Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Sentenced 2 Die - No Reason to Live EP (2021)

Sentenced 2 Die are fairly fresh meat in that hybrid scene of death metal hardcore/beatdown acts, but they're already showing a steady increase in songwriting potential beyond some of their competitors. No Reason to Live was an independently released EP, clocking in at under 11 minutes, which showcased their potential, and was enough to land the group a deal with the fitting Maggot Stomp imprint, and it's a solid pairing since this material is likely to please fans of comparable acts. I'd say that Ohio's Sanguisugabogg is a pretty close style to this, other than the lyrical themes, which don't skew here to the same humorous or perverse level, but more a degree of traditional horror/nihilism and social issues. The four tracks here are a little rough around the edges, but sort of like those earlier Creeping Death EPs, there's an appreciable, ominous bludgeoning vibe that works.

The formula is fairly simple, focused in on slower grooving riffs that are interspersed with tremolo picking, double bass bombardments and a lot of low-end heaviness, reinforced by the rather deep and often monotonous guttural that creates its own atmosphere not above, but burrowed within the rumbling instruments. The rhythm guitar tone is tight but saturated in the fat bass, so they almost combine into one unified blunt force that bounces cautiously up and down like your body hitting and skipping off the pavement in slow-mo. The guitars pop and squeal, little measures of brutality that keep the thick riffs a little more involved than they might have been, but the centerpiece is almost always the walls of mosh pit chugging as in "Life Devoured" where you can just feel the growling erupting about a foot over the pit, bodies flailing around you as they ninja windmill or whatever the fuck kids call it these last few decades.

Hasn't been my scene since the 90s, but even I feel motivated to move when I hear some of these grooves, just because of the enormous production emphasis. However, the sheer heaviness here is just not enough, and I feel like these songs weren't developed with much thought or intricacy, rather to establish the band as a steady steamroller and please a crowd. It's effective enough when you're in its grasp, but there's little to nothing memorable about this material, especially when placing it up against the vastly superior debut full-length to follow. That said, No Reason to Live lays enough groundwork that you can tell if this is something you're going to relate to, and if you're into a lot of the other caveman death metal mavens on this label, this might land for you more than it did for me, as I was more into some of the other EPs by the peers I mentioned above.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]


Saturday, July 13, 2024

Creeping Death - Boundless Domain (2023)

Boundless Domain is the exact point at which it feels like Creeping Death would need to evolve its sound or flex a little more in order to create something more lasting and meaningful. Their output up to this time was pretty good and consistent, but still not nearing the level of mastery or immortality that so many of the first wave bands were able to achieve, not just because of their novelty but because of songwriting. I think that this second proper full-length does take a few small steps in new directions, but at the same time it doesn't really stride past its older siblings in quality. The differences here are largely those of the production choices and how certain vocals and instruments extract themselves and contrast with one another, though they definitely also try some riffing patterns they hadn't in the past, this is no re-run.

The cover from Tanner Caruthers is magnificent, I like how it melds the personal and cerebral with the expansive ugliness of all the fine death metal escapes, and even the logo and type colors are appealing. Their releases have always looked good, but this is probably my favorite. And it sounds as good as it looks, with perhaps their cleanest studio mix yet. It does sacrifice some of the bulk and heaviness for a more musical quality, not that the drumming and rhythm guitar is any less intense, but just pokes through the mix without bordering on overpowering the rest. Bass is a standout, you can hear it a lot more throughout this than on Wretched Illusions, and the increased integration of melodies in the guitars also gives this one a more progressive vibe than its predecessors, which is certainly what I would have wanted. On the downside, sometimes there are various riffs and patterns which just seem plopped down into tracks and don't really have as natural a flow, so the songs don't always hit enough of a payoff ("Vitrified Earth" is a prime example).

