Return to the Void is a death metal masterpiece laced with cosmic imagery, catchy leads and plenty of forward-thinking aspects meant to entice, ensnare, and yes Michael, ensorcell. Where Odes of the Occult was perhaps more difficult to separate from the pack of old school death metal rehashers (although killer in its own right), Return to the Void is something completely of its own making. The old school influences remain (Morbid Angel, Autopsy and Dismember spring to mind) but it’s the eye towards the future that makes this one so special.
Execration has been on a death march of progress throughout their entire career. Odes of the Occult provided a more straightforward, old school take on death metal, albeit leaning towards the more brutal side and laced with a touch of the cosmic influence that is more prevalent here. Their following LP, Morbid Dimensions, was a necessary step back as Execration began tweaking their sound and experimenting more with the spaced-out, brighter sound of today. It was on that album where Execration began pounding complexity, more melodic lead lines and tonally-elevated vocals to the mix. Their vocal progression has completely matched the alterations in their music, making each album a cohesive experience. Their sound has remained compositionally tenacious as a whole. Thus, it makes sense that the vocals rose from the murky depth of guttural volcanoes to the heights of the Dark Horse Nebula.
Release date: 7/14/2017
Label: Metal Blade Records
So, where before Execration would utilize a mostly-clean guitar line only as an Intermezzo or outro of sorts, on Return to the Void they are seamlessly blended some cleanliness straight into the compositions, sometimes layering two alternately distorted guitars and even using those cleaner aspects as main themes. The guitar tone is a bit clearer primarily due to the use of more treble than bass in the mix. This results in an overall brighter sound for the band. “Hammers of Vulcan” is a tremendous example of their “new” sound. The chordal tonality of the guitars is closer to the jingle on a fine pair of western rowel spurs than it is an incoherent cauldron of poison found in the more murky death metal. As a result, the chords, trills and discordant lines simply sing under the vocals, which also utilize a more clear delivery.
The title track is full of complex drumming, rolling over itself and looping ad infinitum. It’s got plenty of pacing, some of the fastest on the album, and also some of the most didactic. Again, the lead lines employ a combination of mid-range picking and near-soprano discordance to create texture. The chorus, appropriating that style, is a mix of layered clean and harsh vocals resulting in a near goth ambiance rolling just below the surface. Also of note, Execration yet again uses brilliant pacing changes to add balance to the compositional palate. As “Return to the Void” nears it conclusion the pacing hurtles off like a lost comet while vocals clean themselves up to a near shout. The urgency increases as the track reaches its zenith just before it dissolves into the complex, near post-metal intro of the closing track, “Det Uransakelige Dyp.”
It seems like every death metal band is now required to use “cephalic” at some point on their album. Execration chose to throw it into a song-title. “Cephalic Transmissions” transports the listener to the warped, demonic space station depicted on the cover. Guitar lines float without the constraints of gravity. Tremolo and reverb intersplicing themselves disguised as support lines for the lead guitar. The body of the track is a mesomorph. Well-toned, rolling skinny and utilizing only necessary elements for survival. Also on display, the method of tension and release which Execration has now mastered. “Cephalic Transmissions” undulated across the interstellar landscape gaining and losing speed with a masterful touch for the element of tension.
Return to the Void is perhaps a more difficult album to digest than Odes of the Occult or Morbid Dimensions. It’s certainly Execration’s most manifold record to date. But the experience is a valuable one. The Norway-based quartet has a vision for the future of their death metal experience and they convey that vision beautifully across their fourth LP. Every piece of this record is composed deliberately and without consequence. Given Execration’s relentless pursuit of new sounds and the inclusion of new styles, influences, and elements, it’s going to be interesting to see where they land on their fifth LP. What we can hope for is that it holds a candle to either Odes of the Occult or Return to the Void. Because, if it accomplishes that, it will be a great album.
The future is a twisted, tense, hellish landscape that spans the cosmos. It’s where humanity will likely be unwillingly residing in the near future. But what is humanity happily forced to listen to there? Execration.