Venenum - Trance of DeathA lone cello sings a mournful melody in a minor key. Fluttering piano touches accentuate the subtle tremolando strings. The folksy piece develops patiently, oscillating between an ambient sort of vagueness and a nervous incisiveness. While the surprising first two and a half minutes of Bavaria’s Venenum’s full-length début Trance of Death stand in contrast with the carnage that will follow, they are also perfect archetypes of the eclecticism and compositional strength of the release as a whole. “Entrance” is anything but a vanilla intro to a metal record and Venenum is anything but a run-of-the-mill death metal band.

Instead, the foursome’s style — in its core a variation on death metal — is hard to label. While there are many metal outfits that consume stylistic elements from various genres and reduce them to a jumbled mess (Between the Buried and Me, for one), Venenum craft an approach that’s neither death nor black metal while being fundamentally both and more. Fluid in their motion through different parts of the sonic spectrum, they exist in a state of eternal uncertainty, never quite settling in the tropes of any specific sub-genre. Yet, they instill a sense of cohesiveness and homogeneity throughout. The vacuum between a tremolo-driven section dominated by raspy, maleficent vocals and a slow doom throb or post-rockish plateau will thus be filled with painfully canorous leads and fiery solos. But this carousel of styles is never exhausting. And after the shocking shift from the solemn “Entrance” to the massacre of “Merging Nebular Drapes,” Trance of Death begins its true ritual dance. Blood rushes to the head as the song itself blitzes in with changes in rhythm and tempo reminiscent of Coroner, intricate riffs and progressions that somehow remain tuneful, and a slower middle section filled with faux-maudlin melody.

As the album unfurls, the cuts flow from one extreme to another. The chaos and brutal force of “The Nature of the Ground” births the andante of “Cold Threat,” only to be reawakened, thrashing, in the form of a massively propulsive bellicoso. These transitions always feel organic, as if the disparate track parts could not have been connected any other way. But the real gem and the album’s crowning point is incarnated in the notes of the poignant three-part suite “Trance of Death.” It’s a nearly half-hour long epic that unfolds from the insanity and harmonic convolution of “Part I – Reflections,” then plunges into tranquility with the contemplative and strikingly beautiful “Part II – Metanoia Journey,” and climaxes with the spiraling “Part III – There Are Other Worlds…” Within the chef-d’œuvre that is Trance of Death, this final song becomes its own microcosm. It demonstrates an almost symphonic character as it evolves, with movements filled with inspired riffing, meandering but never dull instrumental parts, and, in turns, disquieting and stirring acoustic interludes. The closing few minutes alone, led by a lingering crescendo and a consonance of instruments, conjure up a perfect storm of schmaltz and musical excellence.

Venenum 2017

Another rare feat that Trance of Death succeeds in is to be gripping and accessible from the very first listen, whilst it also provides numerous labyrinths to explore during repeated listens. The album is exquisite from beginning to end. There’s psychedelia aplenty sparkled with captivating lunacy, there is the spaced-out but complex atmosphere that brings Oranssi Pazuzu and Inquisition to mind (as their peers, not influences), and there is always a crushing, crusty aggression hidden beneath the occasional saccharine exterior. Even if the musicianship and performances of all four members are commendable, it’s the songwriting that makes this technically challenging record work so well. In that sense, I’m reminded of Skáphe, since both groups see technicality as a means to an end, a necessity of their musical vision.

Six years in the making, Trance of Death is not only Venenum’s triumph, but a near-masterpiece of (death) metal. As any great album, it threatens to influence and reshape the landscape, while it carves out a new niche. A potential future classic.


Rating: Excellent
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sepulchral Voice Records
Websites: venenum.bandcamp.com | www.munenev.com
Releases Worldwide: March 17th, 2017

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  • John Mosley

    Reshaping the landscape, huh. I’m always down for a Roquentin recommendation. Downloading stat.

  • AngryMetalBird

    guess I missed the meaning of ‘trance’ in this (unless being shell shocked is trancy) but it’s indeed excellent!

  • Jrod1983

    Damn what a review, will be checking this out for sure.
    The embedded track is terrific.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    That’s a masterclass in reviewing and I’ve been loving his album, too.

  • Zach Ward

    Great review, I must check this out. I shall say tho, the back and forth from numbered ratings, and word rating is really inconsistent. Or, make it worse and add a third rating system with shitty Emojies.
    It’ll make this site perfect.

    • Can’t wait to see the future ratings displaying the smiling poop emoji. I can definitely wait for that.

      • GardensTale

        Damn, I should’ve used that for my last review. You’ll know which one it is when it drops.

        • DrewMusic

          I don’t know that I could handle an emoji-embracing AMG. In the context presented here, like a one-off thing for emphasis, sure, but any more than that and I’d be Seriously Bummed Metal Guy.

    • Roquentin

      I dislike scores in general and I’d do away with them completely. Music/art cannot be quantified and should not be a competition. Still, I prefer word ratings because 3.0 and 3.5 feel like low scores whereas “good” and “very good” sound much better.

