“This pizza is cold, our oven sucks.” My flatmate was half-right on this account; his pizza was indeed cold. The oven was innocent of the charge, though; my flatmate did not understand the concept of pre-heating, and so had set the dial to 350 and immediately thrown the pizza in. Nonetheless, the elements were there: 350 degrees, pizza, proper oven, fifteen minutes. But something was lost in translation. In this case, it’s easy to see what that was (pre-heating), but in other cases it’s harder. One such case is death metal, where we often receive cold or lukewarm pizza but can’t quite figure out why.
Italy’s Psychotomy is a new band with an old vision. Aphotik is a death metal record which is made of three main ingredients, like a cheese pizza. Our dough is Incantation, specifically their material after Diabolical Conquest; this is the foundation for the rest. Our sauce, perhaps the least important part, is the Immolation-isms of Ulcerate represented on The Destroyers of All. The sauce is not slathered on, but plays its part nonetheless in making it a pizza instead of cheesy dough. Our cheese is Behemoth circa Zos Kia Cultus, when they essentially tried to play Gateways to Annihilation in their own style. Most people into death metal like these three ingredients. As we all know, though, not all cheese pizzas are equal. The comparisons to Dead Congregation and Cruciamentum in the promo material aren’t misleading either, largely because both bands built on the Incantation dough themselves1.
As is customary here, we’ll start with the parts where our cheese is perfectly melted and the dough golden brown. “Kenosis” builds itself up to a punishing climactic riff which is largely based around a trem-picked string bend (think the middle of Cryptopsy’s “Detritus”), and after a series of fair-to-good Incantation riffs, this thing comes down like a sledgehammer. “Blasphemous Inception” sticks to a simple and recognizable structure, thereby emphasizing the quality of riffs. Fortunately, these are uniformly good; a healthy mix of Incantation and Behemoth with some Ulcerate lurking in the background. Good dough, gooey cheese, and a bit of sauce – just how I like my cheese pizza. After an uninspiring intro which sees an overabundance of sauce (Ulcerate), “Beyond the Eternal Omega” picks up and gets back into the mix of influences that make Psychotomy compelling. To its credit, it’s a compact and efficient song, exhausting its ideas as it ends. Riffing is good, but unremarkable – this carries throughout the record – and makes for a nice listen.
Now for the notably undercooked bits. “Witness of Void” impressively builds to a crescendo in the middle, but when the time comes to bring it all together for a climax, Psychotomy drops the ball. Instead of anything memorable, we’re treated to something that sounds like a terribly boring rendition of the “Slaves Shall Serve” verse which leaves me scratching my head. Like biting into a delicious looking pizza and finding it unexpectedly cold, it’s a jarring disappointment. Closing number “Lethe” goes full Dominos and overdoses on the sauce, going nowhere at varying tempos. Coming after the largely good “Beyond the Eternal Omega” makes its dip in quality stand out more, as it contains the least economical and measured songwriting on Aphotik. “Conjuring the Abyss” sounds like a Behemoth-flavoured outtake from the first Dead Congregation EP (Purifying Consecrated Ground), and when listened to side-by-side Psychotomy pales so far in comparison to their Greek genre-mates that the dark aesthetic of Aphotik looks pasty.
I can damn other songs here through praise not faint but far from enthusiastic, but the reader surely doesn’t need to be bludgeoned any further with details or more pizza similes that last multiple paragraphs. Suffice to say, there’s little objectionable in Psychotomy’s sound, and indeed there’s some quality morsels to be found within. The problem is that I have no reason to recommend, repeatedly listen to, or otherwise elevate Aphotik beyond merely decent, sliding towards the uninspiring end of the connotations. Genre completists (if they exist) will like this, as will the stream once and forget crowd. It’s death metal, and it tries to be nothing else, but when it comes to full records I feel obligated to assume that, if I recommend it, it’s worth spending actual money on. My answer here would be no. The production reminds of Zos Kia Cultus in its claustrophobic plasticity and detracts from the impact as well. Inoffensive, unnecessary, largely forgettable, competently played; easy call for the score.