Amidst all the inevitable aspects of life and death metal, as we know it, the tried and true sounds of old school Swedish death appears here to stay. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and the rotted riffs and buzzsaw tones of the Stockholm death metal scene that spawned endless imitators of varying quality remains a strong source of inspiration for up and coming death metal bands. And sucker’s like I keep coming back for more. You see, despite my general skepticism, my overbearing taste for the style and all its warm, endearing qualities eases the pain of wading through mediocrity to get to the goods. And I am a firm believer that there’s life in this old corpse yet. Essentially a one-man band, led by the multi-talented Jesper Ekstål and aided by session drummer Emil Leijon, Sweden’s Decomposed formed in 2010 and have released a demo and a couple of full-lengths before arriving at this grisly third LP, entitled Wither. So is Decomposed another cheaply derivative knock-off clone or the genuine Swedeath article?
Decomposed does a fine job of establishing the basics to any formidable Swedish death formula. Sporting an earthly organic tone, Wither is steeped in an atmosphere of creeping dread, conjuring endearing clichéd images, such as moonlit illuminations of creepy bare tree limbs casting eerie shadows over crumbling tombstones. The dank, malevolent vibes, cavernous grooves and more urgent bursts of rabid speed recall the legendary Grave most prominently, though Decomposed bring enough to the table to avoid sounding like a sub-par copycat. Overall Decomposed sound dirtier and meaner than your average band of similar ilk, setting a rollicking yet putrefying tone on opening salvo “By Nothingness Crowned.” The short and pummeling “Upheaval” kicks it up a notch and boasts the first legitimately memorable groove section and an intense climax, sadly buffered by some rather blurry, forgettable riffage.
A couple of decent tracks in, Wither doesn’t really hit its stride until the tempo is dialed back on the foreboding death-doom slog of “VOID,” as sinister melodies escape from the song’s dark, asphyxiating core. These doomy forays are where the band excels the most, with the dense, crawling dread executed on the whopping nine-minute title track and aforementioned “VOID” proving menacingly addictive, finding Decomposed hitting their groove both riff-wise and atmospherically with great impact. Moments likes these occasionally remind me of the most recent Hooded Menace album, Darkness Drips Forth, though less sluggish and funereal in its execution. More of this sort of material would have strengthened the album tenfold. Not suggesting the band is incapable of jacking up the speed effectively, but the slowed down riffs, leads and evil melodies really come to the fore in their doom-laden form.
Despite some unremarkable elements hindering the songwriting throughout the album, Decomposed pack plenty of variation with their tempo gauge, from the off-the-hook savagery of “Drenched in Wounds” to the funereal march meets double bass pummel-fest of “Downwards.” Jesper Ekstål puts in a solid all round performance, with the muddy sound belying his tight and more technical chops, aptly backed by his low meaty growls. Wither’s production is a mixed bag. On one hand it’s nice to have an old school Swedeath band opting for a warm, muddier sound and forgoing the all too common buzzsaw guitar tone, yet on the other side of the ledger the instruments sometimes get lost in a muddy whirlpool that loses important definition, especially the bass drums, and blurs some of the material together in an unappealing fashion.
Wither is an impressively crafted album by one particularly committed individual that is less derivative than a lot of Swedish death on the market. The album’s death-doom dabbling is definitely a strong point and something I’d like to hear more of from the band. But when it comes to the crunch there’s little ‘wow factor’ on display and the indistinguishable moments and insufficient supply of quality riffs override the couple of standout songs and killer scattered moments, resulting in a case of what could have been.