[Artwork by Raúl González]
Let’s set a proper mood right from the jump.
These days, I return to the early Finnish death metal scene more than I do the early Swedish scene.
As perhaps expected, a statement such as this comes with a few asterisks. In particular, it ain’t like I don’t love me some Swedish death metal: I was lucky enough to be there for Entombed’s Left Hand Path tour and Grave’s Into the Grave tour; I count Dismember—the most consistent Swedish death metal band—as one of my favorites of the genre; and the sheer amount of work produced in the Swedish scene throughout the early 90s almost gives them an unfair and everlasting advantage. Almost. (Side note: For the record, the U, S, and A still tops the overall death metal list.)
And oh my, yeah, guess what, hey, newsflash: That early Finnish scene produced some bonkers death metal. Setting aside the more familiar early works of Amorphis and Convulse, you had rumblers deep in the shadows such as Adramelech; straight-up weirdos like Xysma; a multitude of one and seemingly dones that were Demilich, Demigod, Funebre, Mordicus, and Purtenance; and demo lords such as Abhorrence, Cartilage, Depravity, Lubricant, Necropsy and Rippikoulu. The Finnish side of the coin felt similar to their Swedish peers in that punk or loose bits of Harmony Corruption slinked through here and there, but the Finns generally appeared more focused on spotlighting a weirdly playful, progressive (without being prog), technical (without being tech) style that was raw, wild, and about an inch away from completely flying off the rails.
Which brings us to Gorephilia… Because they’re a Finnish death metal band! So, accordingly, and with the awareness that OSDM is forever chic, it’s at least feasible that they’d sound similar to the Finnish forebears that once hacked a unique path through the trees all those many moons ago. Or at the least, they might sound like Finnish bears, which would obviously be equally favorable.
Gorephilia really doesn’t sound much like their ancestors, though. I mean, they do, in that their brand of death metal travels a similarly nebulous ground between cavemanic brutality and an adventurous complexity that compares to records such as Psychostasia or Slumber of Sullen Eyes, but there’s nothing at all frivolous or fledgling about the overall vibe here. Plus, even though In the Eye of Nothing administers a decidedly raw form of classic death metal, the production (mastered by Cruciamentum’s Dan Lowndes) is exceptionally clean, which, you know, never happened in the early 90s’ death metal circuit. Not “clean” in an overly polished way, mind you—there is a distinct swampiness about In the Eye of Nothing, which makes Morbid Angel one of the easiest benchmarks—but there is precisely zero bullshit studio trickery afoot that’s often used to buff corners and hide flaws for lesser bands than Gorephilia. “Naked” would be a fitting descriptor of the general atmosphere—no keyboards or much of anything beyond guitar, bass, drums and putrid vocals standing in the way of getting thumped by the flattening heaviness.
A song like “Simplicity of Decay” is an ideal showcase of what to expect from these fiends. A thoroughly scooting riff trots from the gate before the first rapid-fire surge detonates at the command of a long, grotesque OUUURRRRRGH. Pure poetry for the ravening goblins in your life. By the 1-minute mark, the hooks are already set and your flesh is becoming ripped, stripped, and… zipped into handy receptacles for effortless storage. Around 2:15, a woozy bass run turns things sickly, but the scoot promptly returns and another brutish grunt eventually welcomes a distinctly Azagthothian lead around 4:10 that brings things back to a decidedly unhealthy mood until the bitter end. Boom: Decay explicated, forthrightly.
The remainder of Into the Eye of Nothing travels a similarly adventurous and hazardous path that dips from hurtling voraciousness to sudden vertigo with a demented surgeon’s precision. Some cuts such as the opening “Walls of Weeping Eyes” and especially “Ouroboran Labyrinth” push a little more of a mid-paced-to-speedy form of crushing wiolence into the spotlight, and others—“Perpetual Procession,” “Devotion Upon the Worm” and “Not for the Weak”—go extra hard in the paint for that slow, crippling Morbid Angel swampiness. All that Gorephilia does is delivered with a mightily gratifying attention to detail, but it’s during the album’s most damp, lurching, and quaggy moments where the most memorable wallops hit the hardest. This is where the grossest riffs reel (1:30 into “Perpetual Procession” and the doozie that lands 2:40 into “Not for the Weak”), where freaky leads blow deadly spores like some sort of alien psychotropic flowers, and where the most hideous vocals burble like a creature none too pleased about being stirred from its prehistoric slumber.
Speaking of vocalists, the fact that Gorephilia opted to push forward following the extremely unfortunate death of original singer Henri “Nemesis” Kuula (R.I.P.) at the end of 2018 is an achievement in and of itself, but to have guitarist Jukka Aho step up to the plate and gnarl as admirably as he does here is just phenomenal. Like all the greats that have preceded him, Aho’s delivery is as diverse as the music that backs him, so we hear barks reminiscent of Dave Vincent that trigger acceleration points, drawn out roars that trip the struttin’est moments, and inhumanly gravelly grumbles that make the swampy stretches sound as if they’ve just taken over your living room. His delivery on “Devotion Upon the Worm” alone is worthy of some sort of Gold Star of Crumbling Putrefaction award. This is an important distinction to highlight because so very much of the death metal that currently wins the hearts of the blessed illuminati these days delivers the goods with the most droning, dreadfully boring vocals possible. Definitely not the case with Gorephilia.
Thankfully, the Finnish death metal scene in the modern age does not suffer the same curse of obscurity as it did in the early 90s. Ancient bands once dormant are active again, and hulking ogres such as Gorephilia, Krypts, Corpsessed and Lantern carve away chaff to reveal fresh freaks such as Concrete Winds, Skeletal, Morbific, and Skulmagot clomping along new pathways. And it’s all just a few clicks away, baby. Almost TOO easy, if you were born during an age where you had to walk 10 miles uphill through a snowstorm both ways to uncover a dubbed cassette copy where the last song prematurely cuts out. But when there’s gear as good as In the Eye of Nothing available to us all, who the hell would be crazy enough to complain about the convenience of contemporary times.
Pure and simple: If you love death metal, you’ll need this here record.