I would say the band continues to dial down its hardcore influence, but this is taken over by a more propulsive, thrashing energy in tracks like "The Parthian Shot", which feel like death/thrash that is about to explode into melodeath at any moment. You've still got a couple cuts ("Creators Turned into Prey") which are built almost exclusively for the beatdown, but even these improve once they accelerate into those choppy, thrashing rhythms, and in this way the material slightly embarks into a terrain they hadn't really explored in the past. Leads are well-implemented but often feel a little too spurious and brief in exercise, like an afterthought. The real highlight for me here is "Remnants of the Old Gods", which reminds me a little of Consuming Impulse Pestilence with an upbeat thrash-out, or closer "The Common Breed" with its nice spacious melodies; honestly I found the last half or third of the album the most entertaining, though not by a wide margin.

Boundless Domain is good, as with all their releases so far, but I get the feeling this is a transitional sort of record which might preface something really impressive. Creeping Death are not undeserving of their support, they have all the weapons present to become one of the premiere US death metal acts, I think they just need to innovate a little further, and that is certainly possible without abandoning the grooves and OSDM influences that inspired them. Wretched Illusions is a more entertaining listen throughout, but this is unquestionably a fraction more adventurous.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Friday, July 12, 2024

Creeping Death - The Edge of Existence EP (2021)

Had a little bit of a Mandela Effect where I thought I remembered this one as their second full-length, but The Edge of Existence is in fact the third proper EP for Creeping Death, and one that showcases a lot of the band's studio polish and development. While you've still got plenty of chugging moments that will appeal to the slam-dancers, this was to its day the most purely 'death metal' the band had sounded, you could have easily convinces me this was a new effort from Malevolent Creation or Deicide if only certain details like the vocals had been different, and as they continue to use the morbid, cavernous cover art it seems like they are themselves molding themselves more into the purity of the medium. That said, half the material here is just a re-recording of their initial 2016 EP Sacrament of Death, which wasn't really broken, didn't need fixing, and serves really only to sate those who weren't able to get their hands on that.

Certainly a little bit of an upgrade in terms of comparing to to the studio aesthetics of the full-length that came out before this, but I felt like "Sacrament of Death" and its siblings felt a bit drier than they did originally. The one exception would be the vocals, which catapult into gruesome new depths, but the rhythm guitars and rhythm section are less impactful, not necessarily bad at all because they do line up better with the new tracks, which are where this EP is going to live or die for me...and it does for the most part succeed in cultivating all those late 80s/early 90s influences, though most of the riff choices here aren't terribly exciting, but workmanlike and catchy enough to keep your attention even though you'll probably be longing for something else in your death metal collection. The production is loud, the instruments very even, the drums flawless and the vocals once again continuing to ramp up their sickness, though he is also alternating more of that classic growl with lower gutturals and even a few accompanying snarls and neither is as interesting as his traditional delivery.

Essentially the new content on The Edge of Existence sounds like something that might have existed as an amalgam of old Floridian death metal, perhaps a bit of Gorguts or Dutch stuff, only modernized for the old school obsessed in the 21st century. It does its job, and the re-recordings certainly are strong enough to stay in balance with the energy and proficiency the band has been carving out in the years since they were originally released; it's not like you jump this gap between tracks #3 and #4, they all fit rather well together and, like most people, if you can't get a hold of the old version then this is a decent way to experience them. Probably made the least impression on me of any of their offerings to date, but still impossible for me to SIT still through.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Thursday, July 11, 2024

Creeping Death - Wretched Illusions (2019)

Wretched Illusions didn't leave a huge impression on me the first time I heard it, possibly because I was just so inundated with epic throwback death metal sounds at the time that it came across a little cookie cutter. The EPs were certainly cool, and this doesn't betray them in any way whatsoever, but there were definitely riffs or tracks I remembered being a little bit of a chore on a longer, 40 minute record. In hindsight, I was likely not giving this one a proper chance, because it is actually quite solid, and understandable as the release that would spearhead their developing popularity among the fresher death metal crowd that was likely hearing a lot of this stuff before its own influences, or crossing over from the hardcore and deathcore genres to a niche like this that felt immediately more 'pure' and impressive.

