[Album artwork by Matt “Putrid” Carr]
There’s something magical concerning the way a number of us grew to accept brutality as a positive force in life. If you’re lucky enough to have the spectre of death lurking within eyeshot as I do, you remember an introduction by way of animated anvil drops, impossible amounts of TNT detonations, and an endless array of violent armaments courtesy of Acme Corporation, all of which ushered in cautions similar to: “You understand this is just a cartoon, right? At no point in time are you to hit your brother over the head with a hammer.”
From there it was films stealthy enough to sneak brutality through PG directives, the wondrously wild and permissive realms of D&D, and of course the increasingly darker themes in the comic book industry as the 80s slowly pushed closer to the 90s. As time progressed, brutality as a positive force became a strange form of comfort—an escape from the tedium of youth in the ‘burbs, or perhaps a way to vent the real life brutality that surrounds each and every one of us once we are independently loosed into the world.
Now would be an ideal time to take a more serious gander at the cover artwork dangling above like the sword of Damocles, provided by the exceedingly bent mind of Matt “Putrid” Carr.
The visual side of Abysse Mortifère (Deadly Abyss) does a remarkable job of immediately transporting the listener to a time when everything from lepers to rotting corpses to giant mechanized war machines leveled brutality across the landscape. This particular abysse mortifère happens to be occupied by an immense and fiendish looking arachnid that seems to enjoy luring gallant paladins to Flavortown for a fine dining experience that ends with said immense spider hauling out hot intestines and wishing she had a beloved with which to share a romantic spaghetti kiss. I’m certain there are vast treasures just waiting to be unearthed in yon webbed cavern, brave guardian—legend has it that sprinkling oregano in one’s hair prior to battle brings a hero’s fortune!
Conveniently, could there be a better soundtrack to trot alongside images of ruined bones and symphonies of maggots twiddling through spoiled flesh than death metal? I mean, “death” is literally in the off-shoot’s epithet! Well, conquerors, Quebec City’s Outre-Tombe understands death metal, and they play a version that’s beholden to 1991 / 1992 as if their very lives depend on it… And it does, because you ain’t conjuring a visual like this here cover artwork without paying the piper in full if what lurks beneath ain’t up to snuff.
If you’re at all familiar with these ghouls, you likely recall being bulldozed by a very Swedish-styled assault packed to the rafters with chainsaw riffs, hectic leads and a “singer” who sounds like a body snatched version of Martin van Drunen hatched approximately 400 miles south of the Netherlands. Moreover, 2018’s Nécrovortex (the band’s sophomore full-length) was so old-school that it taught class in a one-room structure built in a single weekend by bearded villagers with nary a power tool in sight, and class always seemed to end with someone getting flattened by a plummeting boulder.
With album number three, we find Outre-Tombe expanding their vision just a touch, while still remaining happily tangled in the very same web our friend the colossus spider spun 30 years in the past. In other words, if you’re looking for innovation, you most certainly took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, Mr. Fudd—Abysse Mortifère is as antique as a packed cassette case stowed under a baja poncho in a 1989 Tercel. In fact, the production techniques actually seem to be deteriorating with each release, giving the new record an even more crumbly, woolly, unkempt pelt that whiffs of a loose putridity that’s as suited to this style of death metal as it is to a week-old roadkill. (Bring a shovel.)
Autopsy circa ’91 has lurked in the corners here before, but with Abysse Mortifère it finds fresh life not only with the decomposing production, but because vocalist (/bassist) Fred “Crachat” Tremblay apparently assimilated Chris Reifert during some sort of delightfully botched mad scientist experiment following Nécrovortex—for every van Drunen “eeeYOWruhhh” there’s an equal amount of Reifert-dunked “WAAAAAAAAAHHHH”s in tow. Listen to the whimsical butchery of “Tombeau de glace” (“Tomb of Ice”) and the way it struggles from the grave like a reanimated stiff before charging for the throat, dropping a charmingly appalling riff breakout at 1:35, and finishing things off with a troglodyte solo and one of them heartening Autopsy howwwwwwwls.
The Swedeath still overshadows the full 36 minutes, but it’s the punkier end of rainbow that showcases plenty of D-beat strikes when the pace is more hostile, which it often is. There’s also a fair slice of grinding groove throughout—a playful nod to a record like Harmony Corruption toward the close of “Coupe Gorge” (“Cut-throat”), for example, and by way of a distinct Bolt Thrower circa ’92 pulverization that pops up now and again, most notably in the excellent “Exsangue” (“Bloodless”).
Really, there are any number of death conquerors from the late 80s / early 90s likely to spring to mind while spinning this record, and Outre-Tombe’s success sort of lives and dies by this often double-edged sword. Where the band’s creativity shines, however, is the manner in which they blend all that primitiveness into a tornado of furiously wild brutality that still manages to feel like something renewed instead of a crappy copy of a xerox of a photocopy. So, yes, Abysse Mortifère is indeed torn from a tomb from 30 years ago, but that’s pretty much the point here, and they do it really well. Plus, with the added benefit of delivering all the brutality in their native French, might there even be a teensy semblance of romance attached to these odes to Cenobytes, withered carrion, gibbeting and soothsaying by way of reading splayed guts? NOPE. Turns out, brutality is Brutal with a capital ‘B’ no matter the language. It is patently fun, though, and that’s the biggest selling point of Outre-Tombe and a record like Abysse Mortifère: experiencing the joys of having your brain minced by savage death metal so you can better handle the brutality of day-to-day existence.