Take a close look at this album cover and you’re bound to notice that it looks exactly like every other goddam modern death metal band’s album cover. This is no coincidence, seeing as an impressive chunk of death metal releases over the past decade have all been painted up by one man: Pär Olofsson. The guy’s website is a bizarre who’s who of modern death metal covers stripped of their identifying characteristics, so that any metalhead worth keeping around can have fun rattling off artists and titles as the paintings scroll by. Ichor are his latest patrons, and, in continuance with modern death’s gore/symmetry fetish, he felt compelled to draw them some purple tentacles for Depths.
The previous paragraph was not an opening digression; rather, it serves as an allegory for an important facet of Depths, one which emerges early on in one’s descent into the album.
Good news: Depths is brutal enough. No one would dare suggest that this is not, in fact, death metal, or that it’s not heavy or worthy of a few jerks of the neck. The bad news is that that’s pretty much the only thing that there is to say about it. It’s not a disgrace of mindless repetition, nor is it a work of stunning complexity. It borrows from other bands – “Apophis” almost immediately nabs some arpeggios from Fleshgod Apocalypse, and the album is no stranger to The Faceless’ riffing style – but not extensively, and usually not obtrusively or even identifiably.
The first, and quite probably only, song to peek above the tides of the riff sea established by “Apophis” and “Ra`iroa” is “While Giants Sleep.” While it’s in many ways a standard mid-tempo song, its punishing rank-and file riffing and simple, warbling leads are strangely effective. Its endlessly repeated vocal line reaches out towards a strained-tortured hardcore shout, and is all the more memorable for it. For variety, “The Heretic King” showcases one of the album’s brief and generally pedestrian solos, and “Desire of the Depth” features a remarkably boring breakdown, made even less heavy by the fact that it’s written at the exact same tempo as the rest of the album.
While the aforementioned songs are all unremarkable in their own right, none are so blisteringly generic as “The Beasts Approach,” which runs through pretty standard deathcore stomp riffs, brief flashes of The Black Dahlia Murder and a few thrashy parts. The bass performance is pretty cool, from what you can hear of it, and in fact most of the song is mildly enjoyable, just entirely devoid of interest. It’s a microcosm of the record as a whole – there are good riffs to be had, paired with competent drumming and occasionally audible basslines, but you’d be damned to find anything clever or original in the entirety of Depths. Just as its cover would suggest, it’s running with the pack, right in the middle of a glut of other bands writing basically the same music with the occasional gimmick or two. Depths is nearly impossible to distinguish as the work of a specific band, and instead seems to have assembled itself from a collection of death metal stem cells shed by literally every comparable band on Unique Leader or Nuclear Blast. Highlights are absent, personal touch Waldos embedded in a field of barbershops.
Everything is executed exactly as it is expected to be; the riffs are heavy enough, the vocals brutal enough, the bass quiet enough to be almost absent, and the album has a quiet, creepy intro and a pretty piano outro. It continues the deep sea/occult theme established by their last album, Benthic Horizon, which I suppose sets them apart from the crowd, but the last time lyrical themes made someone buy a death metal album was probably 1995. The album, much like this year’s release by The Kennedy Veil, is by no means bad, but given the surprising amount of very good death metal that 2014 has to offer there’s not really any reason to listen to it. At the end of the day, the only thing I can really say to Ichor is: “You guys made a death metal record. Good job.”