Ossuarium – Living Tomb Review

The function of the record label has changed quite drastically since the days of yesteryear when the slick-haired, cigar smoking fat cat from Columbia would come in promising jumbo jets, cocaine, and world tours. The first reiteration, at least in terms of heavy metal, would be in the 80s, when metal and punk really began converging, both musically and in terms of a DIY ethos. Homegrown labels like Metal Blade or Noise began popping up and releasing albums that would change the face of metal forever. Their successes would launch them to what I like to refer to as the sweet spot—the area between the sea of obscurity and the lands where the in-genre household names go to roost. In the age of the internet, the purpose of the record label has changed once again. We’re in an era where musicians can record, release, and distribute music on a historically low budget. Label backing is helpful, but not required, to put out professional-sounding albums that can easily reach the eager (or perhaps jaded) ears of listeners. Nowadays, the PR side of the label needs to be strong. Branding, for better or for worse, is more essential now than in decades past, and having a particular label’s stamp on the back sleeve now means more than ever, if only from a marketing perspective.

Release date: February 1, 2019. Label: 20 Buck Spin.
One such label currently sitting in that sweet spot is 20 Buck Spin. It would be difficult indeed to argue that they didn’t steal the show as far as quality output this past year, particularly in the realm of death metal. Ghastly, Torture Rack, Tomb Mold, Extremity, Scorched, and Ulthar, to name a few, released albums that frequented year-end lists and garnered plenty of rightful praise. The label also recently scooped up Portland, Oregon’s Ossuarium for their debut full-length, coming on the heels of 2017’s Calcified Trophies Of Violence demo and last year’s split with Los Angeles death metallers Draghkar. Given the promise of their two pre-album releases and the backing of a label like 20 Buck, Ossuarium are set to make big moves with Living Tomb, which brings us to why you are here in the first place: does it deliver?

A brief intro sets the mood: foreboding feedback winds up before entering the Living Tomb itself on “Blaze Of Bodies.” Primitive riffs echo through the vast walls of this first chamber. The running, steady pace of the bass drum feels like the contractions of breath as the walls seem to be moving in time, pulsing with malevolent life. The main riff accentuates the evil intent of the tomb, now with a more violent hostility as the tomb cries out at it’s invader with the shrieks of pinch harmonics. Progressing through the breathing ossuary, things drop into doom territory. The energy is maintained over the slower tempo, really allowing the thick, squalid tones to seep in under the skin. Then the catacombs attack with a ferocious, mid-tempo death take on the d-beat pattern—Ossuarium’s specialty. It’s an old riff, but Ossuarium uses it well (see also “End Of Life Dreams,” as well as “Chapel Of Bone” on Calcified Trophies). The ending of “Blaze” also previews the step up in evolution of the band, emphasizing more clean (but still ominous) lead work over the grime.

 

This evolution becomes even more apparent on “Vomiting Black Death,” which really solidifies Ossuarium as a proper death/doom act. The tempo plays largely in the slower realms, again emphasizing the atmosphere of the production. It feels weighted by the dripping guts of the crypt itself as the raspy growl of the vocals cry out in unending, reverberated agony as the walls close in. Luckily, the chainsaw squeals of the guitar solo are able to fend off the animated burial grounds to proceed through deeper and darker chambers of Living Tomb.

Throughout the course of the record, the band’s slight shift in style proves to be a winning move. While their style suffered no issues before, it expands Ossuarium’s toolbox, allowing them to play with ideas not available to them before. “Corrosive Hallucinations” leans heavily on the melody of the leads, keeping things interesting over what would otherwise be half-baked death/doom strumming. Instead of being a weakness, this places even further emphasis on the hollow atmosphere of the record and plays as a strength. Nowhere is the band’s growth more apparent than on “Writhing In Emptiness,” where the center of the song shifts in structure in an almost progressive manner as sorrowful, haunting soloing mourns its way through the dark tunnels of tomb, building up to a vengeful lashing out against all in the mortal realm.

Ossuarium weave the new elements in well throughout the rest of the album without sacrificing the brutality at their core. It’s a solid debut for a band who knows what they want to create: filthy death/doom with melodic overtones and seething in atmospheric soot and muck. There are a few minor concerns, largely the reliance on the strummed chords in lieu of punchier riffs on some doomier sections, but there are plenty of cases where the band shows plenty of capability in that department. It doesn’t detract from the record, but could become an obstacle in the future if leaned on too heavily in the songwriting process. To answer the initial question towards the beginning of the review, Living Tomb holds up to the standards expected of a release on 20 Buck and shows a promising future for the band and the unending reign of death metal as one of the most ignatius subgenres in contemporary metal.

Posted by Ryan Tysinger

I listen to music, then I write about it. On Twitter @d00mfr0gg (Outro: The Winds Of Mayhem)

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