‘Tis the tide of Yule and if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself wondering just what might be malingering under the tree in those sinister rhomboidal shapes… If you’re exactly like me, then you too must be hoping for some filthy Swedeath to furnish the festive season. Now if your partner hasn’t taken it upon themselves to wrap up a platter of Scandinavian malignancy, then fear not because Sentient Horror are the D-Beasts for you, arriving just in time to plunder Christmas with that smooth Stockholm sound. Although hailing from New Jersey of all places, make no mistake, Sentient Horror play a vicious style of death metal, worshipping at the hallowed Swedish gates of such Sunlight Studios alumni as Entombed, Dismember and Grave. In this instance, however, the band’s sound is further retro-fitted with the progressive leanings of a certain Edge of Sanity, with the mighty Dan Swanö himself lending his, not inconsiderable, mastering skills to debut Ungodly Forms.
The unholy potency of Swanö and his influence cannot be underestimated, as the band are clearly informed by Edge of Sanity, especially their early output. The Spectral Sorrows is a particularly important album in my own metal tutelage, as it made something of a lasting impression on me as a young whelp, so my interests were piqued to say the least. After a brief crunching intro, the sonic brutality begins in earnest with “Abyssal Ways” with its chugging verses and blastbeat happy chorus. The guitar tone, hardly coincidentally, is an exact replica of Swanö’s alma mater, feeding the tracks with a dense sense of presence. Vocalist and lead guitarist, Matt Moliti deftly juxtaposes his monstrous, dry vocals with a huge sense of melody in his soloing. There’s an almost neoclassical nuance to his playing, which, in this setting, is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Knight’s approach during his regrettably short tenure with The Black Dahlia Murder.
Ungodly Forms is positively brimming with the usual kinetic fare rampant on any Swedeath album. “Splinter The Cross” and “Suffer To The Grave” bounce along with that staple drum pattern we all sub-consciously attribute to the genre, occasionally peppered with a moody, doomed out bridge. 2016 has seen a handful of great release from bands peddling this particular sound (Gatecreeper, Brutally Deceased, Revel In Flesh) but Sentient Horror have subtly adapted their approach in an approximation of their more progressive forefathers, galvanizing the bone grinding riffage with subtle flecks of superior songwriting – there is something about these nuances that set them aside from the pack. From the tasty solo in “Beyond The Curse Of Death” to the delicate use of keys in “A Host Of Worms,” it’s clear that the band have a strong vision for their album despite it inhabiting an overcrowded space. The only reasonable complaint I can level at the record is that its length slightly exceeds what I find to be a comfortable runtime. After 9 or so tracks of unflinching, crusty death metal, the album began to feel somewhat stretched out. A large contributing factor to this kind of fatigue is due, in no small part, to the fact that Sentient Horror play a much loved, but infinitely adapted style of metal, and try though they might, it has become increasingly difficult to innovate, although they give it a damn good shot.
The mix on Ungodly Forms is retro but slick as all hell. Damien Herring of Horrendous fame has gifted the kick drum with a particularly Floridian thump reinforcing the material no end. It helps that Ian Jordan’s bass is nice and high in the mix, its malevolent creak broadening the guitars. The title track (and album highlight), benefit from this massively as the production accentuates the huge grooving chorus which never fails to get my neck moving.
Swedish death metal is something that I harbor a blazing and suffocating love for. Despite this, I’m well aware that, for some, going through those buzz saw motions is potentially a mundane experience. Sentient Horror, like me, know that these filthy hipsters are wrong and a menace to society. Ungodly Forms rips and shreds from start to finish and if you have a predilection for death metal equipped not just with teeth, but also some serious chops, then this will be a nice cap to the year. Slay-bells ring – make sure you’re listening.