minutes after the last song ends. Ascended Dead don’t have that problem – these tracks are overflowing with impossibly intricate sounding riffs, which are bolstered by production that’s clean enough (though still decidedly lo-fi) that each note is discernable. There are also some sweet, Slayer-esque guitar solos sprinkled throughout, making this one hell of a guitar record.
Honestly, it’s hard to pick one or two highlights, because each track has at least one total mind-fuck of a riff. The verse riff on “The Promised Time,” for example, has a single note run in it that I don’t think most tech death bands would even attempt, and then they up the ante with an even faster one on the very next track, “Blood Thirst.” The nylon-stringed classical guitar interlude “Dormant Souls” provides a brief but welcome respite before the madness that is “Subconscious Barbarity,” the last 90 seconds or so of which is just one frenetic, face-melting riff after another. The highlight, though, might be the intro riff to closer “Inexorable Death,” which makes my fret hand ache just listening to it.
If I have one complaint with the record, it’s that they tend to stick with one tempo throughout. On the one hand, that means that when there is the occasional mid-tempo section like in “Last Ritual,” the effect is more dramatic than it would be if every song had a slower part. With every track being so frantically paced, though, the tracks do sort of blend together after a while and feel more like one extended riff-fest than individual songs. Still, Abhorrent Manifestation is an excellent record, and fans of chaotic, old-school death metal would do well to check it out.