Of all the metal sub-genres to come to prominence in the last decade or so, perhaps the most frustrating is the so-called “caverncore” style. We’ve heard it time and again: murky guitars, gurgly vocals, and an unabashed love for Incantation in both sound and artwork. While it’s proven a successful sonic palette for bands like Cruciamentum and Dead Congregation (not to mention the recent Cemetery Urn album), many of these groups simply mire themselves in a riff-less murk that makes even Alestorm seem appealing1. Yet Atlanta’s Father Befouled stand apart, if only because they sound more like Incantation than any of the others. Since their formation by vocalist/guitarist Justin Stubbs in 2006, the band has espoused their infatuation with ‘tation through three prior full-lengths, with Stubbs recruiting drummer, and fellow Encoffination member, Wayne Sarantopoulos in 2009 to aid in the diabolical conquest. Fortunately, the lack of originality doesn’t always equate to failure, and Befouled’s last album (2012’s Revulsion of Seraphic Grace) earned high marks here at AMG. But how does Desolate Gods fare?
First, a caveat: when I say this sounds like Incantation, I don’t mean they’re just a notable influence. This isn’t even Incantation worship, this is the sound of a band collecting John McEntee’s hair and building a shrine in the closet. Guitars consist of revolting downtuned tremolos, drums consist of blastbeats broken by doomy crawls, and vocals consist of a subterranean growl that sounds very much like a slightly less guttural version of McEntee. If someone told me this was the new Incantation record, I wouldn’t question it for a second. But is it actually good?
I wish I could think of a more enthusiastic way to say “fuck yes.” For starters, Befouled absolutely nail the ugly, miasmic vibe their idols are famous for. With a mixing and mastering job by Cruciamentum’s Dan Lowndes, the guitars are dank and sweltering yet powerful and clear, and the mix is spacious enough to effectively cultivate that dense “wet cave” atmosphere we all (mostly) love. More importantly, Gods contains songs that one can actually remember, even after first listen. “Offering Revulsion” is the breakneck opener with jerking tremolos and a solo that rips like a ravenous vulture, “Ungodly Rest” is the doomy beast with lumbering chords and mournful Paradise Lost-style leads, and “Mortal Awakening” is the early highlight whose stomping mid-song march feels less like a riff and more like an invisible hand that yanks your head back and forth.
With atmosphere in this style so often occurring at the expense of notable ideas, riffiness has largely become the main determinant of quality in this sub-genre. Fortunately, Gods feels like Befouled wrote an hour-long album, distilled all but the best riffs, and crafted what remained into a 30-minute powerhouse of cohesive savagery. Take aforementioned “Ungodly,” which features a grotesque tremolo line that crawls up the fret-board like a giant spider after its prey. Likewise, the closing title track stands out for its blunt and bullish riffing, before finishing with some of the fattest doom segments on the album. Even late-album instrumental “Vestigial Remains of…” stands out for its fuzzy notes and sleek Paradise Lost leads, sounding incredibly elegant and majestic, which are two words I never thought I’d use in this review.
Really, the biggest negative is the lack of originality, and even that can be forgiven with how great the writing is. Songs are often built off prominent main ideas, which return and repeat often enough to make the compositions feel coherent but not repetitive. At 30 minutes and eight tracks in length, this is a concise and well-crafted record, with a brooding instrumental intro, excellent variety, and entertaining embellishments like a spoken word conclusion that beckons listeners to drink the blood of the titular desolate gods (recalling Morbid Angel’s infamous “God of Emptiness” in the process). Even the drumming stands out, managing tempo shifts with ease and at times subtly adjusting to maximize impact.
While I understand how silly it must seem to get this excited about another band that sounds like Incantation, few of the others have produced something as good as Desolate Gods. This is a record that nips at the heels of the innovators, crafted with menacing conviction and overflowing with riffs that will crush your head and then perform an occult ritual over your lifeless body. If nothing else, this is proof that sometimes even a dead horse still has plenty of blood left in it.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent Records
Websites: fatherbefouled.bandcamp.com | fatherbefouled.com | facebook.com/fatherbefouled
Releases Worldwide: June 23rd, 2017