In the opening stanza of the title track, legendary death gurgler Martin Van Drunen proudly proclaims “This is true death metal, you bastards!” Well, Mr. Drunen, you had me at “this.” On Deathhammer, the second “reunion” album from Dutch death stalwarts Asphyx, Van Drunen and company rampage, raid and defile with brutal old school aplomb, and their ruthless depredations are 100% pure enjoyment for Steel Druhm. Like the classic Asphyx of old, Deathhammer finds that perfect blend of raging speed and grinding, turgid doom that really made them stand out in the scene. They end up with a sound that’s sure to remind of Van Drunen’s other great acts Hail of Bullets and Pestilence, with a fair amount of Slayer and Leprosy-era Death mixed in, but at the end of the day, this is pure Asphyx and it’s glorious.
Rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth opener “Into the Timewastes” leaves little doubt this will be a rough trip. It’s all about nasty, raw riffing interspersed with ridiculously huge, grinding doom dirgery, with Van Drunen’s trademark anguished scream/roar making it all feel claustrophobic and dangerous. The song makes you feel like you have an M-1 tank parked on your chest and things don’t get any easier from there. The title track is pure gold and explodes with thrashy rage, but manages to be hugely catchy and memorable. I’ve been wandering around muttering the simple but awesome chorus for days (which isn’t helping me make new friends). Van Drunen outdoes himself with his urgent and pained delivery and the whole thing just clicks and leaves you satisfied (and beaten). For me, the biggest gem comes with “Minefield,” which is utterly toxic, crusty doom, crawling and slithering along leaving a trail of raw power. It’s so thick, slow and hideous, but so addicting, I can’t say enough good things about it. I don’t hesitate to say this may be the best song Asphyx ever penned, and I know that’s saying a lot considering their quality discography. The guitar tone is so HUGE and abrasive and the riffs so fetid, it’s death/doom perfection (the bleak riff at 4:20 is sheer genius).
Other standouts include the foul doom grind of “Der Landser,” the insane sludge of “We Doom You to Death,” and the big surprise that comes with “As the Magma Mammoth Rises.” This one is a big departure for Asphyx and veers quite far into epic black metal territory with big, heroic riffing in the vein of Sons of Northern Darkness-era Immortal or even I. While at first I didn’t know quite what to make of it, after a few spins I really came to love it, though I still much prefer the classic Asphyx doom/death approach.
Weak tracks? Not exactly. While a few of the more straight-up, speedy death numbers (“Of Days When Blades Turned to Blunt” and “Vespa Crabro”) seem of lesser caliber alongside the ridiculous might of tracks like “Deathhammer” or “Minefield,” they help switch up the tempo and keep things cracking and crunching.
Huge props must, of course, be given to Mr. Van Drunen. He’s been a luminary of death vox since the late 80’s and he’s one of the best ever to croak into a mic. He sounds evil, tortured, pissed off and mostly inhuman throughout Deathhammer and he makes great material even greater. I think this may be his best work since his gut-busting performance on Consuming Impulse, way back in the Pestilence days. No matter how nasty the vocals are, death metal flounders without great riffing. Fortunately, Paul Baayans really rips and tears it all to bloody pieces here with a great performance. He excels at crafting huge doom riffs that ooze malice and he can turn on a dime and thrash with the Kings and Hannemans of the world too. Every song is full of sick and twisted riffs, loads of groove and simple but haunted solos (5:47 on “Der Landser” is creepy and perfect for the song). The production is a huge win as well. the guitar tone is vicious and the mix is 100% on the mark for the type of raucous death rattle Asphyx employs.
Deathhammer blows away 2009’s Death..the Brutal Way and finds Asphyx in their best form since 1992. I’m loathe to say this is the best moment in the Asphyx catalogue, but I’m right on the cusp of doing so anyway. This is vintage death, as only long-time vets could deliver and baby, they delivered!! Buy this and prepare to be Deathhammered. KNEEL…you dogs.