The musical equivalent of getting chocolate in your peanut butter, death/doom melds the bellowed growls of death metal, the brutally sauntering gait of doom metal, and a weird punctuation mark right in the middle. I’m something of a grammar freak, and I just think it’s kind of strange that the agreed-upon parlance is a slash mark. All pedantic notions aside, I’ll admit to not always being the biggest fan of death/doom albums. I was sonically baptized into extreme music by Tomb of the Mutilated, and since then, I only wanted to hear death and doom separately; though, after discovering bands like Temple of Void, Hooded Menace, and Demilich, my eyes saw the light and I was born again into the death/doom fold. Bursting forth from the Northwest scene and making a whole bunch of noise is Portland’s own Ossuarium, releasing their debut album Living Tomb on the esteemed 20 Buck Spin label. Will this be a winning combination, or will Living Tomb gather dust in the vault?
Nah, it’s good. By now, it’s clear that Ossuarium, along with label mates Tomb Mold and Extremity, are setting the standard for a 20 Buck Spin death metal release: dungeon-crawling, riff-brawling, Lovecraftian influence-drawing brutality. After a mercifully-brief intro track, “Blaze of Bodies” barges in, bringing some concussive drums and crunchy lead guitar. Like any death/doom group worth their salt, Ossuarium finds comfort in the catacombs, and we’re treated to some appropriately cavernous vocals and spooky distortion. Thematically, the mood is strikingly morose, as the band patiently crafts an authentically-funereal atmosphere; but, as it turns out, these depressing motifs pair very well with death metal riffs. Lucky for us, Ossuarium packed a big suitcase, because they have riffs for days.
Though none of the tracks are what you’d call “breezy,” Ossuarium knows how to string the listener’s interest along: from nose to tail, Living Tomb flows rather seamlessly from one horrific vignette to the next. The churning interplay between the mournful guitars on “Corrosive Hallucination” is vertigo-inducing, as the palpable sorrow twists you into an existential pretzel. Then Ossuarium suddenly turns on a dime and fire off a string of spiraling riffs that make you want to gallop wildly in circles around the crypt.
Personally, while I enjoy the first part of the album, the second half of Living Tomb shows off more exciting death metal details. Case in point, the shortest song (besides the intro) “End of Life Dreams and Visions Pt. 1” features some brutal OSDM passages that wouldn’t sound out of place in Florida in the 90s. Towering tremolo guitars and subterranean bass drums anxiously build a nervous ambiance of ostensible black metal; however, the façade fades into the pure sound of creeping death, as brutal syncopated riffs dissolve the eardrums like cotton candy in boiling water. The subsequent two tracks follow a similarly intense formula, and then it’s over before you know it. At a tight forty minutes, the band succeeds in delivering a sumptuous full album experience that rarely feels like it wasted your time. In a genre that sometimes indulges itself with extra-long LPs, Ossuarium shows restraint, which should serve the album’s longevity for the future.
Though I wish the first half of Living Tomb had as much replayability as the latter, I can’t say that any of the tracks on this album are skippable. Ossuarium show off their songwriting chops throughout their impressively solid debut album; Living Tomb is just about as airtight as the forlorn mausoleums that inspired it. But, unlike the wrathful and restless souls locked inside, this benchmark of death/doom should not be neglected. So, heed my warning all you cavern-dwelling metalheads, lest ye be tormented by one of those restless souls yourself.
Living Tomb is available on 20 Buck Spin.