[Album artwork: Pendath]
Spend enough time in and around the extreme metal sphere and the likelihood that the following words—progressive, avant-garde, technical, and experimental—will eventually inspire you to pound your head against a brick wall for any number of reasons hovers around 95%.
Now that we’ve established the presence of Matthew Hopkins: Tagfinder General, allow us to introduce you to Oakland, California’s Mefitis, a relatively new band that plays a—now let’s tread lightly here, you suspicious looking witches—progressive form of death metal that mingles in early technical thrash melody and shades of avant-garde black metal into a unique and experimental form of extreme metal that’s wildly innovative. Boom, chapter closed. Someone please inform The Watchers ruling over Encyclopaedia Metallum to update the band’s genre tag accordingly.
Mefitis, however, prefer to designate their brew “dark metal,” and who the hell are we to disregard what a band chooses to nail to their front door. The material presented throughout their sophomore full-length, Offscourings, is indeed teeming with a shadowy sort of atmosphere that’s augmented through consistent use of a rather unique form of synthesized choral background vocals that, when combined with the prevailing dissonance, gives the work a distinct H.R. Giger sci-fi feel that’s immensely rewarding for anyone who dreams of facehuggers and infinitely large motherships that pulse with martian plasma. So, yes, dark metal it is as it relates to staring into the infinite abyss of space while the earth rots, and absolutely nothing related to, say, Moonspell, or any other bands sporting overly gothic and / or wampyric tones.
Crikey, there’s a lot going on with this record. And that particular detail is made all the more captivating by the open and naked production that strips away any sort of unnecessary frippery that might otherwise stand in the way of the tight and uniform interplay between the drums, guitars and bass throughout the record. The songwriting is split between two principal players: Pendath on drums, guitars and bass, and Vatha on guitars, vocals (/lyrics) and bass, with the two remaining members featured on the exceedingly unusual album cover being filled out by live players Forest, who helped write the song “Casting in Sediment,” and Troy, who provided the guitar solo on “Meridian Artefact.” [A bit more about that album cover: It’s quite peculiar, and you’d likely never attach an image like that to sounds like this because it mostly recalls… Well, OU812? Which is pretty fucking amazing. Props for throwing a wrench in the gears.]
Having a drummer play a significant role in songwriting often lends a unique force to extreme metal, and that’s certainly the case here. Pendath’s play throughout Offscourings is very much front and center, with complex patterns and vigorous punching providing a significant portion of the record’s overall weight, and his cymbal swiftness adds just a touch of welcome playfulness to the corners. Nearby, the riffs are largely rawboned, atonal and less concerned about conveying heaviness than they do a sense of dread, and when the guitars are melodic—which is quite goddamned often—they dodge the overly shiny, dual-axe approach in favor of something more abstract and crackling.
Reference points will likely vary greatly based on where you came into metal and what bands first threw you for a loop. Mefitis’ previous record, 2019’s equally great Emberdawn, drew comparisons to early Sentenced (North from Here), prehistoric offerings from At the Gates (particularly related to vocals) and everything from Aeturnus to Necrophobic to Dawn and even Dissection, and while one wouldn’t get booted from the starting lineup for making similar analogies here and there with regard to Offscourings, this is a pretty different record. One listen to the above “The Witherways” will find old dogs (and the old dog-minded) such as yours truly deluged with pleasant memories of the very late 80s and melodic boundary pushers such as Voivod (oh, how that bass accomplishes such a crucial mission) and Coroner. With a gun to my head, I’d say the easiest—and yes, perhaps laziest—way to characterize the full breadth of this record is to imagine a version of Voivod landing later and supplanting the punk roots with early 90s’ melodic death, plus an extra pinch of Punishment for Decadence’s snarling but songful spirit.
But then that doesn’t really capture the full spectrum of what a record like Offscourings has to offer. A song like “Sonstead Blight,” for example—the album’s epic closer, if we set aside the rather fitting Stara Rzeka cover tacked on as a bonus track—throws quite a bit more heft and ferocity into the mix, which pulls things back to the more aggressive approach Mefitis crushed out on Emberdawn.
There’s really just so much about this record that sticks to the ribs and makes you want to stand up and shout, but possibly the most refreshing aspect relates to how it manages to tap into a form of progressive death metal that feels born from space without rebuilding or redecorating the Timeghoul and / or Blood Incantation blueprint. That sort of approach is great and all, but we already have umpteen bands in the modern age offering up reinterpretations of that particular strain of death. All said and done, maybe it’s best to just wipe away thoughts of death metal entirely—wipe away death metal, black metal, technical thrash and any and all other descriptors we’ve become so reliant on in order to make our brains feel more orderly and simply enjoy this for what it is: a wonderfully unique and adventurous slab of heavy metal. If such a thing sounds interesting to you, know that Mefitis just landed one of the more substantial right hooks of this young year with the stunning Offscourings.