Sometimes you just want a death metal record. No problem—I have hundreds of hours of the things stashed away for this very emergency. It gets tricky when you just want a death metal album you haven’t heard before. They’re not hard to find. The problem you now have is one of option paralysis; there are literally too many death metal albums to know where to start. Do you just pick one at random? Do you poll a bunch of snobbish pedants to figure out which ones are the best use of your time? More questions arise. Sure, you just want bread and butter death metal, but do you want a really nasty one or maybe something a bit less confrontational? What if you don’t want to deal with any of the details? You want death metal, you want it now, you want it to be of acceptable quality, and you have no interest in following any stylistic trends or historical sound. Boy do I have a present for you.
Only Death Can Save You is an opaque, colorless sphere of uniform density and temperature predictably radiating death metal into the surrounding vacuum. It is centered at (0,0) in an unmoving reference plane and has a radius of 1. The Beheaded firm manufactured this widget at the lowest cost possible and priced it at the optimal point on its demand curve to create the highest value for shareholders, providing them with utils. It defies scrutiny not because it conceals its attributes but because it does not possess such things. Beheaded have created a platonic object which utterly rejects features. This is a death metal album. End of story.
None of this is to say Only Death or Beheaded are subpar or offensive in some way. The band’s consummate dedication to only the purest expression of death metal is almost unnerving. Each song is somehow completely faceless without sounding painfully generic; each riff sounds like a hundred others. Somehow the band don’t seem to know it at all and still go at it as if this really was an inspired and exciting album instead of just an album.
Even the production is right on the mark. It’s loud, but the instruments all sound good and since Beheaded aren’t trying to melt your brain with any flashy tricks, the mix sounds pretty clear and it’s easy to track everything but the bass through each song. You wanted a death metal album, you got it.
If there is one remarkable thing about Only Death—other than it’s steadfast efforts to deny itself such a mark—its the band’s use of the word “Papist” in the song “The Papist Devil.” If there’s anything I can really get behind here, it’s inconceivably dated pejoratives. How do they use said 16th-century sick burn in the song? I wouldn’t know. It’s death metal.
At this point I dare say it should be pretty clear that only people who like Beheaded’s style—or lack thereof—will get something substantial out of Only Death Can Save You. I don’t know if such people exist, but if they do, I’m happy for them. Though I have no interest in the album, I have to commend Beheaded’s impeccable professionalism—both this album and their last outing Beast Incarnate are hard to fault despite being equally hard to pay attention to. Beheaded are true to the death metal formula and steer clear of risk and nuance. This is great if a particularly unimaginative friend asks you “what does death metal sound like?” and you need the most middle-of-the-road example possible that isn’t shit. But the band’s water-winged, knee-padded approach to the genre isn’t something I want to encourage.