From Leonitus in the Republic of Plato to sad, lonely, middle-aged women reading the barely literate depravity of Fifty Shades of Grey, the ugly, vile, visceral, and disgusting has a wide-ranging abhorrent appeal. Death metal, our chosen disgusting delicacy, revels in refuse instead of aiming for transcendent beauty. In aiming to descend instead of transcend, death metal is more interested in the “non-Euclidean geometry” best expressed in Lovecraft stories than a harmonious natural order akin to “the music of the spheres.” Romania’s Rotheads have, with their debut Sewer Fiends, gone straight for the most repugnant place they could envision, and through their music they try to bring the listener down to grovel alongside them.
The filth on Sewer Fiends is in the classic style, based around meaty, chunky riffs, crawling tempos, and the early Asphyx take on thrash, which involves torturing the riffs in order to make speed suffocate. Rotheads take clear influence from early and mid-period Obituary, early Asphyx, Autopsy, and Convulse’s World Without God. Many of the leads here take on a more Swedish tone via early Entombed, but overall the proceedings lean closer to Finland than Sweden.
While an overall successful outing for Rotheads, the most crucial aspect of Sewer Fiends lies in demonstrating a clear sense of direction for the band. The demented “Rats in the Walls” hangs onto the metronome by a thread, churning and writhing in a great fit with the title. The title track uses impressive guitar interplay throughout: leads oscillate between Swedish and Finnish effortlessly, and deceptively simple riffing contain unsettling and vile melodies. “The Mad Oracle of Seweropolis” toys with hybridized Swedish-Finnish leads for a full two minutes before launching into some Asphyxiating death-doom recalling The Rack. The murky, driving death metal riffs are ripped from the Convulse playbook, and Rotheads strings these aspects along making ten minutes of exhausting, punishing, and captivating music.
Achieving their desired atmosphere is something Rotheads have a decisive handle on. The devil’s in the details, and it’s the details that holds Sewer Fiends back from greatness. These fine points manifest themselves in riffs, particularly how memorable they are when extracted from the song itself. Autopsy’s early work is a masterclass in how to do subservient yet unforgettable riffs right, as is Asphyx’s Last One on Earth and Obituary’s Cause of Death. “Servants of the Unlight” is a good song, but the riffs are wholly subservient; they work within the context perfectly, but it’s a Herculean task to remember one à la carte. “Dance of the Vermin” contains the most overtly melodic music on Sewer Fiends, and while the melodies are effective when blaring through the speakers, they don’t burn into the memory like the best of Asphyx or Amorphis does.
Sewer Fiends comes recommended with reservations. Creating a convincing atmosphere is no small feat, and Rotheads do this with aplomb and without needless dissonance, discordance, or production tricks. The production is standard modern old-school chic, a bit too polished to sound fully natural yet not close to the burly, spotless, stainless heavy-gauge steel aesthetic. With this in mind, who should Rotheads be recommended to? Those looking for some murk to submerge themselves in would be well served by the music here, provided they want a vacation spot instead of a home. Wholly convincing while it’s on, Sewer Fiends’ grime suffers from washing off a bit too easy once the journey ends. Nonetheless, this is a compelling first effort from a band who has a clear purpose in mind that’s worth hearing at least once.