      • Zach Ward

        I think so as well, but when one review has a 3.5 then the next has a great I don’t really see the need to go back and forth with em.

      • HairyToeKnuckles

        I like number scores, because if the number is high, I know I should like it. If the number is low, I thumb my nose at it and don’t even sample it.

    • Hammersmith

      Just check the “tagged with” for the score when its the word rating. 4.5.

  • GardensTale

    Pure poetry as usual, Roq. The vocals take some getting used to for me but I love that riffing!

  • Akerblogger

    This is such an incredibly fluid journey that manages to melt and re-sculpt so many diverse sounds. A sense of cohesion from the first minute to the last is so so important. It’s one of those albums that will just keep dropping little crumbs of fresh tastiness listen after listen. 5.0/5.0 review as always.

    • Nag Dammit

      Agreed. I think the proggier / atmospheric / post elements are stronger than the death bits but I’ll cut the band some slack because experimenting like this with music is precisely what I’d want to be doing if I had any skill to talk of.

      Love the trance of death three parter at the end. Kind of like if Hammers of Misfortune had a baby with Neurosis.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    So many great releases. I’m still digesting Wormwood, and then this comes along.

  • I think it’s safe to say that these guys released the best death metal album of the year and among the best in this fucking decade. Unreal stuff.

  • Ein Sophistry

    I can’t keep up with all this goodness.

  • sir_c

    The album cover excellently describes the package contents, unlike Lunar Shadow’s to name an example.
    When mid-tempo death metal hits, it hits hard between the eyes. Just the embedded track is all the proof you need. I love it when there’s a lot going on in the song’s background which only emerges on a second listen. Very well done, unlike my steak.

  • Reese Burns

    Cover art reminds me of Neurosis, same artist?

    • Timo Ketola, aka Davthvs, aka Ketoladog.
      Has done a shitload of good artwork, but no Neurosis as far as I can tell.

      • Reese Burns

        Thanks. It looks a lot like their latest album’s cover though, tothe point where I thought there had been some sorta mistake, haha

  • sjforr

    Ok I need to check this out asap, obviously. Thanks for the tip.

  • El_Cuervo

    I love the more psych-y bits but am not sold on the DM yet… will give it some more time.

  • The Riffs have been delivered, and he saw that they were good.

    Could anyone help me identify the sound starting around 4:23? I guess it’s a guitar solo running through some effect which makes it sound like a group of posessed people screaming madly in an abyss… It’s crazy, scary and amazing and I want it.

    • manimal

      If I had to recreate it, I’d start out with a guitar with a tremolo bar (to shift the entire guitar’s tuning) and a set o’ light strings (for easily bending single notes). Processing-wise, a delay (a reverse delay would be my first guess, since in moderate amounts it kills those pesky transients and smooths over the sound in a violin-like way) hitting the front-end of the amp (as opposed to the FX loop), and then, of course, a reverb with a massive tail. Set the reverb to 100% wet. There is no (or maybe just very little) dry signal mixed in there.

      Any combination of the above would give you ballpark. The microtonalities of the bending / tremolo and the huge-sounding space would of course be the main ingredients.

      You could also of course move the delay to the FX loop and then stomp the crap out of it with a compressor, but personally I hate compressing string instruments.

      Failing this, I’d opt for recording a group of possessed people screaming madly in an abyss.

      • Name’s Dalton

        Yeah. What he said.

      • Give this man some prize, please.
        1000x thanks for enlightenment. I have fixed bridge only, but I’ll definitely have some fun with your ideas for using delay – it’s very inspiring.
        I guess you are skilled engineer and you should comment more often.

        • manimal

          :thumbsup:

          The fixed bridge is not an end-all. Just use either much lighter strings, or downtune your current strings lower, so that the tension is low, but can still at least produce a note without the intonation having gone to complete shit. You’ll find the strings to easily bend, which is what you want.

          For the delay… If you run a digital-only setup (guitar into pc interface), I’d recommend Variety of Sound’s Nasty DL-II, which can do many different flavours of delay, both crazy and tasteful. It’s free, and it’s awesome. TSE, Ignite… all of these dudes have incredibly high-quality pre-and poweramp sims for guitar. You’d of course also need a cab model. Voxengo Boogex (Free) is the standard, has a single (bad) sm57 speaker sim, which you can change out for any of the professional-grade cab impulses lying around the internet.

          KJerhaus has a free reverb VST, which I hear great things about. I don’t use it, I use Nebula’s reverb’s instead.

          so, your signal chain, assuming you only have a guitar and a pc interface:

          guitar -> pc interface -> delay plugin -> preamp plugin (TSE or Ignite’s stuff) -> poweramp plug (TP-1 from Ignite is good) -> Voxengo boogex with cab impulse loaded -> some reverb VST.

          Have fun!

