I don’t know what it is about the Pacific Northwest that’s causing the citizens of that region of the U.S. of A. to pump out some rather phenomenal doom/death as of late. Perhaps it’s the perpetually rainy weather, but there’s certainly no shortage of slow, burbling, crawling-at-a-snail’s-pace death metal that rivals the greats from overseas. Portland’s Ossuarium turned quite a few heads with their 3-song demo, Calcified Trophies of Violence, and with their 20 Buck Spin debut, Living Tomb, they will no doubt turn even more.
After a short introduction, “Blaze of Bodies” rumbles forth with mid-paced double-bass, tremolo-picked-yet-murky riffs, and Daniel Kelley’s grizzly-like howls of anguish. Immediately, memories of peripherals being transcended begin flooding my mind and ears, as these young cats already grasped what made bands like diSEMBOWELMENT and Mournful Congregation so damn intriguing and addictive. Balance the fast with the ridiculously slow, add enough ambiance without dipping into hilarious levels of cringe, and know when to get the fuck out and move on to the next part (or song). In other words, Ossuarium pack more in the time span of five to seven minutes than most bands who pad their songs out to three, four, or even five times that length.
That’s not to say there aren’t any surprises up their sleeves, though. “Writhing in Emptiness” gives more than a subtle nod to Vainaja with their lurching-yet-commanding verses and rhythms, but even then they slow things down towards the middle with an atmospheric part that would fit in nicely with any Mournful Congregation song. Speaking of our favorite Aussies, standout track “Corrosive Hallucinations” ends with a woefully melodic dirge, thanks to the creative guitar interplay between Kelley and Nate McCleary, all following some heavy, rumbling mid-paced death metal that would put a smile on many an old-school doom fan’s face. Rarely is there a dull moment to be found on Living Tomb‘s seven proper tracks,1 and at this early in the band’s development, they’re already exhibiting strong songwriting (and riff-summoning) chops that will make them stand out among a growing sea of doom/death bands.
But a hurdle stands defiantly in their path. Simply put, the production leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the rhythm section. Ryan Kroger’s kit sounds muffled, which becomes readily apparent when his double-bass work sounds like he’s hitting wet cardboard at parts. Even worse, Jeff Roman’s bass doesn’t hit with any impact whatsoever. It’s there, you can hear it, but you definitely don’t feel it. In comparison, the guitars, while still muddied and dirty, fare a bit better, but I would kill to hear a heavier, fuller mix. Vainaja proved on Verenvalaja that there’s plenty of heft to be found on dynamically-produced doom/death. There really is no need to squash things down to beef up a sound, especially if it ends up muting key ingredients in your recipe.
Despite the production woes, Living Tomb impressed me with their hook-laden brand of doom/death. Much like their regional contemporaries in Hell and Bell Witch, Ossuarium stand poised to elevate the Pacific Northwest’s standing among the greats in glacially-paced death metal. With a better mix, they’ll definitely command even more of a presence, as their songwriting is already off to a strong start. Give them an album or two, and you’ll definitely hear their name mentioned along with the greats. As it stands, this is an incredible debut.