Creeping Death definitely felt denser and busier here than the EPs, not because the style had shifted but rather that they were filling in the spaces better. The rhythm guitars are the vehicle, with constantly bruising, winding and chugging riffs that play around in the death metal of antiquity, with a little street mentality and also a few dives into a more death/doom crawlspace. They're not the sort that are unique or catchy individually, but always attention-getting enough that they can propel the listener along through the track, where he/she will receive the reward of some frilly little lead or breakdown that gives a dopamine payoff in the brain. The bass melds a little more into the guitars, where it had stood out more on Specter of War, and thus the dynamics here are sometimes too consistent, although it's all pretty awesome sounding if you isolate it. Reese Alavi's vocals, though, are a lot more gruesome and entertaining, he sounds ripping fucking pissed through a lot of these tracks and is starting to develop away from his influences, even though he carries them onward.

The songwriting is more confident, and extended outward, incorporating more death metal techniques from both the OSDM contingents and the 90s brutal style, and this variation actually helps to make the old school parts stand out much more when they erupt like the tremolo riff in "Sinner's Torch", or a Swedish d-beat arrives in "Corroded from Within". Weirdly, while this isn't at all 'cavern core' like you'd expect from the artwork, it definitely has a claustrophobic feel because it's just so tightly executed and matured. An impenetrable wall. It's another Creeping Death album which I might not instantly grab for on my shelf when I'm in the mood for the style, but as I sit here listening through it again, it's hard to really find much wrong with it. Average-to-good riffing patterns, competent playing all around, savage vocals, firm production values, loyalty to the styles that birthed it, and as the years have passed I can absolutely understand why it helped the band blow up like they have.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Creeping Death - Specter of War EP (2018)

Specter of War, the sophomore EP from Texans Creeping Death, has another of those cover images that doesn't necessarily match up to its musical content, but looks pretty badass nonetheless. The reaper riding, the hounds, the evil castle and bridge, the sunlight filtering through the ominous, evil clouds...all adds up to what might be a very sinister thrash, black or death metal effort. I won't say that the music itself avoids all such classifications, but here I felt like the alleged hardcore side of the band manifest itself a little more clearly than on the prior release. You could easily listen through some of the breakdowns on this and imagine Madball or Biohazard having a particularly dark day and dipping into their own crossover death metal influences for some similar inspiration.

Still, this stuff reeks of old Pestilence, Asphyx, and even some Bolt Thrower with the more tank-rolling sorts of rhythms that develop. Chugging intensity balanced off against the tremolo riffs you'd more equate with the classic DM sounds, and frankly these guys were one of the most seamless to blend together the styles into something that feels like a coherent entity and not just bouncing back and forth between the extremes. The bass tone on Specter of War is more prominent, like its bouncing around the cargo hold of some oil tanker, and the vocals, still in that Schuldiner/Grewe/van Drunen style, are a bit less pronounced, but also more ghastly sounding than the last time. Rhythm guitar riff quality is around the same, they try a few different techniques, and still offer the scarce lead or two, but what I can't deny is just how effective the tone is, it simply carves out the listener's flesh in huge chunks, with big, deep chords and caustic chugging that will entertain you even if it's not exactly unique or nuanced.

If you could combine these two short-players, you'd probably have my favorite Creeping Death record, it was just so fun and sincere and set in a style I'm not capable of getting bored with. There is nothing genius about any of this, it's just a band wearing its influences well, playing within its own parameters and evoking just the right amount of nostalgia and atmosphere while keeping it all real for the mosh pit crowds that will likely appreciate it the most. Angry, hungry, and worth hearing, especially those awesome bridge/breakdowns in "Salvation" and "New Agony", or the great opener "Revenge".

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Creeping Death - Sacrament of Death EP (2016)

Creeping Death is another of the younger US bands which has taken the scene by storm, punching far above their weight to some, well worth the time to others. They've certainly got a lot of ken when it comes to audience awareness, tailoring a lot of their music for the mosh-positive which inescapable amounts of breakdowns and grooves. To this effect, they are often described as a sort of hardcore/death metal hybrid, and I can agree with that to a degree, though I find a lot of that hardcore 'spirit' missing from the compositions...instead, this is pure OSDM with a few more breakdowns than you'd expect, perhaps more than are effective in a sheer listening context, but cognizant of how their concerts are going to go and wanting to leave some bruised knuckles in their wake, and who can really blame them? It's a meathead world out there. Give them flesh.