          • I’ve never heard of the Variety of Sound, kudos for the guy for making all of his work available for free. Unfortunately these plugins aren’t compatibile with OSX… but I guess that even my cheap POD Farm simulations will do the job eventually. I already spend probably hundreds of hours combining amps, cabs, effects and all the stuff, tweaking knobs etc., but somehow it never occured to me that delay could be the first element in the signal chain:)

          • manimal

            The SINGLE biggest component in your virtual signal chain you can easily and quickly change for a drastic improvement in tone across the board would be to throw out the Line6 cab simulation and replace it with IR cabs. Find an IR loader (there are dozens out there, probably a few written specifically for use in OSX) and get yourself some decent impulses. A well-made impulse pack is cheap (maybe $5 to $20), but you’d gain some perspective on how hellishly crap Line6 cabs really are.

            I recommend either Rosen Digital or Ownhammer’s IR cab sims. RedWirez are also good, but people struggle to fit them into the mix without a decent power amp simulator.

            Another thing that might also really help you (especially for this particular tone) is that many IR libraries have room microphone captures. You can treat the cab sim like a reverb then. Tremendous. You’d be amazed! No lies. Just remember to shitcan the Line6 cabs completely.

            Then, the VST wrapper tech for OSX is reasonably mature by now. I think you’d be able to run VSTs in OSX relatively painlessly, so search around. Google would know.

            Messing around with POD farm will probably get you ballpark eventually, but I won’t lie to you – nothing Line6-related improved much since I first investigated their tech in the early 2000s. Their cab sim tech is the worst – it’s the same, tired tech of 15 years ago and I’m paying it a compliment by labelling it the winking anus of evil.

            I hope this helps man. Good luck with your journey.

    • [not a Dr]

      If I had to recreate it, I’d send them an email worded like your comment. Maybe including manimal’s analysis (to “show” that I “know” what I’m talking about and that I “did” some “research” before asking).

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        No, no, no… that wouldn’t work. Just send an e-mail saying “that part starting around 4:23 is FUCKING AWESOME! How did you guys do it?”
        ;)

        • [not a Dr]

          THAT wouldn’t work. If I was being asked like that, I would answer: “With my wits, and my looks…”

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Yeah, but not everyone has your wits and your looks!

  • Gaëtan Baratin

    I love walking on a review about a band I know nothing about to find a 4.5 at the end. Too many things to listen to, but this will be on the list.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    The embedded track has won me over!

  • Eli Valcik

    I can get down with this.

  • Thatguy

    Lone cello…fluttering piano…

    I think you wrote this review especially to stop me reading, but I read on regardless and I’m glad I did. Sounds great.

    • [not a Dr]

      Next time, talk about the otherworldly theremin.

      • Thatguy

        Maybe the theremin IS metal. It is certainly the sound you’d hear in hel.

  • contenderizer

    Wow, the surprising first two and a half minutes are a perfect archetype of…something, I can’t remember what. Great album, though. Love the balance between brutality, imagination & melody. AotM?

  • Josh

    Bravo. Your reviews are incredible!

  • Melted my face first time I listened to this.

  • Roquentin

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone.

  • Treble Yell

    Curse you, Roquetin and your beautiful prose. I’m now poorer because of you.

  • Excentric_13073

    2017: Revenge of the Orb. Love it.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Kudos to you Roquentin for name dropping Coroner.

  • Mr T

    I’m reminded of Morbus Chron at first. I like it. Great find!

    • Mr T

      This could be album of the year.

    • Same

  • Ta2dlam

    Um…Holy shit this is fucking good! That slow dirge at 5:20 just shudders all the way through my core. That’s my official one track review.

  • herrschobel

    oh boy…that is some Guitar work…meandering is the word i was looking for…like a black oily stinking lovercaftian Wurm….you never know where it´s going next…musicianship on a very high Level … great overall tone … from Bavaria…who would have thought…those lovely Forests incubate some hellish Monsters it seems … this i will explore !

  • basenjibrian

    This is a wow album. I am digging the fluidity of it, the variation within the songs, yet how everything holds together.
    Curse you AMG!
    Jeez. I typed all this, and then looked right below my post and saw Akerblogger said almost the same thing more eloquently.

  • Eli Valcik

    What? A death metal album in my #1 spot for ROTY. This hasn’t happened in awhile.

  • David Christian Dalton

    I’ve been listening to this for a week. Absolutely wonderful. Upon first listen I thought, “This sure isn’t as immediate or catchy as I’d hoped it would be, based on “Cold Threat.” Hmmm…”

    But it drew me back in and after the third or fourth listen, I was stone-cold sold. It IS a grower of an album, so some amount of time investment is required, but then it blossoms like an “Ever-Opening Flower.”

    I think the Tribulation/Morbus Chron comparisons are pretty tentative at best, especially the ones I’ve read that mean it as damning criticism. I think that’s about like saying that Mercyful Fate, Queensryche and Iron Maiden all “sounded the same” back in 1984. Goofy opinions.

    Highly recommended for anyone into “Mardraum/Monumension/Below the Lights”-era Enslaved.

    I just love it!

    • Roquentin

      As far as I’m concerned, they’re doing their own thing. There are bits and pieces similar to stuff that other bands do – which is to be expected since metal has a somewhat limited vocabulary – but as a whole I find it pretty unique.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Thought I’d come back and say this is the best album released this year so far.