Are you ready for 2012? You better be, since it’s supposedly when the Mayans sell us down the river and everything goes BOOM! That means locusts, plagues, zombies, more Obama and a new Justin Bieber double album. Oh, the humanity! Anyway, as Steel Druhm sits in his Fortress of Reckoning, stockpiling ammo and firearms with varying degrees of legality, it seems a good time to do the first review of a 2012 release! What could be more fitting than a nasty slice of war-themed death metal from frigid Finland? Decaying got some big Steel love earlier this year for their Devastate album and here they are all set to launch their second campaign in 2012 with Encirclement. Taking the same basic approach as on Devastate, they rock a type of primitive, old school death of the European variety. After several spins, Encirclement reminds me of a forced merger between Bolt Thrower and Hail of Bullets with some Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence sprinkled on the wound. In all honestly, most of the album sounds like vintage Bolt Thrower with Martin van Drunen (Hail of Bullets/Asphyx/ex-Pestilence/ex-Bolt Thrower) on the mic. As you might then expect, its dependably chunky, clunky, ugly and reeks of a battlefield. What makes this notable amid the legions of death is the sheer length of the tracks. As with Devastate, there are some LONG ass death metal songs here (several between eight and ten minutes)! That can be a tricky feat to pull off and while Decaying largely succeeds in maintaining the interest factor, it can be wearing on the attention span at times. If the impending apocalypse make you hunger for epic-length death metal all about war, this is your huckleberry.
After a cool intro that swings between dirge and military march riffing, things get off t0 a rousing jump off with “Operation Citadel.” Its old school death and walks a line between Bolt Thrower and Hail of Bullets but shakes it up with some Middle Eastern influenced riffing and some odd riff patterns that don’t seem to belong on a death album (there’s a slight NWOBHM vibe, not unlike that on Sentenced‘s Amok). At over six minutes, it runs through a lot of ideas and for the most part, everything is interesting and absorbing. The vocals are excellently guttural and the various twists and turns delivered by the guitars are interesting, engaging and often quite catchy (nifty blackish riff at 2:50). “From the Cradle to the Grave” is pure Bolt Thrower worship right down to the riffing and tempos (nice solo at 2:30). Other notable moments include the cool doomy segment at 3:52 in “Conclusion” and at 2:42 of “On the Path of Subjugation.” A personal favorite is the blackened riffing at 1:30 on “Public Enlightenment.” Speaking of black metal, there’s less of a blackened vibe this time out and this is far more of a straight-up death platter.
The guitars of Matias Nastolin and Henri Hirvonen are impressive and there’s quite a few standout riffs across Encirclement. They mix in just enough black metal influence to add flavor and they excel at the slow doomy sections. In fact, the doom moments are my favorites. The solos are solid and a few are excellent. The uber-deathy vocals by Matias are also commendable. He can go super deep and phlegmy and then switch to a dead ringer for Van Drunen and mixes it up enough to satisfy. His vocals are the reason a lot of the material works so well.
Now for the negatives. I have a real problem with the guitar tone here. It’s just not raw and confrontational enough for the approach or the material. There’s a lot of top flight material here but the absence of a truly nasty, blood-curdling tone weakens the impact substantially. Another problem is the length of the album. While these gents have obvious talent and the bulk of the material is well done, it starts to feel like TOO MUCH by the three-quarter point. Sixty minutes is a lot of death to endure and songs as long as these can contribute to a feeling more akin to battle fatigue than shell shock. Likewise, certain songs drag on longer than necessary and wear out their welcome a bit (“Rising Sun” feels WAY overlong at ten-plus-minutes, despite some great doomy moments). That’s a shame, because there aren’t any bad songs here. It’s just too much to easily withstand in one session.
Decaying is a young band well worth watching and Encirclement is a very solid album with some great moments of doomy war-themed death. While I still prefer their Devastate release, I have no hesitation recommending this to anyone who loves Bolt Thrower or Hail of Bullets. It’s not a bad way to ring in (or blow up) the new year and when the wolves and zombies encircle your doorstep, this and a big bottle of bourbon will make for one helluva last stand. Bring it on 2012, Steel Druhm is armed and ready!