The mounting pressure that comes with the weight of expectation an artist faces after establishing success and credibility in the metal scene must be daunting. Some are probably content to roll with the punches and block out distractions, while others inevitably feel the pressure bearing down upon them. I’m not sure which camp Australia’s Disentomb falls into, but regardless, following up the acclaimed beast of riffy brutal death on their 2014 album Misery was always going to be a difficult assignment, especially with increased anticipation following an extended period between albums. The long awaited The Decaying Light was certainly high up on my shortlist of anticipated death metal albums in 2019. So with eager enthusiasm and trepidation, I dove headlong into the pummeling sounds of Disentomb‘s latest endeavor.
Right off the bat, I’ll confess The Decaying Light left me feeling slightly underwhelmed on initial listens. The songs and riffs didn’t hit me with the forceful and memorable immediacy of Misery and the more refined, polished delivery smoothed out some of the edgy tones and underground grit that made its predecessor such an endearing modern gem of brutal death. Gradually, the menacing melodies and seismic force began to make its presence known, revealing a band that has matured and refined their sound into a dense, technical, and pummeling machine, featuring a more measured and controlled handle of their bludgeoning tools. The addition of bassist Adrian Cappeletti brings an impressive layer to the Disentomb repertoire and his overall performance and showstopping basslines are constant standouts. Less gut-wrenching and more insidious in the way the songs seep into the brain, The Decaying Light is still a triumphant display of technically proficient yet pleasingly heavy death that employs a grinding, tank-like mode of destruction, relying more on measured brute force over hyper-speed intensity, though it’s not short on the blasting aggression or energized tempos either.
Although aesthetically they don’t share too many strong similarities, Disentomb‘s wily balance of brutality, technicality and mammoth grooves reminds me of the legendary Suffocation. While they may have a ways to go to be considered in the same class, Disentomb have the potential to create their own lasting legacy. At its best, The Decaying Light slays, and although the momentum doesn’t so much dip or stagnate, the stronger cuts tower over the pack, rendering the surrounding numbers in the solid to very good range. The dense, busy musicianship, bruising double bass, earth shattering grooves, and almost proggy flair of “Indecipherable Sermons of Gloom” cuts an imposing figure in the earlier exchanges. However, it’s a pair of later gems that feature some of Disentomb‘s finest work on the album. “Dismal Liturgies” and the absolutely crushing “Invocation in the Cathedral of Dust” are both massively heavy songs, defined by bending riffage, sinister atmosphere and a doomy undertow that recalls later-era Incantation.
Interesting rhythms, intricate coiling riffs, and excellent bass playing beef up carefully sculpted compositions, brooding with ominous atmosphere and leaving lots of elusive space for deeply focused listening sessions, revealing the layered depths beneath. The Decaying Light fits very much into the grower category and its lack of instantly memorable hooks can be off-putting initially. Patience is rewarded and while The Decaying Light has its flaws, the scales weigh much more heavily on the positive side. At 13 tracks, including some concise nuggets, such as the moody, bulldozing crush of “The Great Abandonment” and delicate closing tones of “Withering,” I can’t help but feel that tightening the album into an eight-to-ten track assault would have created a more punishing impact. Meanwhile, the guttural vocals of Jordan James are well calibrated to the music, but could use a touch of variation to mix things up.
Five years between albums has resulted in notable refinement and maturation of Disentomb‘s signature brutal death formula. And despite losing some of the immediacy and raw, edginess of their earlier material, The Decaying Light is a very good album with moments of greatness that feels like a necessary, adventurous and logical next step in Disentomb‘s quest for domination of the brutal death landscape.