I don’t listen to a lot of death metal, or at least not that often. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just… well, I don’t know. I just don’t. Do I need a reason? In my defense, it does seem to be my go-to genre when I find myself in a lull, bored and uninspired by things, thinking that dinner at Arby’s sounds like a fancy treat. “Feels like an Arby’s night”? More like an Arby’s week-plus around here – which is how I’ve ended up with this new album from Temple Nightside.
I’ve never heard of them before, but when I get a recommendation from one of the fellas around here, I don’t question it. These people know their death metal – they know it, I know it, and you know it too, dear reader. Which isn’t to say I don’t disagree. Seriously, guys, I don’t know how the hell you listen to some of the stuff you do or what you see in it or why you love it so damn much.
Such was my initial reaction to The Hecatomb. Deep incoherent gutterals. Muddy guitar tones. Inaudible bass drum. Do people actually listen to and enjoy this stuff? My goodness. It’s death metal Arby’s. I mean, there is so much negativity in the world already: violence, racism, Donald Trump, eight-game losing streaks, and then Temple Nightside comes along and…wait…The Hecatomb sounds pretty darn good right about now.
Those deep sounds aren’t incoherent, muddy, or inaudible at all. They’re delivered from the bowels of Hell, and a hole has opened up at the Earth’s surface allowing them to be recorded for all to hear. “Graven” takes you through damnation’s musical gamut, and it’s all deliciously horrifying (just like Arby’s), starting with thick sludge and slowly progressing into a thinner, more mid-tempo sludge before going full throttle…and then turning around and regressing… then progressing… and ending abruptly. From there its head-on into “Adrift in Sepulchral Entropy” which is clearly the Devil himself attempting to completely break your body and spirit. Followed by a 20-second timeout. Hey, maybe the guy has some mercy after all.
Oops, scratch that – he was just off to get another tub of Horsey Sauce. Apparently he loves to dip… things in it as he sits in his “Fortress of Burden and Distress” as the damned suffer under… burdens… and distress. Hey, sometimes these things just write themselves and trying to out-do them is futile. This track ends up taking a couple of quizzical turns. The first is around the 2:20 mark where the mid-paced trudge abruptly breaks into some rapid double-bass and frenetic soloing, both of which just seem really out of place. Then around 4:15 the death growls give way to some ethereal chanting that are a bit of an abnormal fit. You could probably stand one or the other, but combined they do more to take you out of the experience than keep you wrapped up in it, which is only furthered by the séance/interlude that follows.
From there it’s a tough act to draw you back in. “Within the Arms of Nothingness” is just a bit too plodding to really do the trick, but “Tempest” does a pretty good job, with some varying vocal levels and more sensical musical bursts. Another calming interlude precedes the closing “Charnal Winds”, which… well I’m not really sure how to describe it. Funeral dirge? Methodical torture? There’s a constant feedback wall there, and a slow drumbeat, some mournful soloing, and some gutterals that are either summoning the dead or sentencing souls to death.
At the conclusion of The Hecatomb, I find myself asking many questions: Is that cavernous sound intentional, or did they piss off the sound engineer? Do I like this or do I hate it? Do I want to celebrate life or end it? Do I want to listen it again or never again? Am I fooling myself into liking this or am I genuinely enjoying it? How much did my mood actually affect this? Coincidentally, these are all questions I ask myself once I’ve finished an Arby’s meal.
As far as I can tell, “cavernous death metal” is actually I thing, so that answers the first question. I’m not sure I have any answers for the rest of them. I can see where people would enjoy it – its pretty raw and primal; I can see where people would laugh at it – the cavernous sound and vocal style are exactly the sort of thing genre detractors (and elitists) point to as Exhibits A and B.
How about this, then: if you like your death metal to be literally underground, give Temple Nightside a whirl. It doesn’t get much more underground than rising from Hell below. Or, if you just hate people and life, that works, too. Eat Arby’s.