In my mind, I know that metal needs new ideas to remain a vital genre. I know that many things that seem odd, out of place or downright stupid to me now, will, in time, be integrated into the genre’s conventions. My heart is a different matter: My heart takes a more puritanical approach to metal. My heart thinks that keyboards, orchestras, shoe-gazing drone-doom, transcendental black metal, progressive jazz-metal, lutes, flutes, and songs about feelings are all a bunch of bullshit. Were I to give my heart free rein, I would roam the land bellowing “Death to false metal!” and the corpses of the untrue would mark my passing. What might be playing on my iPod during this hypothetical rampage? Why Deathhammer, of course, because in Martin Van Drunen’s own words, “This is true death metal, you bastards!”
When Asphyx released its comeback album, 2009’s Death… The Brutal Way, I marveled at how much the band, despite some significant personnel changes, still sounded like the Asphyx of old. Deathhammer, the group’s latest album, sounds, if anything, even more like classic Asphyx, but with the focus and sure-handed approach that comes with maturity. Deathhammer is the sound of a band confident — arrogant even — in its ability to devastate.
The tracks on Deathhammer are evenly split into two categories: short bursts of up-tempo death metal and longer, slower doom/death numbers. The album’s first two tracks, “Into the Timewastes” and “Deathhammer”, are two highlights of the former style. “Into the Timewastes” bursts through the door like cops with a no-knock warrant and commences to spray lead everywhere, an opening quite similar to “Vermin,” the first proper track on the band’s 1991 classic The Rack. The song eventually settles into a one of Asphyx’s patented, chugging grooves that is less frantic, but more deliberately lethal. “Deathhammer” continues the trend with two-and-a-half minutes of all-killer-no-filler pummeling.
“Minefield” ushers in the doom in crushing fashion. The track begins with guitarist Paul Baayens picking out a slow sonorous melody over which Van Drunen lets rip a few exquisitely gut-wrenching howls. “Minefield” crawls its way to a slow death capped with some agonized guitar screams in the vein of Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide”. “We Doom You Death”, a diatribe against bands of questionable metal fiber, is perhaps the catchiest of the slower tracks, as it has a bit of swing in its trudging step. The closing track “As the Magma Mammoth Rises” is every bit as massive as its name implies, heaving and smoldering for nearly eight minutes as Van Drunen chronicles our eventual doom at the hands of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
It must be said that while the whole band’s performance on Deathhammer is rock-solid, Martin Van Drunen’s contribution is outstanding; I daresay he has never sounded better. (Or should I say worse?) Martin has been a busy man these past few years and all the work seems to have made his voice stronger, and more expressive, even if all he is usually expressing is either anger or agony. Lyrically as well, from what I can decipher, Van Drunen appears have done some fine work, making me eager to get my hands on a lyric sheet.
The year is young, and 2012 might have better death metal albums on the horizon, but it will be hard-pressed to deliver one with this combination of purity and potency. Asphyx simply could not have made a better album than this. “Bow down to the Deathhammer.”