Personally speaking, it’s been a tough few months at Castle Beuller. But, man is not made for defeat and when looking for a little slice of escapism, I often find myself turning to the loving embrace of some old-school death metal. It’s not progressive — it’s downright sticks and stones. But, if it can deliver the tone and supply the riffs, then sometimes I find myself transported back to those days when first discovering this music. I can recreate that zeitgeist of the late 80’s death metal genesis that I was too young to appreciate the first time around. There’s a secret ingredient in that primitive, classic sound which bloodies all my troubles away, so when I saw the promo for Old Chapel, I signed myself up. These Russians dole out a death/doom reverb-fest that worships at the altar of the van Drunen fronted Asphyx, and with a smattering of Obituary’s groove, a retro-good time was had by all.
Sophomore record Visions From Beyond is, unsurprisingly, stacked full of burly riffs and rhythms. This particular brand of death metal generally isn’t prone to fits of originality, but it’s fair to say that Old Chapel have learned their one trick well. Any fans of The Last One on Earth or even Sempiternal Deathreign’s The Spooky Gloom will find plenty to enjoy here with a surprisingly tight rhythm section, evident in the bridges. There’s something timeless about the classic era of metal’s first abomination, especially in this age of hyper-technical brutality, and although I’ll always embrace the evolution of extremity, the uncompromising, primordial ugliness of the old-school never fails to seduce me. Old Chapel promote the same credo, apparent in their engineering of an unadulterated throwback. It’s nice to see that Grond aren’t the only Russian band pumping out quality, archetypal death metal.
Just like its Dutch patron saint, Visions From Beyond contains a selection of songs subordinate to the almighty riff. Opener “Disastrous Rite” flaunts all the features you’d expect — careening verses pave the way for opaque, mid-paced palm-mutes, riven by Pavel Suslov’s monotone bark. The vocals are fairly standard form, but its guitarist Alexey Mazur that hones the album’s character, alternating the tempo on stormers “The Burning” and “Witchboard” whilst the thick pulses of “Towards The End” and “The Nightmare Room” emphasize the doom — showcasing the records, albeit, limited features. Death metal of this variety only has finite appeal and those listeners whose tolerance for vintage vibrations is less avid than my own may find its replay value potentially diminished, especially in the wake of a newly released Asphyx record.
Old Chapel’s ode to the original ossuaries is bang on the money, evident in the creepy, infinitely head-bangable riffing on “Stairs to the Vault,” which wears its simplicity on its mottled sleeve and has been stuck in my head all week. Interestingly, the soloing is deceptively memorable with Mazur emulating the sinister scales of the legendary James Murphy —particularly those heard on Cause of Death. Although the mix seeks to recall the sound of the band’s overt influences, and does so in tone, like all modern retrograde death, it holds fast to enough digital sensibility to edit out any of the analogue era’s charm. What Visions does retain is the pervasively baleful overtone of the genre’s golden age; the cadences are adept and kept my ears engaged with noxious fun, and at a relatively concise 49 minutes, manages to stave off any fear of fatigue.
Just because Old Chapel actively seek out a simpler time, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of dispatching my ear-drums with extreme prejudice. If like me, you live in mortal fear of being trapped in a metal box, slowly filling up with Phil Collins music, then Visions From Beyond will deliver as feral a blow as any to keep you primed and ready. This kind of Byzantine brawn might not appeal to the cool crowd — there’s nothing cerebral about it and surely won’t metamorphose the tastes of those who hear it. What it will do is roll up its sleeves and show you how the real men did it, back when this music was new and infinitely less self-aware.