Since its inception in 2009, Colorado-based label Dark Descent has stamped an authoritative presence on the metal underground with a run of well-received albums, compilations, splits, and the occasional demo. The label had its best year yet in 2012, with bruising releases from the likes of Horrendous, Vassafor, Emptiness, and my choice for pitch-black, fiendish death metal bands of the year, Maveth and Desolate Shrine. (If you’ve not discovered their respective albums yet, Coils of the Black Earth and The Sanctum of Human Darkness, you’ll want to remedy that, immediately.)
Dark Descent’s releases tend towards the noxious death metal and old-school nastiness end of the spectrum. Primordial metal is widely represented on the label’s roster, but Dark Descent’s artists don’t repeat a singular methodology ad nauseam—see further dominant releases from ’12 from the likes of Anguish and Anhedonist for evidence of the differing hues and temperaments to be discovered.
Conversely, the key to the label’s accomplishments thus far is unquestionably fixed. Dark Descent has a characteristic signature that lends confidence to, and underscores, the veracity of its releases. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re going to enjoy every album with Dark Descent’s sigil attached, but all its releases are imprinted with a strong sense of integrity bound to the label’s trustworthy aesthetic.
In 2013, Dark Descent kicked off the year with a thunderous release from Finland’s Vorum, which is covered below. But while we’re here, I can’t leave without mentioning Canada’s deranged dark lords Paroxsihzem—whose self-titled, late-2012 debut is a seething morass of unhinged death metal.
Vorum — Poisoned Void
There’s a fine sense of continuity in the fact that Dark Descent began 2013 with the North American release of a commendable slab of Finnish death metal courtesy of Vorum’s Poisoned Void. As mentioned, the label ended 2012 with two stunning albums from fellow Finns Maveth and Desolate Shrine, and Vorum’s feral ferocity plumbs similar depths of macabre and murk-ridden metal—albeit without the accompanying black metal sneer.
Vorum taps into the squalid vein of Finnish metal found in the nation’s more bedraggled bands, emphasizing that sordidness by grinding things out with a viscid sound. There’s a recognizable chugging accent at work on Poisoned Void (think Bolt Thrower slaughtering Asphyx and Morbid Angel) and that split-knuckled pulverizing lurch is injected with jarring solos and wrapped in a swampy production, while hefty percussion marks out a perpetual pummel. The guitars are rotten and down-tuned with fuzz à la Entombed, and the vocals are spat out with a guttural bark as quick-fire surges pitch into moodier churns.
If that all sounds like an assemblage of trademarked old-school death metal techniques, that’s because Poisoned Void is the sum of Vorum’s influences. It’s patently clear whom the band admires, and from which point on death metal’s timeline it draws its inspiration. However, that retro stench shouldn’t be confused with derivativeness. Poisoned Void is 35 minutes of continuous battering soaked in an authenticity that speaks of reverence rather than cliché.
In truth, Poisoned Void doesn’t add anything groundbreaking to the death metal canon in compositional terms—not that Vorum had the slightest intention of doing that. But, like similarly old-school label-mate Horrendous, the hallmarks of the halcyon days of death metal are treated with enthusiastic privilege, not pastiche. Tracks like “Evil Seed”, “Dance of Heresy” and “In Obscurity Revealed” are commanding reminders of the strength of death metal delivered in its essential and elementary configuration. While it may not be innovative, Poisoned Void still provides a powerhouse punch to the solar plexus.
It’s an indisputable fact that Canada produces some of the very best mangled and mutated death metal. Antediluvian, Adversarial, and Mitochondrion provide ample proof of that, and on Paroxsihzem’s full-length, self-titled debut, the Canadian band exhibits just how claustrophobic and clotted the black and death metal mined at the ends of the earth can get.
Paroxsihzem is a foul and asphyxiating assault. It reeks of wretched grottos, and is salt in the wound raw. Slathered in a purulent crust, dense guitars lurch from festering groove to festering groove as lo-fi tremolo pickings squirm around in half-sunken graves of mucilaginous noise. Paroxsihzem is Jack the Ripper of death metal, its trails of carnage obscured in a choking fog of primitive drums and throat-scraping vocals growled from a bloody lair.
It’s all an oppressive, bludgeoning trudge through madness and misery. At first pass, tracks like “Vanya”, “Nausea” and “Deindividuation” might seem like inharmonious blurs, and that’s no complaint. But entombed within the chaos are melodies crawling through crooked, muddy furrows, and scattered spoken-word samples throughout lend a sense of psychosis to proceedings.
Much like Antediluvian’s Through the Cervix of Hawwah, it’s the malevolent, coagulating fetidness of Paroxsihzem that secures all the crucial sinisterness. And in the same way that Mitochondrion’s debut Archaeaeon was a challenging yet rewarding ordeal, Paroxsihzem show no inclination towards making things remotely accessible—an overarching nightmarish odyssey being the clear goal.
Paroxsihzem set the rawness right up front, burying the nimble-fingered dexterity and forcing you to search for it as the suffocating sewage blocks your airways as you dig deeper into each song. That morbidity and sadistic hostility underscores the confrontational dementedness of Paroxsihzem. There are no halfway measures here; you’re either on board or not.