Three chimes. That’s how much warning Phenelith afford before Desolate Endscape steamrolls you into fucking oblivion. “Heavy” doesn’t begin to cover the Copenhagen quartet’s skull-obliterating debut, an album which elevates death metal from a mere musical style to a tectonic force. How Phrenelith managed to capture this on tape is a complete mystery. How do four Danish guys roll out of bed, ride their terminally practical bikes through a light drizzle to a recording studio (I like to think the drummer strapped the entire kit into his bakfiets the night before), and then record something so unimaginably heavy?
The world may never know. But you can know, now, what Giles Corey asked the sheriff of Salem for1. Those three chimes in the beginning of “Conquering Divinity” usher in the heaviest, most unforgettable riff since the opener of The Charnel Passages. “Conquering Divinity” is no one-and-done flattening, either. Throughout the entire album, Phrenelith somehow summons the brimstone of Incantation and the bellow of Wormed all while piloting the musical equivalent of a strip-mine dump truck, a hideous vehicle purpose-built to move the Earth itself. Right after “Conquering Divinity” retreats like a glacier, “Deluge of Ashes” plows in like Bolt Thrower with sepsis, wielding a riff that stands eye-to-eye with its predecessor.
Phrenelith‘s policy is not of mere scorched earth, but of immolated, beaten, and poisoned ground. Desolate Endscape covers thousands of acres, its ploughshare dragging tumult callously behind. Not a second of destruction is lost. Even when the title track takes stock of the task so far, the acoustic guitar looks over the plains with pride in their pestilence. As the album scrapes forward a certain sense of accomplishment develops as the land yet to be conquered dwindles. “Dysmorphosis” locates and razes the final patch with impunity, clearing the stage for the album’s final atrocity.
Every piece of Desolate Endscape resonates with the same purpose and putrescence. The songwriting is exemplary, the performances perfectly balanced, and the production impeccable. This album sounds exactly as it should. Witness: a gruesome pit of brutal old school death metal, guitar tone thicker than the Earth’s mantle, murky bellows singing an indecipherable accompaniment. Few albums in history have had the privilege of such fitting production. One can almost hear the parched Earth crumble below as Phrenelith transform flora to ash.
A debut record of this quality rarely rears its head, but in the crowded world of OSDM revival, it comes as barely a surprise. After all, with a third of a century to draw from, young bands bent on making great records have an enormous amount of material to test themselves against. This music does not synthesize or invent; it does not care to leave a legacy or start revolutions. What it does is perform an aesthetic to perfection; Desolate Endscape is death metal. Beyond compare, beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you like death metal, you will like this album.
Tracks to Check: “Conquering Divinity,” ” Deluge of Ashes,” and “Channeling a Seismic Eruption”