To paraphrase and bastardize Carl Sagan, if you want to create true old-school death metal in 2016, you almost have to create death metal itself. To make death metal in the spirit of the old school, it’s not enough to just subscribe to the orthodoxy and call it a day, much like trying to apply Hegel to the twenty-first century by screaming about how much you like constitutional monarchies would be terrible philosophy. Developments happen, and while some works are more correct and defensible than others, their content must be brought forward in spirit and essence, not just verbatim in content. That’s one important difference between imitation and understanding, and Switzerland’s Deathcult are an OSDM band who aims for the latter. Their debut, Beasts of Faith, tries to “get” the death metal scene of the late 80s/early 90s and bring it into 2016, but it’s hard to be convinced.
Deathcult can be comfortably lumped in the niche “weird” OSDM scene with bands like Obliteration, Morbus Chron, and Tribulation. The root of it all is old Death, Entombed, and Autopsy riffs, but it tries to be more “progressive” by making the songs a bit more technically involved and spaced out, but less immediate along with hints from the melodicism of the old Swedish scene to spice things up. Beasts of Faith aims to mix this all together with a nearly transparent coat of new paint much like The Matrix added virtual reality to a combination of Descartes’s “evil demon” thing and Plato’s cave allegory. The old ideas are the most prevalent, and it’s obvious to anyone familiar with the source material. The Matrix was a quality action flick, which was its contribution to the ideas that inspired it.
Beasts of Faith doesn’t really do anything so exciting. The title track throws a nice Last One on Earth vibe into the mix, tossing aside pretensions to just embrace the timeless virtue of good riffs. When the Swedish-styled melodies of the intro fade out, “An Accurst Procession” moves into a lurching and disgusting Mental Funeral style of plodding, and follows that with a big nod to Spiritual Healing. It continues toying with its elements like viscera-coloured Play-Doh, making different shapes with the same stuff, eventually returning to Swedish melodicism for a good ending to the record. It’s easily the best track here, and as an added bonus comes after a decent rendition of Death’s “Evil Dead” that really emphasizes the Slayer influence of that track.
Deathcult makes fairly enjoyable OSDM – and you know what’s coming here, because I, like Sir Mix-a-Lot, Lil’ Jon, and other luminaries of postmodern philosophy, always have a “but” on the mind – but it’s nothing more than that. Instead of selling me on Beasts of Faith, opener “Barren Land” caused me to sit there and pick out the influences of the track. The influences are better bands (see above), and caused me to fondly remember why I like them instead of making me like Deathcult. Also, time management is not a skill in Deathcult’s arsenal. Interlude “A Foul Glint” is boring to the point of malice towards the listener, employing a somewhat creepy riff that’s overused in nearly four minutes of fluff that sounds a whole lot longer. “The Sick Within” does a similar thing with its outro, which takes up three of its eight minutes, the other five being fairly energetic OSDM that’s fun but unremarkable. These flaws are weirdly exacerbated by a good production job that’s natural, dynamic, and sounds like, well, old-school death metal. This merely emphasizes the largely imitation-grade content further.
Beasts of Faith will surely please those less discerning fans of OSDM who want nothing more than stuff that reminds them of the old classics, being inoffensive and largely safe. Perhaps the most damning thing about Deathcult’s debut, more than everything I’ve already said here, is that I was relieved to be done with it. Not done listening to it, but done focusing on it and trying to find anything remarkable or interesting to discuss. As background music, it’s perfectly fine and will please most OSDM fans. As something to focus on, it’s good for a few spins to dive into everything the Deathcult has to offer. As a lasting record, something to pick up over others when you’re looking for that New Age of OSDM fix? Beasts of Faith is lacking.