2016 has certainly been a banner year for death, although, in most cases, that’s been horrifically unfortunate. But hey, in the case of death metal, at least there’s some silver lining to be found, because 2016’s first half has been rife with remarkable riffery. Recent-ish records from the likes of Nucleus, First Fragment, Chthe’ilist, and Zealotry brought a new spark to the old fires, and Norway’s Reptilian throws their proverbial hat into the ring with their debut full-length, Perennial Void Traverse.
Unlike most of the bands listed above, Reptilian avoids tech-ish noodle or murkily dissonant waters, preferring instead some middle ground between Autopsy’s lurch and their fellow Scandinavians’ gnarly take on straight-ahead death. So like those above, Perennial doesn’t really break any new ground, but it does expertly capture its chosen vibe. For Perennial, that vibe is a certain grimy sense of doom-laden decay that, when paired with flashes of carving Swedeath bite, adds up to a perfect drive-or-drag tandem.
Throughout, Perennial’s production is raw but not ragged, with plenty of room for the instruments to breathe. Often the guitars play single-note riffs, mimicked below by the bass, and the space between them allows an atmosphere that so many death metal bands would fill with oppressive heft. Vocally, Cato Bakke’s bark helps further that sense of classic death/doom by leaning towards the thrashier side, often intelligible and ever snarling, particularly reminiscent of the dry-throated rasp of Asphyx’s Martin van Drunen. The riffs of Bakke and Andreas Salbu twist around themselves and around Bard Nygard’s gnarly bass runs, those guitars sometimes spindly and snaking, and sometimes stout and punchy. Daniel Tveit’s drumming is a complete standout, loose without being chaotic, just tight enough to hold it all together, adding a perfect push to the pull of the guitars.
Album opener “Swamp” starts with an ascending riff, almost epic and yet perfectly ugly, and one that soon trudges into a cyclical spinning guitar, then plenty of doomy bends, and then some chugging muted chords for good measure. And all of it dragging and dirgey until the 2:00 mark, where the song abruptly picks up into an almost d-beat groove, punked-out and pummeling, before collapsing back into the trudge. That dichotomy is indicative of Reptilian’s skill at pairing fast and slow, although the tacked-on bass breakdown and finale does continue a few minutes past the point where an outro starts to lose effectiveness. And therein lies my only real criticism: With six songs in nearly forty-five minutes, and only one beneath seven minutes, Perennial takes its time to traverse the void, and perhaps a bit of tightening up could shave down the running time or simply divide up the matters a bit better. Still, the ideas are there – only the arrangements could use some streamlining.
I’m clearly a few months behind on covering this one, but in the mid-year spirit of shining light upon the diamonds lost in the dark, I wanted to throw a little shine on Reptilian’s debut. These days, I find myself seldom caring about the brutish or the technical, the wall-of-noise loudness or oodle-noodle shred of much modern death – give me the crypt-level classics, the fetid and carving bite of the zombie ritual. Sure, Perennial isn’t wickedly original, but it’s nevertheless seen plenty of playing time for me in the past few months simply because it fills the perennial void into which I never can seem to throw enough ragged, rancid death metal.
Regardless of how much art and artistry depend upon originality, more often than not, simply doing something right is enough to compensate for not necessarily doing anything new, and Perennial Void Traverse ticks enough of the proper boxes to keep my eyes and ears piqued for whatever ugliness this young band may bring us next.