Altered Dead – Returned to Life Review

After the overwhelmingly putrid scent of sweet death delighted the senses of genre enthusiasts in 2020, can death metal in 2021 piggyback off the momentum of a banner year for the genre and keep the brutality rolling in 2021 with similar levels of quality? Canada’s Altered Dead¬†throw their bones in the ring of death on the follow-up to their self-titled debut from back in 2016. Returned to Life finds the duo reveling in their old school, Swedeath inspired sickness with feverish glee, hacksawing through flesh and bone on 10 explosive tracks that pull no punches. After the barnstorming year o’ death in 2020, can Altered Dead unleash an album capable of matching it with the cream of the crop to come in 2021?

Originality is difficult to acquire in the flooded death metal scene, but the better bands excel by stitching a fresh slab of flesh onto familiar influences, avoiding the stale traits of derivative worship. Altered Dead¬†are not set about reinventing the wheel, yet possess the tools to stand out from the pack. The tools in question consist of a gnarled collection of blunt force weapons and crude sharps, designed to club skulls and cleave through sternum bones. Following the ominous, atmospheric tones of the intro, opener “Mental Suicide” lurches through its doomy crawl into a fist pumping headbanger, complete with crunchy, buzzsaw riffs, and a punishing, uncomplicated display of muscular, filthy death. Swedish influences flow through Altered Dead‘s veins, particularly Grave, while the doomier lurches, impacting with satisfying menace, bring Autopsy to mind. It’s a murky, winning combination, bolstered by Altered Dead‘s own stamp of identity and fresh writing chops.

There is a lot to be said for playing to your strengths and within your own limitations. These simple elements allow Altered Dead to mostly thrive with a formula that revels in its more simplistic, barbaric approach. While never quite reaching brutal death realms, Altered Dead get down and dirty with an unrefined, raw charm and oodles of genuinely heavy riffs, blunt force blasts, and occasional forays into darker, almost blackened death territory. “Prosodemic Realms” for instance kicks it up a few notches, spending its early throes assaulting the senses with unhinged, guttural and violent abandon. The songwriting dynamics shine in all their fetid glory, ensuring the flow of the album never strays into monotony. For instance, d-beaten, riff-ready brawlers such as “Thawing in Agony” and “Rotting Outwards” crank aggression and mix up riffs and tempo skillfully, demonstrating a punkish flair.

Perfectly placed mid-album cut, “Empostomb” showcases Altered Dead‘s appreciation of doom, wrapped in a funereal cocoon of suffocating death. Following a compellingly sluggish crawl, Altered Dead up the ante, hitting the afterburners through the song’s violent, swaggering back-half. The tune is an absolute monster amidst an album’s worth of solid quality. Returned to Life is hardly a game changer, yet abides by Altered Dead‘s straightforward motto, excelling through simple strengths, quality riffs, and no-frills charms. The future looks bright for the duo, and if they continue down this rotted pathway of Swedeath worship, spiked with elements of blackened death, doom, and dashes of grind, something special may emerge from the bog on future efforts. A few songs rise above the generally strong standard, but aside from the unnecessarily prolonged noise effects leading into a closing, supercharged cover of Celtic Frost‘s “Into the Crypts of Rays,” the material remains tight and on point. If I were to nitpick, more of the doom-laden elements would have been welcome, and the mastering could stand to be a little more dynamic, though the guitar tone absolutely crushes.

Following a massive 2021 for the genre, Altered Dead dish up a welcome platter in the often subpar January release schedule. Time will tell if the staying power keeps me clambering back longer term, but I have certainly enjoyed my time with Returned to Life, and listening sessions have been far from a chore. While not quite a knock your socks off album, Altered Dead have nevertheless delivered an accomplished slab of ugly, doomy, slightly blackened old school death that is an easy recommendation for death fiends.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Memento Mori
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 25th, 2021

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