The stoics believed in ekpyrosis, the yearly destruction of the universe by an all-consuming inferno. They believed that life is a cycle of destruction and rebirth. Recreation out of chaos. Ekpyrosis embody ekpyrosis through their fiery homage to old-school death metal and Asphyxiating Devotion is the unrelenting debut record by this Italian four-piece. Their sound is nothing new and new ground isn’t being trodden. Sometimes, though, bands don’t want to tread new ground; sometimes bands just want to add contemporary iconography to the sickening architecture of the past; sometimes bands just want to stir a fresher putridity into the gross and primitive cesspit that is death metal. Does Asphyxiating Destruction add flavor to the seething old-school renaissance, or is it destined to forever dwell in the caverns of obscurity from whence it came?
I can happily say that Ekpyrosis offer a lot of nutritious flavor. It isn’t without its pitfalls; it feels, at times, fragmented, and it isn’t composed as fluidly and expertly as, say, a Dead Congregation album, for example. However, there are regular stunning moments that spawn from aptly placed tempo changes and impressive set-pieces. For the most part, Asphyxiating Devotion is a blistering inferno of old-school inspired death metal that brands itself unforgivingly onto a listener’s flesh with its mix of (perhaps over-indulgent) Immolation-esque squealing pinch harmonics, double bass drum intensity, and gargantuan growls. Yet it’s the crawling moments of doom — such as towards the end “God Grotesque” — that hooks the imagination the most. As mentioned above, these moments arrive precisely at the right time and Ilaria Casiraghi’s playfulness with cymbals during these dirges adds a satisfying texture.
Mid to slow-paced grooves, most excellently demonstrated in “Immolate the Denied,” also add an extra dynamic that more than fills the headbangability quota. Of course, tempo changes are nothing new — Autopsy and their ilk have lead the way for decades — but, nevertheless, what Ekpyrosis achieve is bloody impressive. It’s slow to mid-paced moments that have clung to my memory like mold. Second track “Obsessive Christendom” opens with dirge heaviness before erupting. Similarly, aptly titled “Blasphemous Doom” opens with crushing heaviness before spiraling into more feral territory as vocalist Marco Teodoro spits and snarls above a lonely bassline. This album feels dirty. Grime seeps from the pores of each member. Hate oozes from the putrid throat of vocalist Marco. In “Immolate the Denied” he snarls into a blurry mix of dissonance that ‘God is Dead!’ in an Italian accent that casts a sort of suave hatred through the mix. Similarly, in opening track “Profound Death” — a seven-minute cascade that introduces all that is to come — Marco spits and growls with a mid-ranged animalism that resembles both a maniacal John Tardy and The Tasmanian Devil. To accompany all of this dirty old-school heaviness, throw in some peculiar winding riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Demigod or Adramelech record — as in seventh track “Depths of Tribulation” — and some faster riff patterns akin to Necrophobic and you’re on to a winner.
However, so many ideas do detract from the listening experience and the album as a whole. Asphyxiating Devotion isn’t a completely unified outing. A million ideas whiz about at once. When transitions are done well — such as the bass-led link between “Obsessive Christendom” to “God Grotesque” — they’re mesmeric, but there are too many transitions and too many attempts at replicating different styles. The standalone moments, ignoring context, are great, but as a unified whole, it’s rough around the edges. The production also at times becomes overbearingly murky, particularly when the band are playing at full throttle. It’s an odd one because of the impact that the production offers varies; during the doomier passages the depth of the mix sounds great, however sometimes riffs and bass blur into messy incoherence.
Compositional inconsistency is the main drawback here; if Ekpyrosis were a more experienced band this would be a cause for concern, but being a young band I’m excited for how they approach their future releases. Ekpyrosis have emptied their vial of 90s-inspired vitriol into the churning mass of filthy contemporary extremeness and in doing so have added flavor and dynamism to a genre that keeps on delivering delicious ugliness. Asphyxiating Devotion is an admirable debut album that is well worth your time.