Having said that, I think Sacrament of Death was a promising start, one of their more truly death metal leaning efforts, which I would describe as a blend of old Death (Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy) or Pestilence (Consuming Impulse), with a lot more fisticuffs to break up the searing tremolo rhythms and excellent, evil leads that contribute so well to its atmosphere. Just three tracks, and not even ten minutes long, and I could barely remember the difference between them, but they're a blast to listen through. Deep and churning rhythm guitars that sound good in either of the 'parent genres' they draw from, with lots of weight to the chug parts but also clear enough on the faster rhythms which often lead to a nice feel of impish mayhem. The mix of the drums and guitars actually reminds me once more of Consuming Impulse, maybe imagine that album had been written by a bunch of kids in New York around the same time and you've got a good approximation of this EP's tones, and as a sucker for that, I can't help but enjoy it. It's not that the riffing is particularly unique or exceedingly catchy, but for more primitive or simple grooves like old Obituary they can hold your attention.

Vocals are also quite good, again I'll reference Chuck Schuldiner or Martin van Drunen, but with more of a smackdown vibe to them that syncopates over the more tough guy rhythms below it. The lead guitars are really done with nice whipping tones, more of that 'unknown' vibe added for excess than trying to complete melodic or glorious cycles, and it fits right in with the knuckle-dragging groove that powers so much of the material. The mix is dark, thick and heavy and resembles the mosh pits that so obviously resulted from these songs. I also dug the cover art a lot, and usually do throughout the band's evolution...I'm not sure the ritualistic or vampiric imagery matches with the music, but on its own it is quite cool looking. Whether Creeping Death continues to live up to its own shitstorm of hype is yet to be determined, but Sacrament of Death was a solid introduction that holds up to this day.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Saturday, July 6, 2024

Sanguisugabogg - Homicidal Ecstasy (2023)

Homicidal Ecstasy took a little more time for me to come around to than its predecessors. While the style here is largely the same, there was something more consistently level about the production and writing which I found a bit of a turnoff upon first exposure, perhaps a lack of dynamic excitement that Tortured Whole managed to cultivate. The weird photographic cover collage was also weird, I mean I appreciate 'weird', but a trio of cum-guzzling crab-legged women that seems really disjointed looking? Maybe half the legs are form a scorpion? I don't know, but right when I think it's hideous, I remember the impact the collages on old Carcass had upon me, or other goregrind staples, and then appreciate that Sanguisugabogg have chosen imagery that does something stranger yet sexual enough for their pervy themes.

When I mentioned that the production here felt a little too steady, that wasn't to infer that it was in any way bad, and once I cranked through the album's 45 minutes, their hugest undertaking yet, I began to appreciate how it kept and perhaps even increased the 'weight' of their sound. These rhythm guitars chop and groove like serrated metal beaters through vats of spaghetti and meatballs, and the bass is just so enormous that I felt like I would need to rush to the toilet and vacate myself at any moment. The drums are still vitally important hear with all the splashing, rims, and fills, yet they actually sound better reined in and not popping out in any antagonistic way. There are several tracks where the transitions feel a bit muddled and unexcited, like how the blasts poke through into "Hungry for Your Insides", and it only makes me crave the slower, chugging rhythms, but even there you're getting some sick drums and an appreciable beatdown from the vocals. In other places, like "A Lesson in Savagery", they seem as if they're utilizing some more dissonant chords to solid effect, and I think this is one area in which Sanguisusabogg could continue to evolve and make themselves sound even more evil.

The grooves and beats in several of the tracks also come off a little more ambitious, like the closer "Feeing for Bloodshed", and it's cool that, in their own microcosmic sound, they're still trying a few new tricks. Gone are the sweet synth interludes from the prior album, though, and I think something like that, or just something more atmospheric...perhaps some samples and ambiance, would have helped break this album up, because it can feel like a chore to get through at times. Almost like the whole affair is about 10-15 minutes longer than it needs to be, without compelling content to fill all that time. 7-8 of the tracks are evidently better than the rest, and that drags the overall quality a bit below the debut, even if the heavy instrumentation itself is no less for ambition and knuckle-brawling extremity. Still, the Ohio boys bring the punishment and perversion beyond the bare minimum required, avoiding the sophomore slump if not quite improving upon themselves.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Friday, July 5, 2024

