Though I’ve never played any of the Metal Gear games, I’ve always been fascinated by their complex storylines of nanomachines, global conspiracies, and nuclear bipedal tanks. It got to the point that a few months ago I spent an entire weekend doing nothing but watching playthrough videos of the games on Youtube. It was a sad and lonely weekend, but it did lead me to discover the dual meaning of the term “Outer Heaven.” In the world of Metal Gear, Outer Heaven is a nation that serves as a sanctuary for disgruntled soldiers and other followers of Big Boss. In the world of metal music, Outer Heaven is a Pennsylvania death metal quintet who sound like every loogie you’ve ever hocked up coming to life and bursting out of your toilet while you’re taking a shit. After being floored by their “Into Hellfire” single earlier this year, I’m pleased to admit their Realms of Eternal Decay debut more than lives up to the strange and wonderful world of Metal Gear – even if the connection is in name only.
Formed in 2013, Outer Heaven actually feature former Rivers of Nihil member Jon Kunz on guitar, though the only river Heaven sound like is a river of sentient primordial ooze heading straight for your doorstep (interestingly enough, that’s more or less the concept of the album). The band are one of those promising modern death metal groups who stir together various influences to create something new, unique, and (most importantly) just fucking fun to listen to. Their blend of swampy tremolos, alien melodies, and burly stomping chords sounds something like a mix of Asphyx and Gateways-era Morbid Angel, with a bit of Demilich’s weirdness thrown in for good measure. Or, for a more modern comparison, imagine Gatecreeper crossed with Blood Incantation. Heaven aren’t sludgy so much as slimy, not brutal so much as brutish. They have great riffs and they’re plain fucking nasty.
Interestingly enough, the best part of Realms is actually the band’s sense of rhythm. Heaven often transform their twisted riffs into chuggier versions of themselves, a songwriting trick that grants opener “Vortex of Thought” a crushing midsection. Meanwhile “Echoes from Beyond” is built from an abusive chug that could have been cribbed from the last Harm’s Way record. This hardcore influence is slight but further apparent in some of the brawny chord progressions, not to mention the tight song lengths. These 10 tracks are squeezed into a 34 minute runtime, with each cut packed with seamless transitions and engaging ideas. Though things could be more hooky (if such a thing exists in Heaven’s foul universe), notable moments are still spread evenly throughout. See the doomy opening and marching beats of “Pulsating Swarm,” or the sickly twirling melody of late highlight “Putrid Dwellings.”
It’s all wrapped together in a suitably potent production. Things are at once clear and filthy, with thick resonant guitars and tremolos that sound as viscous as swamp muck. And remember when I said the best thing here were the rhythms? I lied. The best thing here is vocalist Austin Haines. The man sounds utterly inhuman, with roars that are bathed in reverb and more layered than those in Behemoth’s Demigod. It’s a rare case where cavernous vocals actually possess an incredible amount of force, all while further contributing to the dank and unearthly atmosphere created by the music. I don’t know how much is raw talent and how much is production magic, but regardless Haines’s vocals are still some of the best I’ve heard in recent years.
Realms is a nasty album. Yet for how ugly it is on the surface, it’s also amazingly catchy and enjoyable. Sure there’s room for improvement, namely in bolstering the memorability. But when it’s on, it’s fucking ON. In 1995 Morbid Angel wrote a song about “Where the Slime Live,” twenty-three years later Outer Heaven have given us an entire album about it. The result is one of the best death metal debuts of the year, delivered by one of the most promising new bands in the genre. Fans of Scorched and other juggernaut modern death metal acts are sure to love this, as is anyone with the slightest interest in heavy and disgusting music. Beyond everything, the band simply possess a certain inexplicable “it” factor that keeps me enthralled and coming back. Now if only they would give us a Metal Gear-themed album next time.