The humble tomato. Once thought fatal to humans, this plump berry of controversial dietary properties has become ubiquitous in world cuisine, and just as it has spread, it has diversified. You can pick up a watery, underripe reddish spheroid at any supermarket in America and it will usually get the job done for a salad or sandwich, but it’s the freshly picked, heirloom varieties that really showcase the tomato’s potential, not only as a part of your diet but also as a metaphor—a metaphor for death metal, perhaps.1
Innumerable Forms are an heirloom variety. Pleated and plump, with green streaks and the occasional bug bite, they wouldn’t pass muster with the shadowy cabal of Big Tomato, but once you’ve picked some up from your local smug produce peddler, you’ll find they’re not too far removed from the standard issue: just fatter and meatier. Punishment in Flesh thrives on the deep rumble of guitars, the drama of each drumbeat, and the dragging pace of the path to execution. This is death-doom cooked into a steaming and redolent offering, and there’s plenty to go around. At just shy of forty minutes, the meal is filling but not so large that you’d rather leave some on the plate.
If doomy death metal is a staple of your menu, Punishment in Flesh will feel just like the stuff mom used to make. A dash of tremolo and double bass kicks here and there or an alien tapped lead cropping up from time to time breaks the oily surface and shows what Innumerable Forms are made of, but the croaks, the slow, power-chord heavy riffing, and the often sparse drumming are ever ready to subsume these anomalies again. “Re-Contaminated” has it all and still manages to get through everything in under six minutes—still the longest track on the album. The band may speak slowly, but they do so in short sentences, making Punishment in Flesh easy to grasp and preventing one from feeling lost in so much boiling and fragrant perdition. With such a reliance on standard death-doom techniques, it’s remarkable that the album retains consistency without dragging. B-side cuts like “Meaning” and especially the Incant-ed tremolo riffs and solo of “Stress Starvation” ramp up the tempo to traditional death metal speeds, doing wonders for the pace of the album.
Indeed, the varied tempos and concise songs of Punishment in Flesh are its greatest strengths. Even early on, “Petrified” spans nearly as many ideas as “Re-Contaminated” in less than half the time and serves to ignite listeners who might not be so excited about the slow-moving opener. The album certainly doesn’t put its most exciting material up front, and following the obligatory uselessness of intro “Intruders” with a title track that fails to showcase the album’s strengths did little to impress me. Yet once inaugurated into the ebb and flow of the constant changes in tempo and intensity, it’s hard to find fault with the rest of the album.
Few faults, but also few features to really excite me; such has been the story of death metal in 2018. While Punishment in Flesh is from any angle a good record and a laudable debut for the Innumerable Forms, it does little to distinguish itself from the glut of other old-school releases this year. The band play death-doom right on the money and I expect to hear more quality from them in the future, but, to return to the tomato analogy, this farmer’s market has had a bumper crop. Despite ripe and plump offerings abounding, I have heard very few death metal albums this year which truly stick out or demonstrate extraordinary quality. Punishment in Flesh is among them, an album that could easily stand on its own, but has the unlucky fate of being bunched in with the crowd.