Sanguisugabogg - Tortured Whole (2021)

The viral success of the caveman stable soon led Sanguisugabogg to a deal with Century Media, bringing this underground sensation to a broader level of visibility, an amusing contrast against their smeared logo and warped cover art which begs you not to understand it. I'm not complaining, I bought a long sleeve around this time, maybe just before the album with similar artwork and green logo on yellow material, which I still love to this day. Thankfully, Tortured Whole is both more of the same we heard on Pornographic Seizures, and simultaneously a little more expansive due to the 34 minute playground in which the Ohio group, at this point a trio, found itself. I hate to call anything like this 'mature', but this certainly hears the group settling into a more seasoned
confidence with their loping, simple-minded brutality.

Two things that stood out immediately were the way the rims and other drums popped out to a degree that was almost obnoxious if it wasn't so loveable, and Devin's vocals seem to get even more efficient and guttural, sometimes almost as toilet-bowl as an Antti Bowman. The riffs sound even more chunky than on the EP, and at the same time even a little more 'progressive' in how they wander the frets to create little grooves and moods that remind me of anything from Cannibal Corpse to 90s Death. For a band so crammed into its own entrail-strewn niche, I never get the feeling that they're uninterested in offering a degree of variation for the listener. The rhythm guitar chug is amazing on its own, almost impossible to resist as it starts plunking along, but there are a few more layers here thanks to how they effortlessly mix aesthetics from the late 80s OSDM to the brutal low end of the next decade. The bass lines here are even louder than the previous release, and while they're not always doing much by themselves, they help the album feel like it standing astride you and just beating you slowly to a pulp with two fat fists, ground and fucking pound dudes.

What I didn't expect were the horror-synth interludes courtesy of Cody, who was already pulling double duty on the bass and drums. These aren't your usual neon-lit sort, danceable sort, but more something you'd hear in an obscure, low budget horror film or Giallo, usually from Europe. They're both really good and actually appear at precisely the right time for you to take a breath from the beatings, and in fact I think they're cool enough that I wouldn't have minded more, perhaps integrated directly into the brutal tunes as intros or interludes. Regardless, they help flesh out the experience on the whole, and right as you've escaped they'll drag you back in with some ridiculous chugging grooves. Tortured Whole is a good debut which proves the band wasn't just a flash in the pan, and that bigger label exposure was not about to soften the impact of their unforgiving knuckle sandwich aesthetics. It's no masterpiece, but it's got a timeless attitude about it which I always appreciate in the moment.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thursday, July 4, 2024

Sanguisugabogg - Pornographic Seizures EP (2019)

I'm probably a bit guilty of riding the whole 'caveman riff' death metal wave circa Maggot Stomp and a few other labels as much as the next guy. Like so many throwback sounds, I appreciated how the gents in all these bands were tracing death metal back to its source and then sort of reconfiguring it into some alternate universe sound which didn't sound terribly different than what I already had, but still entertained. Here we've got rudimentary slam or groove/death metal plastered with just enough of the machismo and brutality to get the pit stirring but without too much of the technical bluster or studio polish, and Ohio's starlings Sanguisugabogg are arguably one of the bands to best to capitalize on the style, leading to larger label deals and a lot of notoriety across the US scene and beyond.

Part of this is because of the band's absurd name and logo, which they themselves have so often joked about on their amusing yet down-to-Earth social media presence, which they also manage a lot more personally than some other bands on the same level. There's a bit of 'class clown' to their whole schtick, but they have the muscle and groove to back it all up, and this debut release, the first I actually picked up from Sanguisugabogg, is dope for what it offers. Bro-core distilled into death metal, with grooving and organic drums, loaded up with some interesting fills, and then plastered in these epic, crunching rhythm guitars which make it impossible to remain still. I'm not promising you that the actual riffs are always catchy, but Cameron Boggs is clearly adventuring a little bit more than you'd expect, with a few winding patterns that he alternates into the usual double-bass driven tremolo evil of vintage late 80s death. The bass is also pretty ruddy and dense in the traditions of grind and death and it adds some bombast to the already knuckle-dragging neolithic brutality inherent to the songs.

