Before I begin reviewing this old school death metal album, let me take a moment to destroy any credibility I might have on the subject — Iced Earth was the best metal band in Florida during the late ’80s and early ’90s1. There, that should do the trick! Let’s continue while I dodge your tomatoes and tune out your boos. While I’ve cherry-picked a handful of straight-up death metal albums that I enjoy over the years, the genre as a whole rarely clicks with me. Whether it’s due to the fact that I have what my mother calls a “tender spirit” (read: I’m a wimp) or the fact that I have a real life job that routinely exposes me to the horrors that can be inflicted upon the human body, the old school death metal lyrical and visual aesthetic has never really appealed to me. Thus, I was nervous to receive a promo that reveals that if the band had a smell, “it would reek of gasoline, urine, and blood.” Ew.
While Finnish band Letheria have been in existence for over 20 years, Death – Principle is actually their debut album. Fortunately for me, their brand of death metal skews towards the blasphemous rather than the grotesque. They score another win in my book by blending their death with enough black, thrash, doom, punk swagger and melodic sensibility to create a sound that never gets dull over the album’s 45 minutes. One of my usual critiques of death metal is the monotony and resulting fatigue that can all too easily develop absent sufficient variation. Letheria avoid this entirely by providing each song a character of its own while staying true to the overall sound. The vocals are a strength on Death – Principle and contribute to this sense of diversity. Vocalist and guitarist M. Pellinen uses growls, shrieks, thrash shouts, and spoken passages, as the band contributes gang shouts and ominous chants to expertly shift between moods and styles.
The album sounds great with guitars, bass and drums perfectly mixed and deftly played. There’s no shortage of riffs and hooks on this thing, and many of these songs have been bouncing around my head for days. An obvious standout is “Call the Horns,” which gives Necrophobic’s “Tsar Bomba” a run for its money for catchiest death/thrash song of the year,while “Malaria Magdalena” and “Rotting God” have their own bouncing thrash/punk vibe. Appropriately named “Death Hand Path” pays homage to Entombed and alternates between furious aggression, groove and doom to create another highlight. “Pestchrist” and “Fire Speaks” sound like they could have been on South of Heaven with their ominous mid-paced passages. Many bands might spin out of control by trying to incorporate so many sounds, but Letheria’s long incubation period has honed their ability to deviate from the norm while remaining true to their death-metal core.
There’s not a whole lot I’d change about Death – Principle. The payload might be rendered slightly more potent if one song were trimmed. “With Tears of Urine You Will Cry His Name” isn’t a bad song but doesn’t quite meet the standard set by the rest of the album, so it wouldn’t be sorely missed. Grammatically, some of the song titles leave me scratching my head, but I’m totally nitpicking at this point. Overall, the album flows well, sounds good and demands that I replay it when it’s done.
Death – Principle is blasphemous, varied and fun — exactly how I like my death metal. You can tell that Letheria have been around a while as they’ve created a debut full-length that displays excellent songcraft and a signature sound. Old school purists may be frustrated by the inclusion of so many styles, but it’s totally my bag, Baby. Color me pleasantly surprised — this mixture of gasoline, urine, and blood actually smells really good!2