I first heard Finnish death metallers Deathchain nearly a decade ago, when a friend introduced me to what he described as “just crazy fast-ass death metal” (I’m paraphrasing here). His statement was accurate — at the time, the band’s style was straightforward and riff-driven, played at lightning speed with a heavy dose of thrash influence. Despite liking it a lot, I failed to keep up with the band’s progress over the years. Turns out this is a huge error on my part, since Deathchain has apparently evolved into a dark, weird death metal beast while I wasn’t paying attention. Their new record, aptly titled Ritual Death Metal, got me up to date.
After a creepy piano intro sets the tone, “Steele ov the Vultures” vomits forth from the speakers like the goddamn second coming of Gateways-era Morbid Angel. Kick drums rumble in midtempo fashion beneath a massive circular riff. New-ish vocalist KJ Chaos bellows forth a couple of lines, just to make it clear that he isn’t fucking around. Less than 20 seconds into the track, a dissonant, abstract guitar solo blasts into your ears. “Seven Asakku Shadows” continues the assault in blast-tastic fashion, with vertigo-inducing guitar lines. This stuff is not for the weak.
As the album steamrolls on, the Morbid Angel comparison seems even more appropriate. Ritual Death Metal succeeds on the strength of massive, lumbering midtempo riffs and super-grim, almost-black metal blastbeat sections. The band wisely breaks up the wall-to-wall brutality with some nice atmospheric touches. The harmonized intro to “Like Worms Upon the Lands” is a fine example of this, as is the clean guitar at the opening of “Tiamat’s Eyes of Death.” In the hands of a lesser band, details like this would detract from the heaviness of the music. In the case of Deathchain, it just creates a sinister vibe that cannot be conjured by riffs alone.
It’s worth noting that of the seven actual “songs” on Ritual Death Metal, 4 of them are in the 6-7 minute range. I’m aware that the band is trying to create an atmosphere, but death metal can drag a bit when the songs are that long — especially when most of the epics are gathered together at the end of the album. Still, this is a minor grievance given the quality of the material here.
Metal music is a genre where bands are often afraid to evolve or take chances, and those changes are usually not for the best, when they do happen [See Cold Lake, St. Anger, Geoff Tate’s Queensryche et al —Steel Druhm]. It’s rare to see a band evolve in a positive direction like this, particularly in one of the more “extreme” subgenres of metal — and even more rare to see the transition pulled off convincingly. I’ll admit that I miss the more thrash-fueled moments of Deathchain‘s earlier career, but their current take on evil, sludgy old-school death metal is something I have no complaints about whatsoever. If you enjoy recent stuff by Septicflesh or even Behemoth, or you’re still trying to get the taste of Illud Divinum Insanus out of your mouth, then perhaps you need some Ritual Death Metal in your life.