I’ll be the first to admit that I truly enjoy the old school death metal (OSDM) revival that seems to have been going on forever in the metal scene. That said, it does have its fair share of problems. Too often bands hopping on the OSDM train will focus on and nail down the cavernous murk that helped define classics like Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest, but forget that atmosphere was only half the battle; McEntee and his minions had some serious songwriting chops behind the filth, and that’s what made those albums exhilarating listens then and now. Great songwriting can never get old, and when bands do the OSDM thing right, that becomes their focus. This year we’ve seen Dead Congregation, Teitanblood, and Incantation themselves take the scene to school in this regard, and Chilean newcomers Oraculum stepped up and aced the exam in 21 minutes with their absolute ripper of an EP, Sorcery of the Damned.
“The Vessel of Orichalcum” begins the EP with a riff that mixes vintage Incantation with a dollop of Bolt Thrower for good measure, and is pretty indicative of the ass-kicking to come. From there, Oraculum moves on with leads that recall Incantation, Bolt Thrower, Morgoth, and Asphyx, merging the best parts of each artist together to make their own slightly differentiated sound in a genre built on the shoulders of death metal giants. This leads to a major case of substance over style, as the murk has all but been eschewed from the Incantation mold, seeing Oraculum focus instead on the heaviest riffs and the dynamic songwriting of the Pennsylvanian death dealers. Asphyx and Bolt Thrower are similarly well represented: about six minutes through closing track “Endarkenment,” Oraculum busts out a crushing half-time part with a riff and lead melody straight out of Eric Daniels’ playbook, and simplistic death-thrash riffs (especially in “The Vessel of Orichalcum”) that could have held their own on The Rack. Conqueror of Fear’s drumming keeps the steady, punishing bludgeoning that Andrew Whale all but perfected in the early Bolt Thrower years, but also throws in some blasts reminiscent of Realm of Chaos’ speedier moments when they’re called for.
Vocally, Scourge of God’s closest comparison would be Morgoth’s Marc Grewe circa Cursed, with the van Drunen-isms of Grewe’s voice taken up a couple of notches. Though they don’t possess much (if any) variety throughout the EP, Scourge’s vocals more than make up for this minor shortcoming by oozing a live, authentic feel that suits the old school nature of the music perfectly. This carries over to every part of Sorcery of the Damned, and becomes a major asset; Oraculum brings back the feeling of hearing the old greats for the first time, but not through pandering to metalhead nostalgia. Rather, they’ve composed old school death metal songs that aim for nothing more than being great old school death metal songs; there’s no technical wizardry, no progressive elements, and no atmosphere other than “fuck yeah, more riffs!” This could have easily been released in the early 90’s, and it would have fit right in. It may not be the most original thing in the world, but it’s still plenty effective.
Production-wise, Sorcery of the Damned fares pretty well with a fairly dynamic master and a heavy sounding mix, but the absence of a bass player hurts on a few occasions. The most notable example is instrumental track “Passage I,” which has a crushing Asphyx-y riff as its backbone that sounds heavy enough, but it could have crushed tanks with a nice, thick bass behind it. For the most part, Scourge and V.’s guitars have a solid, heavy tone that makes this issue easy to ignore. Drums sound live and natural, but sometimes feel a bit lacking in the low-end department, although this could have more to do with the low bitrate of the promo rather than the production itself.
Sorcery of the Damned ends up being a completely successful debut EP, as it has me excited about Oraculum’s future whilst greatly enjoying their present. This is the sound of a band that seems to really get what made OSDM awesome in the first place, which was great songs played with raw passion and energy. This is unpretentious, riffy, heavy-as-Hell OSDM done the right way. And it’s pretty damn great [And they have a goat skull. — Steel Druhm].