Death metal, in all of its fevered furor, tests us with many of life’s most potent questions. Spanning such pleas as “why, David Vincent, why?” to simply “why did Chuck never change his surname to Skulldiner?” Whatever the line of inquiry, we can all agree that one question remains more pressing than all others combined. What happens when the Cannibal Corpse itself is cannibalized, its putrid properties mingled and made stock for only the most sadistic of stews? Such death-ception demands to be acknowledged and Australia’s very own Depravity have the answer — debut, Evil Upheaval. Plowing grooves deeper than the ocean’s trenches, these demons from down under know that to rip one must first riff, and do so with a ferocity to flay the nonbelievers. Put bluntly, these guys fucked me up.
What Depravity know, riffing aside, is how to write extremely entertaining death metal, infused with that je ne sais quoi that holds my attention beyond the relentless chuggery of lesser bands. Evil Upheaval‘s signature is most certainly modified by the demolishing rhythmic patterns of Cannibal Corpse — sometimes overtly so — but never to the detriment of the material. Instead of resting their laurels on a comfortable Blood Red Throne, Depravity balance the more obvious cadaver control with a span a little more sweeping in scope. While blunt brutality is categorically the goal, the band knowingly lace each beating with an ominous portent of their own baleful brew.
After a long day at work, I enjoy nothing more than being un-made on a molecular level by a series of unstoppable juggeriffs. Now, with that in mind, if you need me to explain why a song called “Manic Onslaught” is great, then you’re on the wrong website. Huge verses that minutely mutate into more aberrant versions of themselves comprise the skeletal structure of the band’s material, animated with a twisted soft tissue. The riffs are designed to crush, but they do so with an understated technicality, evident in the challenging transitions that rest on the half-beats of drummer, Louis Rando (Impiety, Bloodlust, Mhorgl). Inevitably, some of the songs color a little too closely inside the lines, but they’re uniformly good. “Repugnant” is one of the album’s most obviously influenced, bolstered by a propulsive bounding rhythm, and while its general themes appear more than once, only my neck was sorry to hear them. Where Depravity excel, however, is in the record’s darker depths. Album centerpiece, “The Great Divide,” lives up to its title and offers a welcome extra dimension, allowing guitarists, Lynton Cessford and Jarrod Curley, to dally a little longer with certain blackened nuances, where foreboding chords give way to blasting tremolos as averse to the usual staccato wreckage.
Aside from the obvious, Evil Upheaval insistently reminded me of another influence that I couldn’t quite place, until “Tormented” rumbled into life, with a sinister driving rhythm. Ironically, Monstrosity — particularly the grossly underrated In Dark Purity — also seems to be a favorite of these Australians, with some songs accentuated with a similar dramatic phrasing. Closer, “Vile Defloration” quickly builds to a crescendo until dropping a ton of measured riffing. It’s on these tracks that vocalist, Jamie Kay, whose gutturals orbit a Corpsegrinder/Frank Mullen radius, manages a little more diversity, making an effort to retch out a higher-register scream. His vocal lines match the inherent memorability of the songs well, particularly on the title track with its instantly catchy chorus. Unfortunately, bassist, Ainsley Watkins, is afforded no such room inside the mix and can barely be heard at all. A real shame, as an enhanced low-end would have riven the already dense guitar tone and perhaps elevated the album to certain upper echelons.
Depravity aren’t a band content to merely wear their influences on their sleeves, willing instead to carve them into their livid flesh. Evil Upheaval is a very clearly informed record and, as such, originality is not an attainable peak atop this rotten mound of sound. However, if we quantified death metal by its unique qualities only, we’d be left with barely a handful of releases to muse upon. In reality, this is an album energized with the animal animus to shatter my bones at the merest hint of a play-through, and that’s all I really want death metal to do — I want it to fucking hurt. Depravity, in name and nature, are happy to indulge, one riff at a time.