Devin Swank takes it over the top though with his stark, evil gutturals, splayed out with just the right amount of reverb to make them sound appropriately ominous, even when he ups the pitch just a bit for a deep snarl. That's where so much of this EP's 'don't give a fuck' attitude manifests, and the band can just stand aloft the pit of flailing meathead bodies and dominate for 11 minutes. There's nothing really novel about what this band has put out there...maybe some more fills than you'd expect, a couple riffs that go into more depth than you hear coming, but all of these techniques were writ large across thousands of seminal and underground death metal/brutal death metal acts in the 90s. It's like a dash of Finnish guttural slime to top off some street level New York butchery via a dumbed-down Suffocation with Mortician overtures and cheesy Cannibal Corpse-style lyrics. Sanguisabogg just recycles this aesthetic into its own grim, humorous personality and for my money, tunes like "Turkish Blood Orgy" and "Succulent Dedecent" rank among their best. A fun introduction.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Frozen Soul - Glacial Domination (2023)

With their rapidly escalating popularity among the trending non-tech US death metal upstarts that include Gatecreeper, Creeping Death, 200 Stab Wounds, Undeath and Sanguisugabogg, the question was whether Texans Frozen Soul would double down the eternal grimness, soften up to accessibility, to extend their sound envelope to include more variation and atmosphere and just write some better songs than found on their rock-steady debut Crypt of Ice. Glacial Domination is a weird sophomore in that it simultaneously achieves all three. There are large swaths of material here almost identical to what you'd find on the debut, but they also grow marginally more ambitious in shifting tempos and structures around to create a more interesting experience, Lastly, the production, while still heavy as hell, has a brighter and more polished tone to it which might be due in part to Matt Heafy of Trivium's participation as a producer, or perhaps rather the heightened expectations placed on the crew after the breakout success of the debut.

The setups and samples for the songs are better, like the pulsing 80s horror synth that briefly establishes "Invisible Tormentor", "Frozen Soul", and "Morbid Effigy", the awesome "Annihilation" synth interlude, or the belligerent clip and drum that ignites "Arsenal of War". These seem a little stronger than the intros they'd use on the debut, but the meat of the material is quite similar, muscular and roiling death metal of the Bolt Thrower variety. There is a slight emphasis on faster, energetic riffage, and a little more oomph to the techniques like brutal death squeals or pinches and such that they'll use to fatten or round off the rhythm guitars. I think the drumming has also improved, not so much in pure speed or might but just the fills and overall production, and where this album relies so heavily on its breakdowns, like those in "Death and Glory" or "Morbid Effigy", they seem to be catering a little more closely to the slam or 'caveman' niche more than the closer Bolt Thrower contours of the debut. Frozen Soul also tries its hands at a little more melody and mood with the title and namesake tracks, and this is a welcome change that I had anticipated, although it's hardly all-pervasive.

Then you've got your guest stars...James from GoST does the synth-horror stuff, an admittedly cool addition, and among others you've got Matt Heafy doing a lead and some vocals, Blake from Power Trip and Fugitive also jumping in on a track, etc. All tasteful, none intrusive, this isn't some 'feature' list like you see in a lot of brutal death or deathcore bands emulating the hip hop scene, you never get the sense that the Texans are trying to cross-market or whore themselves out too far, rather let some friends join in on the fun. The cleaner mix here thankfully doesn't leech away the band's power, surely this is not as grim and depressing as what you heard on the debut, but when it comes to the pure riffing and performance, these tracks will run in lockstep with their forebears on any setlist. It just sounds a little 'friendlier' out of the speakers, and I don't mean that as any insult although for many it would surely be a negative. Make no mistake, this is a group already crossing the threshold to some international success, there are going to be changes...and the leads, intros and stuff here are well considered and go a ways towards the variation I was seeking.

