On November 30th, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, and thus began a three-and-a-half-month-long conflict known as the Winter War. Vastly outnumbered, out-gunned, out-planed, and out-tanked, the Finns, with superior organization, superior tactics, superior winter clothing (much more important than you might think), showed the Soviets that Hell is a bitter cold place, full of dark, impenetrable forests, frozen swamps and death, death, death. Having fought the largest country in the world to a standstill, yet knowing it could not survive a war of attrition, Finland sued for peace in March of 1940. In return for retaining its independence, Finland ceded a portion of its territory to the Soviet Union, but not before turning 126,000 Soviets into corpse-sicles and sending another 188,000 home with permanent reminders not to fuck with Finland. What this tells us is that Finland knows a thing or two about war. Judging from the likes of Demigod, Demilich, Adramelech, and early Amorphis, Finland knows a thing or two about death metal, as well. Which brings us to Encirclement, the second album from Decaying, wherein the fine Finnish traditions of war and death metal are combined to glorious result.
When one considers war-themed death metal, one band will undoubtedly come to mind: Bolt Thrower. In the past few years, however, as Bolt Thrower’s recording hiatus grows ever longer and more worrisome, Hail of Bullets has lead the charge for martial metal of death. This again brings us to Encirclement, wherein Decaying performs music that owes a stylistic debt to both the aforementioned bands. Decaying has mastered the mid-paced rumble that is Bolt Thrower’s signature, but the structure of the band’s riffs owes a little more to Hail of Bullets. Yet, the most obvious Hail of Bullets influence shines through in Decaying‘s vocals; vocalist/guitarist/bassist Matias Nastolin is listed as Decaying’s only singer, but he performs in two distinct voices, one of which is a deep growl and the other a tortured howl that sounds uncannily like Martin Van Drunen.
Where Hail of Bullets has based its albums around a particular theater of war, Encirclement features songs about various conflicts, though the focus is primarily on wars in the first half of the twentieth century: “Battle of the Somme” and “The Hell of Verdun” tackle major battles from World War I, “On the Path of Subjugation” deals with the aforementioned Winter War, and “Operation Citadel” and “The Rising Sun” focus on World War II.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Encirclement is the overall level of craftsmanship. There is nothing particularly dazzling, and certainly nothing innovative about the music; every song is just packed with quality, tastefully arranged riffs. Though Encirclement has its up-tempo moments, Decaying never seems to lose control; each composition flows smoothly from one riff to the next. The solos are similarly well crafted, more thematic than frenetic, with nary a note out of place. The album’s stand-out and perhaps most representative track is “Battle of the Somme”, which runs the gamut from doom/death to death/thrash, with sinister melodic themes woven throughout.
Encirclement’s primary flaw is that Decaying tends to be long-winded; half of the album’s tracks stretch well beyond seven minutes. For the most part, the songs do not suffer from the extended lengths, though “Conclusion” in particular does not have quite enough engaging musical ideas to fill up nine minutes. There is, however, a cumulative negative effect from these lengthy tracks: the album’s ten songs add up to over an hour of playing time, running the risk of giving the listener too much of a good thing.
Decaying’s debut was essentially a compilation of demo material, so one could argue that Encirclement is the band’s true debut. In any case, with only seven months separating the band’s two releases, Decaying is proving itself to be an ambitious young act, and as Encirclement attests, an eminently talented one as well. If you like a little armed conflict with your death metal, Encirclement is essential listening.