Greek death metallers Ectoplasma may be new to the game, but the resolutely old-school Cavern of Foul Unbeings would never betray the fact. Their first LP since a 2016 debut, Cavern plunders all manner of late ’80s and early ’90’s death metal from Obituary to Death acquiring riffs and inspiration, complete with the B-movie samples and a noticeable absence of bass guitar. While this approach lands the band comfortably in the crosshairs of the genre, it rarely does much to impress. The road most traveled, to paraphrase Robert Frost, rarely makes for much of a difference.
If you’ve heard any death metal released before 1993, you won’t find much novelty on Cavern of Foul Unbeings. In part, that’s the point – this style has been around for a few decades, and Ectoplasma are only the umpteen-hundredth in the line of death metal bands who really prefer to take things back to the time before people started playing keyboard in death metal songs. The band’s very occasional hints at melody are purposefully stunted to reflect their primitive sensibilities – “Mortified and Despised” and “The Unspeakable One” cut semi-melodic riffs down to very simple proportions such that they never take over the basic structure of the songs. The songs themselves are well- executed as well. Hardly exciting, for the most part, but never confusing or superfluously structured.
Fifty minutes of old-school death metal from the masters of the art form is truly a treat; fifty minutes from Ectoplasma tends to drag a bit. I hesitate to single out songs for excision here, since the material is quite consistent in quality – the band walk a thin line and never depart form usual death metal tropes – but if pressed I’d suggest cutting the rather pointless intro track as well as “Entranced in Blood” which kicks the album off sounding more brutal than the LP turns out to be and sets the listener up for a bit of disappointment. Yet after the album’s somewhat misleading introduction, the band never again deviate from the expected.
Production-wise, Cavern sticks to the early ’90s sound with a slight increase in clarity and a focus on the low-end of the guitars. The bass is well-hidden, but the man slinging it happens to work double duty as Ectoplasma‘s vocalist, and his bellows sit right up front. While not a wide-ranging vocalist by any measure, his voice fits the middle-of-the-road style that the band have hashed out and his delivery is never lacking in conviction. The guitarists’ workmanlike performances keep Cavern grounded in meat-and-potatoes death metal riffing without the slightest hint of obtuse technicality or experimentation, without doubt, they’re serving the songs rather than their own ambitions. Occasional nods to Leprosy, Slowly We Rot, and similar cornerstone albums spice up the songs with a bit of familiarity, but Ectoplasma aren’t out to crib riffs from the greats – at least, not any memorable ones.
Cavern of Foul Unbeings will surely be welcomed by the sort of people who collect patches and have a passion for third-rate horror films. The issue is that those people are already in death metal bands themselves making music of a similar quality. The end result of the endeavors of these few are more subcultural artifacts than notable pieces of art – but that’s not to say albums like Cavern aren’t worthy of anyone’s time or respect. I have no doubt that Ectoplasma made exactly the kind of record that they wanted to hear, and it’s the collective efforts of artists submerged into these niche scenes that perpetuates art in between departures from the norm. So go ahead add Cavern of Foul Unbeings to the ledger of the hundred OSDM albums every year that get passed over, but when you do, take a moment to appreciate why it – and the rest of the ledger – exist in the first place.