Unlike certain Ontarian bureaucrats intent on violating the Charter rights of yours truly over a speeding ticket, allow me to provide you with full disclosure: I’m a massive fan of Asphyx. When I first heard “Death…the Brutal Way” I was hooked, and ordered the record from HMV (remember those?), paying a cool twenty bucks for it. Throwing it on in the car, I was hit immediately with the raucous “Scorbutics” and fortunately stopped at a red light when the impossible-not-to-headbang-along chorus hit. I dove into their back catalog and found even more greatness, and when the band’s highly anticipated Deathhammer came out in 2012 it became and remains one of my favorite metal records of the 2010’s. Now Incoming Death is upon us, and these death-doom peddling Dutchmen are back to slay ultra-loud once more.
For those unaware, drummer and founding member Bob Bagchus (thankfully still in Soulburn) left Asphyx recently. Bagchus was a primary songwriter, so now the brunt of those duties fall on the capable shoulders of guitarist Paul Baayens, who’s also in Hail of Bullets. Bagchus’s replacement Stefan Hüsken is a more “typical” metal drummer, opening up options for greater speed and complexity but removing a definitive part of both the classic and latter-day Asphyx sound. Yet Incoming Death remains firmly in their definitive wheelhouse of mid-paced and occasionally quick death mixed with devastating, molasses-paced doom.
Given that Asphyx are veterans and know how to make quality records, Incoming Death has a wealth of top-shelf material on it. The title track is basically “Deathhammer” 2.0, a short, catchy, crusty, and fun outburst that’s sure to go over well live. “It Came from the Skies” is quintessential Asphyx: great riffing, a thrash bit reminiscent of Last One on Earth, and a brilliant vocal performance from Martin van Drunen. Hüsken largely tones down his fills to sound like Bagchus, and it’s a nice touch that helps keep the band’s established sound intact. The crushing “Subterra Incognita” is the record’s best doom track, with Baayens putting his own spin on the classic Daniels-style melodicism as he did on “Minefield” and other contemporary Asphyx highlights. “Wildland Fire” is more thoroughly well-done old-style faster Asphyx, with top-tier performances from the whole band. If you need one reason to believe these guys have plenty more left in the tank, this track is it.
While Baayens is indisputably a good songwriter, the lack of Bagchus’s old Asphyx counterweight has led to some mixed results (by Asphyx standards) in spots. Somewhat disappointingly, two of the three long, doomy songs are the most obvious examples. “The Grand Denial” is a quality tune, but at certain points it uses a melodic lead that sounds a lot more like a Hail of Bullets closing track than Asphyx. While I enjoy the former, we’re all here for the band whose name is on the tin. Starting on some riffing reminiscent of Immortal like “As the Magma Mammoth Rises” did, “Death: The Only Immortal” sounds great up until the 5:20 mark, where it starts sounding like (you guessed it) a Hail of Bullets closing number. The faster songs have less of this issue, but “Forerunners of the Apocalypse” made me forget I was listening to Asphyx instead of half of Asphyx’s side project. It’s still quite good, but not the sort of good any of us wanted from Incoming Death.
Dan Swanö is back behind the boards again, and to my great surprise Incoming Death is more dynamic than its last two predecessors. Everything is massive here; Hüsken’s drums are bludgeoning, Baayens’s guitar is clear but
crushing krushing, and Alwin Zuur’s bass retains its big tone from Deathhammer but is happily more audible this time around. All of this considered, it’s impossible not to consider Incoming Death the worst post-reunion Asphyx record by a small but noticeable margin. Now, “worst post-reunion Asphyx record” is better than at least three-quarters of metal released this year, so don’t take this as a condemnation of a worthwhile, memorable, and engaging record. My expectations for this record were rather high given the quality of its two predecessors, and if any other band’s name was on Incoming Death I’d score it one notch higher without hesitation. I believe that it would be a disservice to the greatness and legacy of Asphyx to not hold them to a higher standard than normal, so take the score as a gesture of respect and admiration for one of the genre’s best bands, not a worrying drop in quality from Deathhammer.