Naming your doom metal band Heavydeath is like naming your cat “Whiskers McPussyface,” but somehow this Swedish trio manages to pull it off. In early 2015 these former Runemagick members quite impressed me with debut Eternal Sleepwalker, at least enough that I actually bothered to check out a few of the motherfucking 16 demos, EPs, and compilations the band released since forming just three years ago. No-frills doom-death was the name of the game there: thick thrumming chords, slithering basslines, rotten growls, and drumming that shuffled along with the speed of a walking corpse. But while I enjoyed the atmosphere and diversity on Sleepwalker, it felt like the music was a little too stripped down at times, to the point where I hoped the band would explore a more layered sound on their follow-up.
Well, ask and thou shalt receive. 18 months and four EPs later, Heavydeath is back with sophomore full-length In Circles We Die, and it seems the group heard my pleas and responded accordingly. Right away with opener “As We Foretold,” it’s immediately apparent that we’re dealing with a more colorful mix. I don’t know if sole guitarist Nicklas Rudolfsson is actually layering his guitars now or not, but it certainly sounds that way, and things seem heavier and more vibrant as a result. Coupled with melodic crypt-lurker moans, a dreadful shambling pace, and riffs which drag like withered fingers on the wall of a forgotten tomb, “Foretold” is a win right from the start.
I’ve written before about my lack of patience for most doom these days, and fortunately, Heavydeath continue their tradition of including ample variety to keep things interesting. “Slumbering Monolith” follows “Foretold” with similar ambulatory beats and thrumming guitars, before introducing an eerie clambering melody and kicking up into a stomping, head-bobbing tempo. Later, “The Few Remains” shows off the band’s affinity for clean vocals by mixing Nicklas’ full-bodied growls with some interesting gothic crooning that recalls Type O Negative or even Nick Holmes’ mid-90s work with Paradise Lost. “Rope of Emptiness” follows with a slimy tapping melody that recalls an eyeball continuously rolling in its socket, while “Into Death’s Black Void” features ticking cymbals and tension-mounting verses that sound like the band is counting down the seconds until midnight. Closer “The Fallen One” brings the tempo down to Marianas Trench levels, but maintains the densely foreboding atmosphere with its vaguely bluesy Electric Wizard basslines and haunting diminished arpeggios.
Unfortunately, between those standout moments are minutes of empty, strummed chord progressions which do nothing of interest. The title track and to a lesser extent “Bleak Future” are particularly guilty, as even after many listens I can’t remember anything about either track. But even the standout cuts feel like their good ideas come at just the right moments, where if they’d waited just a few measures longer to introduce that cool riff or tempo shift, I’d be pressing the skip button. On the whole Circles’ 8 songs are also far more similar to one another than those on Sleepwalker were, and the occasional speedier moments on that record are also sorely absent. While nothing here is bad or even outright boring, a good portion of this record is the equivalent of stuffing your mouth full of Wonder Bread and washing it down with tap water: it provides sustenance to get you through until your next meal, but you’re certainly not going to be excited by it.
Fortunately, the production hasn’t suffered similar woes. The guitars are dry and burly, the bass is rich and thick, and the mix possesses both heft and depth. Without being overtly retro, this all leads to a delightfully gothic atmosphere that conjures images of the most creepy 70s horror — clouded moons, misty graveyards, the whole gamut. With that in mind, it’s frustrating to rate Circles so low because once again Heavydeath ultimately achieve exactly what they set out to do: deliver solid doom-death minus any frills or pretense. Unfortunately, a bit more diversity, inspiration, and fat-trimming would have gone a long way. Hooded Menace fans and hardcore doom-mongers with an hour to kill will undoubtedly find something to enjoy here, but for the rest, I only wish I could endorse Circles more enthusiastically.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Websites: heavydeath.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/heavydeathofficial | heavydeath.com
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2016