Those familiar with Plato’s Republic surely know of the extended discussion in which “Socrates” speaks about Greeks and barbarians. It discusses civil war and how to treat those who are your fellow civilized people in a fascinating early instance of actual laws of war: don’t execute prisoners, don’t kill more than necessary, and so on. The barbarians, a term employed to mean people one cannot converse with (and therefore cannot reason with), don’t fare so well. They can be mistreated, enslaved, and slaughtered at will; as an inferior civilization, they are to be decimated without remorse if they attack the polis, and the Greeks expect no fairer treatment from them in return. Australia’s Cemetery Urn describe themselves as “barbaric Australian death metal,” and one gets the feeling listening to their self-titled third record that they’d welcome the ceaseless bloodshed.
This bloodshed, of course, comes in the musical form; this is death metal, full stop. Heavily influenced by Incantation but not whatsoever a clone, Cemetery Urn take the Disma approach to death metal: latch on to the ethos of old Incantation and run with the formula in a different, albeit still certainly recognizable, direction. Those obsessed with alternate timelines can hear what Incantation would sound like if they incorporated the filthy groove of Austrian repulsion masters Pungent Stench and the crunchier riffing of old-school greats like Morgoth, Bolt Thrower, and Autopsy, along with some subtle but noticeable Morbid Angel influence. In sum, Cemetery Urn sounds familiar and oddly welcoming upon first hearing it, but at no point does it sound stale.
This sort of minor innovation is where true quality lies. Instead of jettisoning the rulebook carelessly before mastering it, Cemetery Urn view Chesterton’s Fence as an asset instead of a liability, circumscribing their songwriting into a narrow but fertile patch of metallic land. At a certain point, records like Cemetery Urn don’t lend themselves well to track-based descriptions; the influences on the riffs are above, and what matters is how the riffs are employed both individually and structurally. “Misshapen Affliction” has an intro riff reminiscent of newer Incantation but tinged noticeably with Bolt Thrower, and promptly shifts from this into a Realm of Chaos inspired rapid-fire pummeling that eventually gives way to something from Pungent Stench’s wheelhouse. All the while, Cemetery Urn cannot be mistaken for any of the above bands, and it’s frankly a boon that I had a bit of trouble writing about the highlights here. I can evoke quality bands positively in comparison to Cemetery Urn because these guys write rock solid death metal that will captivate fans of the aforementioned bands without wasting their time being a subpar clone.
The upshot here is that, good as this is, Cemetery Urn haven’t propelled themselves to greatness. The best analogy is a highly skilled author writing a book exclusively on a seminal author’s work. Writing on St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, the author would know that his work wasn’t in the same league of quality, but he’d latch onto certain aspects others may have missed or understated, and brought his own personality into the proceedings as well. This is what Cemetery Urn does with their influences, letting certain aspects that would never creep into, say, Incantation’s sound be heard, and convincingly so. Their use of melody in “Dredge the Pit of Burial” is more consonant than what Mr. McEntee himself would likely allow in his main outfit, but it works because Cemetery Urn knows how those Incantation records tick. Some may not agree with their choices or understanding, but it is at the very least an entirely defensible interpretation that doesn’t break with the general ethos of its influences and genre.
All of this is to say that Cemetery Urn took seminal and foundational material and ran it through their own highly competent filter with a consistent degree of success. This is not a great record in the mould of Onward to Golgotha or even Towards the Megalith, but it doesn’t have to be. Mastering the rulebook is an order of magnitude more important than arbitrarily breaking the rules, and Cemetery Urn demonstrate their understanding of great death metal by crafting the highly enjoyable songs present on their third record. Their tweaks and idiosyncrasies have the germ of greatness in them, and this is a band to keep a close eye on for future releases. For now, Cemetery Urn resides in the cream of a hugely overcrowded genre, which is surely no small feat and worthy of praise.