Scolopendra – Those of the Catacombs [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

If you frequent these parts, you may have been aware that 2020 has been death metal’s year. What you may not have been aware of is that some of the year’s best come from Italy. While you may think of ancient empires, Renaissance classicism or pizza when Italy comes to mind, Padua’s Scolopendra adopts a rather different approach on their debut called Those of the Catacombs.

Catacombs is old school death metal and it’s nasty. Though old school in style it’s far from stale, drawing on the Swedeath sound more so than the Floridian, with a speedy edge in its faster passages which recalls that bridge between proto-death and Death. There are many admirable qualities here but it’s really all about the axe-work at its core. “Tormenting Dying Nuns” boasts a top-notch opening lead which is sharp, groovy and headbangable. “First-Class Coffin” uses a riff after its mid-point which thrashes, before shifting to a smarter, technical one. The approach is old school but it has (very) light elements of thrash, melodeath and tech death. This means it’s impossible to be bored at all here. If I’m distracted but Catacombs is playing, I still find myself humming the lead melodies too which demonstrates the way they sink in their hooks. The riffing is made all the stronger by perennially excellent transitions; not only are guitar leads great but they’re arranged and pulled together in a compelling manner.

Not to disregard the other instrumental elements, the opening vocals on “Exhumed Corpse Exaltation” are throat-ripping, gargled and filthy and continue in this fashion. Just as this first track concludes and you’re thinking “these vocals are great!” those on “First-Class Coffin” hit. They’re hoarser and wetter, as if the first vocalist has a heavy cold and has lost his mind. I mean all this in the best way possible; they’re properly demented. This dual-vocal approach is weird but engaging, and supremely catchy shout-along choruses reinforce their presence. Before you know it you’ll also be screeching “Zombiessss… feasting!” and “Inside your first class coffin!” along with these Italians. Beyond fun, it’s almost skillful. The elongated gurgle at the beginning of “First-Class Coffin” runs for only 5 seconds shorter than Dickinson’s immortal long note on “Hallowed By Thy Name” and I’d wager more ruinous for this vocalist’s voice.

But more than mere great riffs and vocals, what’s most impressive about Scolopendra is the overall image and feeling conjured. The schlocky violence, bedevilled logo, gloriously lo-fi artwork, sawing guitar tone and demented vocals conjure the specific atmosphere of 70s Italian horror cinema. It has a curious strangeness sitting behind its surface level gore. The couple of passages with hammy backing keyboards contribute to this B movie feel and a Goblin-esque creepiness. As a result, Catacombs is terrifically atmospheric without 5-minute interludes or unnecessary introductions or conclusions. The production is accordingly old-school too, with a thick bass to counter-balance its sharp edges. Catacombs sounds like Dario Argento made a death metal record and if that doesn’t do enough to make it one of your favorite releases of the year then you simply lack culture. It’s death metal which sounds as distinctly Italian as Fleshgod Apocalypse but in a completely different way.

Scolopendra wrote some of the best, most involving and most disgusting death metal of the year and you would be a fool to miss it.

Track to check out: “First-Class Coffin,” “Tormenting Dying Nuns,” “Zombies Feasting”

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