If being wrong about things ranks amongst your favorite hobbies, you probably answer the question of “which country has the overall best death metal scene?” with something other than “Finland.” Even with the dual advents of globalization and the internet, I haven’t heard a satisfactory emulation of the Finn-death sound even on a surface level as we see with once-local sounds like Swe-death, Norwegian second wave black metal, and Gothenburg melo-death, to name an obvious few. Cult of Endtime are a Finnish death metal band, and true to form, I can’t imagine the music on their debut full-length In Charnel Lights originating anywhere else.
To draw contemporary parallels, Cult of Endtime’s sound sits somewhere between the hugely melodic death-doom of Hooded Menace and visceral riff-fest of Vainaja. It’s a bit more death metal oriented than the former and uses a few more melodic leads than the latter, advertising a love for Abhorrence and Convulse in appropriating their “Incantation-but-not” style of riffing and tempo variations merged with what sometimes comes across as a more doom-oriented take on Demigod’s style. In Charnel Lights walks the treacherous tightrope between heavy and melodic as Finnish death metal bands are wont to do, and this high-wire act makes for an interesting forty-three minutes of metal that at the very least shows some real promise in Cult of Endtime’s future. As for the present, I’ve enjoyed it but there’s definitely room for improvement.
Opening assault “A Vast Cosmic Horror” gives a good idea of what musical direction Cult of Endtime are travelling in, and the choice to disorientate the listener immediately with the album’s most frenetic riffing and blast beats only to quickly and effectively segue into some very World Without God-like slithering riffage makes both parts hit like a ton of bricks. Similarities to Hooded Menace are readily apparent, as there’s a liberal dose of death n’ roll added by way of contorting the Cathedral and Candlemass style of groovy doom riffs and running them through the Finnish death filter, albeit in a less glaringly obvious way than the underrated Reflections and without the pseudo-clean vocals Convulse employed there. “Hidden Gods” takes this aspect of the band’s sound to the extreme and has a nearly bluesy death n’ roll section replete with a nice slow lead, and it manages to both fit the album’s aesthetic comfortably and be fairly enjoyable too. Faring better is the more straightforward riff showcase of “Funeral Voyagers” where the band takes the oppressive death-doom Vainaja excelled at and gives it more groove, and I hope they pursue this inclination further in the future.
With promise comes growing pains, and unsurprisingly, In Charnel Lights exhibits these as well. Taken on its own “Prognatus Di Sigillum” isn’t terrible, but sandwiched between energetic lead single “Cairns of Mercury” and the crushing, varied death-doom of “The Colossus Fell” its structure and riffs stand out as noticeably lesser material and things are further exacerbated by the forty-five seconds of ambient filler on the end, making it the most skippable track here. “Gnostic Haeresis” is fine if not bland while it’s on but forgettable afterwards.
In Charnel Lights is a sledgehammer to the skull in its sound, with Sami Ratilainen’s drums being particularly noteworthy. His intelligent and varied cymbal work is clearly enunciated above the walloping thump of kick drums, powerful toms, and a very natural sounding snare. Ohto Jaatinen and Janne Roiha’s guitars have a thick and tastefully murky tone that allows the myriad heavy riffs to pulverize as intended, and Mikko Kytosaho’s bass is distorted and percussive, further adding to the overall heavy sound of the record. Heikki Mietinnen’s charismatic growls and screams find a nice place in the mix, and a combination of smart phrasing and the early Akerfeldt-isms of his voice work well within Cult of Endtime’s material.
In Charnel Lights provides hope and promise for an incredibly bright future for Cult of Endtime and a good set of tunes for the present. They’re not challenging Desecresy for the title of best contemporary Finnish death metal band (full disclosure: Chasmic Transcendence would’ve caused some rearranging of my Top Ten last year if I got my copy before the final days of 2014), nor is this as good as Vainaja’s debut. I’ll be back to it sporadically throughout the year and I’m looking forward to when the creative spark In Charnel Lights displayed ignites and becomes an inferno of great Finnish death metal.