The following three records stand a pretty good chance of getting a fresh round of attention from folks engaging in serious discussions about Venenum’s stellar debut full-length, Trance of Death:
Necrovation’s self-titled record from 2012
Tribulation’s The Formulas of Death from 2013
Morbus Chron’s Sweven from 2014
It’s a pretty great group to get tossed into, really, so hopefully such comparisons won’t cause the Venenum lads to shit a cold Twinkie. Plus, the parallels are unmistakable: dark, stormy, adventurous death metal with a fated “atmospheric” tag just waiting to be fired from every conceivable angle. And adding to the overall allure, thanks to the track record of the above bands and a near countless amount of crews that preceded them, is metal’s long-standing tradition of delivering amazing transition albums. Death’s Human and Pestilence’s Testimony of the Ancients spring to mind when considering death metal precedents that shook the bejesus out of the tree in the early days, and the Swede contingent above have clearly done the same with their unique interpretation. Where things go after hitting that coveted “sweet spot” zone is anyone’s guess. For the Morbus Chron dudes, oblivion called. For Necrovation, suspended animation. For Tribulation, an overly frilly, less interesting misstep. Of course, only time will tell if we’re witnessing another band in the midst of a crucial transition, but it at least seems viable, based on the trajectory of Venenum’s peers.
What sets Trance of Death apart from its associates, however, is the very simple truth that it manages to best the bunch with as near a flawless interpretation of the style as you can get. Period. The record is weird and risky without ever coming across as kitschy, and the actual death metal that pumps through the veins is as mighty, merciless and as delectable as that which was produced by whoever the hell a band like this considers as its chief precursor. Actually, that’s a relevant question: who set the foundation for this particular brand of “progressive” death? A handful of my comrades were quick to point toward the aforementioned Human era of Death, but the more sinister vibe and touches of blackness drop hints of Soulside Journey, so the harbinger is best left to the eye of the beholder. As for the rest of the weirdness –– the occulty, doomy, psychedelic, “arcane secrets revealed” qualities that paint all the corners –– the fact that young bands today have such an effortless avenue for discovering and assimilating literally any style of music makes pinning precise influences a near futile endeavor, but bands like Venenum clearly work that to their advantage.
There are enough boons to fill a sheaf in your sweet Trapper Keeper, but something that’s particularly satisfying about the overall songwriting approach here is the fact that it’s equally enjoyable when consumed in parts as it is as a whole – not always the case when you have a record that includes a second half that breaks the album’s namesake into an expansive three-part epic with an instrumental mid-point and a particularly stretched 14-minute closer. But the three tunes that make up part I, II and III of “Trance of Death” don’t feel redundant when tacked to the end of the four songs that precede them, and they work just as well when played alone or together for a relatively abbreviated 25 minute excursion. Turns out, Venenum is quite good at making sure that each tune packs a full lunch. Outside of the brief intro, every cut has a series of twists – tempo or mood shifts; a muddy, doomy lurch; a pinch of surprisingly pretty melody; a riff that charges like a Silverback through the undergrowth; or a sweep of necromancy swirling in the scrim.
Some songs assert a quieter, more atmospheric face, such as the “Metanola Journey” that is Part II of the title track, and others like “The Nature of The Ground” emphasize savage brutality. That particular tune actually has it all in the most succinct package: prettiness flitting in the corners, an award winning Big-Time Death Metal Riff around 2:20, a creepy midpoint that verrrry gradually tugs the song back to life like a grim Old No. 7 slowly chugging away from Hell’s platform, and then WHAMO – totally shitfit bananas from 4:25 forward.
If that tune don’t strop the edge to a deadly point, then this probably ain’t the album for you. If it does, however, then get ready to whip yourself into a brilliant frenzy over the rest of these 45 minutes.
I’m not entirely sure what’s going on across the pond that’s inspiring all these young Euro bands to release so much quality forward-thinking death metal, but it’s not just the Surströmming up in Sweden. Norway has crews like Diskord, Obliteration and Reptilian bending the stodgy rules, and now we have Venenum putting an emphatic pin into Deutschland. Whatever’s happening, let’s hope it continues. And in the meantime, whether this represents a window into a transitional chapter that ultimately leaves this sound behind or not, Trance of Death is here for our pleasure today, and it’s an incredibly rewarding listen that’s sure to land Venenum a hell of a lot of well deserved praise.