By the time you read this, Halloween 2016 is long gone. Oral surgeons have deposited their paychecks earned at the expense of children unfortunate enough to chomp down on razor blades, and your cranky olde neighbor is probably marching across the street right now to ask when the hell you’re getting that damned rotting jack o’ lantern off your porch. As I’m writing, however, the night of Halloween is still young, and I have an appropriately eerie soundtrack to accompany the festivities. Polish sextet Eternal Deformity has been spinning their wheels in the Polish underground across 23 years and 6 full-lengths, gaining plenty of experience with little notoriety to show for it. With their 2015 record No Way Out receiving an official release this year courtesy of Temple of Torturous, they may finally obtain some well-deserved recognition.
After dabbling in Amorphis worship for years, ED circa 2016 (an unfortunate acronym for an aging band) offers an instantly appealing fusion of black and gothic metal sounds. Don’t expect Cradle of Filth, though; rather, cross the nightmarish synths and symphonic black traits of Bishop of Hexen with the chunky riffs and horror atmosphere of The Vision Bleak, and you’ll have a rough idea of what to expect. No Way Out doesn’t feel in the least bit derivative of either band, as this is a group that has honed its sound across two decades with minimal roster shake-ups. The result is a supremely confident and unique sound, bristling with aggression and dripping with gothic flavorings. ED explores the limits of this sound with Borknagar-esque interjections of clean vocals and a pair of proggy, ten-minute epics to add a few extra shades of complexity. The final product, while not overly impressive on a technical level, feels like a fully realized vision and a totally complete (yet concise) package.
No Way Out is undoubtedly a well-crafted record, yet I hesitate to call it great because someone made the decision to crush the hell out of this thing in production. Yes, Eternal Deformity‘s sound is immediate and heavy on big, crunchy riffs, but there are also some interesting melodic layers at work in the keyboard and lead guitar departments. The rhythm section’s tones are so thunderous that these melodies, while totally audible, lose much of the impact they would have carried with a more thoughtful master (though the audible bass is a plus). A handful of weak songwriting decisions slightly tarnishes the overall experience as well, including some repetitious riffing on the album’s back-end and a baffling, wah-heavy solo that breaks the mood of “Reinvented,” an otherwise captivating track.
Despite its drawbacks, Eternal Deformity really sold me on No Way Out with the way they pepper their compositions with unexpected and intriguing wrinkles. While the band’s formula is effective, its relatively simple nature makes it a platform ripe for experimentation, and ED doesn’t fail to capitalize. There are loads of memorable moments that I look forward to with each listen, from the sci-fi B-movie synths of “Glacier” to the spacey, harmonized backing vocals of “Reinvented” (think modern Devin Townsend). The latter track does a fantastic job of establishing ED as a band proficient in forward-thinking songwriting; it develops its riffs throughout, the instruments waxing and waning in intensity before the song cycles back to its opening hook following the climax. Truthfully, every track here could be used as an example of proper progressive songwriting, but “Mothman” deserves recognition as the interlude of the year for its implementation of dulcimer, a beautiful and highly under-appreciated instrument.
The mastering here is really a shame, as it not only fatigues the ears but also lessens the effect of Eternal Deformity‘s melodic tendencies. Still, a recommendation of No Way Out is a no-brainer to any follower of gothic or symphonic black metal, regardless of the production. This is an engaging record from the first listen, and if you’re willing to give a bit more, you’ll find that its complex song structures and novel interjections grant it legs to grow. It sounds far fresher than you’d expect from a band with nearly a quarter-century of existence behind them, and I hope to see these guys clawing their way out from the underground in the years to come.