I’ve been meaning to check out Deinonychus for one simple reason: I fucking love dinosaurs. Fellow dino nerds will know that Deinonychus was a fearsome predator of the early Cretaceous period, closely related to the infamous Velociraptor and with a name that means “terrible claw.” It’s a badass band name, and though this Dutch trio doesn’t sing about slicing open unsuspecting sauropods, their music is no less compelling. Formed in 1992 by band mastermind Marco Kehren, the group have drawn parallels to the “dark metal” of Germany’s Bethlehem, of which Kehren is a former member. Like them, Deinonychus combine black, gothic, and doom metal into a miasmic stew that’s both depressing and intoxicating. It’s been ten years since the band’s last album Warfare Machines, during which time Kehren focused on his industrial ambient project Nihil Novi Sub Sole before deciding to reactivate Deinonychus with drummer Steve Wolz (ex-Bethlehem, Imperia) and keyboardist Markus Stock (Empyrium, The Vision Bleak). With eighth full-length Ode to Acts of Murder, Dystopia, and Suicide, will Kohren prove his claws are just as sharp as they were a decade ago?
He certainly did for me. Ode begins in media res with “Life Taker,” breaking in immediately with the surging, despair-ridden guitars that will soon serve as the record’s bedrock. Yet here, these downcast chords only persist for about 90 seconds before the band delivers an extended pause, after which they explode into an agonizing melodic riff that evokes feelings of standing on a cliff and contemplating your own demise. Ending with a somber piano outro, it makes for a powerful and dramatic opener that sounds like a combination of Xasthur and Katatonia’s Dance of December Souls. The Souls comparison is furthered by Kehren’s strained croak, whose anguish and desperation recalls Jonas Renkse’s larynx-destroying performance on that same record. Combined with the occasional pained whimper and garbled shriek, Kehren fits the subject matter perfectly by sounding like a man being utterly crushed by the burden of existence.
As might be expected given the album title, the musical similarities to depressive black metal are obvious. Yet as heard with the cleanly-picked-turned-torture-doom guitars of “Dead Horse,” Deinonychus’s songwriting is eons beyond your average woe-is-me bedroom act. Ode’s songs actually build and progress, and Wolz also makes things dynamic by fluidly moving between trudging doom beats, stomping mid-tempos, and hammering blasts. Early highlight “For This I Silence You” and aforementioned “Horse” even work in some immense chugs which add an unexpected yet exciting twist to things. Likewise, Stock embellishes Kehren’s mournful riffs with occasional piano, organ, and layers of monk-like choirs, resulting in a tortured gothic atmosphere that reminds me a bit of a less noisy Gnaw Their Tongues.
Deinonychus also avoid the common bedroom pitfall of shitty production by featuring a clear, layered mix that doesn’t reduce everything to a buzzy mess. The guitars are powerful and searing, the drums have a nice pop, and the keyboard flourishes aren’t overbearing. Sadly this same production is a tad loud and saps some of Ode’s otherwise compelling atmosphere. Additionally, while “Buried Under The Frangipanis” features a great dreary melody in its midsection, this proves to be the exception rather than the rule. Most of these tracks instead thrive on surging chords, and while Kehren does a great job twisting some treacherous character into them, a few more salient melodies or leads would have complemented the riffs well and really put this album a step above.
Fortunately, Ode is the perfect length of 8 tracks and 46 minutes, and Kehren isn’t afraid to add variety in other ways. Take “Dusk,” whose main riff sounds like a suicidal version of Agalloch, before that idea is discarded in favor of a brief blackened crust attack that sounds like Young and in the Way have entered the house. Likewise closer “Silhouette” stands out by somehow sounding more emotional and dramatic than anything else here, even without messing with the formula or adding new elements. In the end, the bottom line is clear: Deinonychus have produced something truly captivating, returning with a record that’s sure to please fans of Bethlehem, Forgotten Tomb, and anyone else willing to take a trip into a world where doom and black metal collide to eclipse all forms of hope. It’s dark, it’s memorable, and it certainly didn’t disappoint someone who was just here for the dinosaurs.