Still, I can't say that I enjoyed this one more than a fraction beyond the debut, because for all its attempts, you're still not hearing the sorts of unforgettable riffing patterns or whirlwind moments you recount from all the go-to classic death metal on your shelf. I'm happy to spin this, but sometimes you expect the quality to match the hype. That's rarely in the realm of possibility, and Glacial Domination is more of a half-measure evolution than some transformative masterpiece. But Frozen Soul have a lot going for them, and each step forward should be a lot of fun to follow if these first two discs are any indicator.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Monday, July 1, 2024

Frozen Soul - Crypt of Ice (2021)

Frozen Soul is another burgeoning death metal entity which seemed to reach a level of divisiveness quickly, praised by a mix of younger fans breaking into the genre, and old heads who like hearing fresh takes on classic sounds from the 80s and 90s; heckled by others who write them off as another 're-' band with nothing much to offer beyond nostalgia. I think Crypt of Ice is a case where both sides can be correct, because let's not beat around the bush, this record sounds almost exactly like seminal British death-grinders Bolt Thrower. You might make an argument for other meat & potatoes DM influences like Jungle Rot, Asphyx/Hail of Bullets, Six Feet Under or sloth-like interpretations of Dying Fetus breakdowns...but really, from the growls to the grooves, to the nihilistic, oppressive tones, to even some superficial similarities in the band roster, structure and themes, they are the Lone Star State's answer to one of the most beloved bands in the medium.

Not the FIRST Lone Star State answer, mind you, as War Master was churning this stuff outta Houston almost 15 years ago, but clearly these folks have been more successful, garnering a lot of praise across the metal media, good tour spots and even the attention of more famous metal musicians. And here's the thing...if we've got thousands of bands impersonating Entombed, Morbid Angel, Death, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Incantation, many of which the self-same critics of Frozen Soul listen to religiously, surely we can handle a dozen or so that throw down with the Fourth Crusade? Now I'm not saying this record gets a single point for originality. I'm also not saying Crypt of Ice evolves that style in a tangible way, to the extent that a group like Germany's Scalpture does, a band I happen to love. But this debut earns its keep carving out a grisly production and ominous roil to it which catapults me back to that mid 90s period of the Brits, not quite so caustic as Realm of Chaos (my favorite), more in line with a War Master or IVth Crusade or ...For Victory, sans some of the melodic might that they had begun to incorporate into their sound as they progressed.

Crypt of Ice
goes long on getting the fundamentals right, with an amazing guitar tone that transforms even the most basic riffing patterns into effective blunt objects, despite having a nice sharp edge to it that can slice through your reservations. Chad Green has a vocal impact not unlike Karl Willetts, sure, with a little less low-end capability, but a reasonable grim timbre that feels right over the rhythm guitars and steady if not dizzying brickwork of the drums. The bass tends to follow the guitars and doesn't really stand out to me like it used to in the Bolt Thrower days, however it certainly contributes to the crush force of the low end, and has a few moments to rumble out like in the intro to "Twist the Knife". Ambient, windy atmospheres and sparser, distorted guitars are often used to introduce the weight of the heaviness, and these are all worthy of the mood Crypt of Ice sets with its awesome Velio Josto artwork. And that's another thing I find curious about Frozen Soul, how they use these stark, wintry themes despite being from Texas...granted, they do experience the occasional ice storm or some scarce snowfall, but it's kinda neat that they're dreaming of these rime-encrusted wastes and that definitely translates into the feel of the music itself.

This album is not exactly packed with earworm riffs or layers, and that might be the one criticism I have, that this is an effort which impresses on a straightforward production and aesthetic more so than songwriting; a common quip I hold with a lot of younger bands this last 10-15 years...you might throw Gatecreeper, Power Trip, and Enforced into this category, and to initiates without decades of listening experience, this isn't likely a factor in appreciating the material. Hell, even to this salty old soul, it's a lot of fun. There's nothing across the album that ever surprises me, but tunes like "Merciless" and "Encased in Ice" have some patterns in there which had me nodding along grimly in total giga-Chad mode (not to be confused with Mr. Green). It's a triumph of technique and tone, but I doubt these tracks will resonate with me 20 years from now. MORE atmosphere, MORE melody is really needed to scribe this into the annals of death metal immortality, but at the same time I've never regretted slapping this one on when I was in the mood for a joyless, frosty, growly beatdown.    

Verdict: Win [8/10]