It is easy to underestimate Denmark’s contribution to death metal, especially in the face of America and Sweden. But from early days of infancy, through trembling years of youth, long murky middle-age and final hours long in the tooth. Denmark is the hundred names of terror, creature you love the least. Now picture its name before you and exorcise the BAEST. Less than twelve months since their vicious debut Danse Macabre, BAEST have returned with yet another helping of slick Scandinavian savagery. Whenever a band follows an album quite so quickly it’s always cause for slight concern. Perhaps tellingly, Venenum doesn’t really stray from the debut’s template. Stylistically, it is a perfectly analogous sequel in almost every way. But when fellow Dane Hans Christian Andersen said “Death walks faster than the wind and never returns what he has taken,” he was not fucking about.
BAEST were amongst my favorites in the great death metal flood of 2018. Their take on the traditional HM-2 inferno breaks no new boundaries but is effortlessly rich. Instead of following in the feral footsteps of certain skinfathers of old, the Danes eschew an abrupt flaying in favor of depth, placing a premium on superior songwriting. As all good openings should, the first three tracks act as a microcosm of the album. “Vitriol Lament” and “Gula” provide careening riffs and mid-paced crunch respectively. The latter entertains with a taught and effortlessly addictive gallop. These moments are BAEST‘s stock in trade; an ability to galvanize typical form with a bulletproof lustre. “Nihil” is my favorite of Venenum‘s crippling collection. MENA melodies solicit enough combinations of menace and memorability to unravel a sadistic riff-serpent. The song immediately coils around the attention span and engages with the insistent threat of fangs. Instead, it mesmerizes with an indulgent solo and deliberately constricts, never once breaking eye-contact.
Such is BAEST‘s Fathomless Mastery of the genre that a familiar Bloodbath begins to pool. That album – already a stylistic tribute to death lords of old – has clearly influenced the band greatly. Vocalist Simon Olsen’s timbre and delivery are enviable. He manages to thunder each exaltation with a clarity that never sacrifices violence in the face of coherence. His phrasing and vocal lines are just as effective, but they are often identical to Akerfeldt’s. Both the riffs and vocal patterns on “Heresy” are directly ripped from the likes of “Iesous” and “Mock the Cross.” 1 It’s hard to levy this as a criticism but, when the similarities are so strict, it serves as an unfortunate reminder of the genre’s homogeneous habits. “Sodomized” is a potent Swedeath flesh grinder, but it falls too late in the record to deviate from the mid-pace the album eventually leans on. Similarly, readers of mine will know how I feel about brief instrumental interludes. Either bolt them on to a full song or burn them. Sadly,”Styx” arrives guilty as charged.
That all my complaints are cosmetic is to the band’s credit. BAEST rarely drop the ball, and even when they do it’s a minor suspension. Although the guitar tone revs that familiar buzzsaw, the leads are a little more intricate. The material doesn’t call for overt technicality, but Lasse Revsbech and Svend Karlsson litter the album with plenty of personality. It’s almost impossible to redesign such well trodden tropes and the band certainly don’t try. They do, however, exhibit a masterful grasp of them. “Nihil” exaggerates its minor melodies beyond their natural conclusion while the hook in “As Above So Below” accelerates at the song’s last. These moments represent inherently creative musicianship, a quality that also extends to the soloing. Something I’d like to see a little more of on the next album.
Venenum‘s exuberance can’t quite match the debut’s but, qualitatively, it’s a marked improvement. If, like me, you have an unnatural predilection for this kind of death metal, then BAEST come highly recommended. If you become involuntarily nauseous at the thought of yet another flourish of d-beats… then you should be ashamed. You should also afford Venenum the opportunity to change your mind. In a HM-2 landscape that sees supergroups like Bloodbath bleaching in the light of former glories, then perhaps it’s time to pick a new poison. Willingly invite this Danish toxin into your veins and allow it to wreak its hateful havoc. Its ethic may be inescapably familiar, but its efficacy is undeniable.