Venomous Skeleton – Drowning in Circles Review

Having been raised in church, I found my religious experience carried over into my vast expeditions into metal’s colorful multiverse: I find myself reaching more and more for the stuff that incorporates a unique tone of reverence, a sound of standing beneath the colossal or infinite. For bands like Batushka, Ancient Moon, and Behemoth, this liturgical and hieratic atmosphere is proposed through its ritualistic songwriting and uses of common religious musical elements (Gregorian chants, choirs, etc.) contrasting with blasphemy’s twisted dagger in an aural representation of madness. Sonne Adam‘s death/doom solo LP Transformation did this for me. Though most of my doom experience consisted of morose northern Europeans in the midsts of existential crises, these Israelis opened up the floodgates with impressively dark occult death/doom with a penchant for eerie reverence through awestruck songwriting in their punishing sonic palette.

Venomous Skeleton is an Israeli death metal trio, its members taken from the rib of Sonne Adam. One thing you’ll notice is that their brand of doom-less and pure death metal is difficult to pinpoint. While debut Drowning in Circles has the makings of an OSDM record in the vein of Phrenelith and Our Place of Worship is Silence, it also revels in a distinctly dissonant blackened style a la Mitochondrion or Portal. This variety is conveyed through spiraling songwriting reminiscent of Akercocke‘s madness exposés, with influences of Gorguts‘ tech and Desolate Shrine‘s atmosphere rearing their opaquely obscure heads. This crossroad never feels overly ambitious or claustrophobic, and often quite the opposite: it’s a surprisingly consistent and tight album whose core sound is never compromised. It conveys reverence, intensity, and insanity in equal measure and, while the group’s doom-laden past remains an afterthought, still maintains its genre-bending charm. Ultimately, Venomous Skeleton plays close to the vest with a tight-knit sound, putting its best (but imperfect) foot forward in Drowning in Circles.

Venomous Circle‘s best tracks are those that conjure brutality and eeriness in equal measure. Tracks like “Divine Realm of Existence,” “Taste the Celestial Blood,” and “Hallucinogenic Sulfuric Mantra” are full-throttle beatdowns full of concrete-thick riffs, blazing tremolo, blastbeats, and other manic percussion. “Tomb of the Restless Soul” and “Alevas San Tatianas Aleli” are built on disturbing Gorguts-esque dissonant plucking that sharply cuts through its surrounding haze, adding to an unsettling atmosphere of madness. The two camps show this contrast in brutality and eeriness, while other tracks utilize odd tricks that grab attention but never overstay their welcome, like doom pacing (“Alevas San Tatianas Aleli” and the epic closing title track), vocals that stray from standard growl to blackened shrieks and even piercing laughter (“Taste the Celestial Blood” and “Hallucinogenic Sulfuric Mantra”), and bass soloing (“Curse of the Moon”). These tricks tastefully add diversity because they rise above the haze while respecting the album’s density and brevity.

The production quality is focused on density, which hearkens the atmosphere of Akercocke madness and Desolate Shrine immensity in equal measure, but it can obscure some otherwise killer riffs. Tracks like “Chalice to the Other World” and “Hallucinogenic Sulfuric Mantra” feature riffs whose bite are significantly lost in the murk. Also, although solid and excluding a few tricks here and there, vocals remain one-dimensional deep growls, which can grow tiresome. Speaking macrocosmically, Drowning in Circles is a dummy thicc record, so it’s not an immediate listen, feeling like Portal or Mitochondrion in its need for repeated listens to unravel all of its elements. Finally, while it pays homage to the greats of modern death metal in nearly every facet, it never strays far from their shadows. As such, what makes Drowning in Circles so tightly constructed also makes it incredibly safe. For a relatively new project, this is unsurprising, but with this promising of a start, it makes Venomous Skeleton‘s next move all the more crucial that they make it their own. While the experimental hints add flare to the core palette, expansion would prove invaluable to the next trek into spiraling darkness.

As easy as it is to nitpick Venomous Skeleton‘s sound as being unoriginal, their debut’s seamless foray between influences is impressive. Somehow conjuring anything from OSDM to blackened death to touches of dissonant tech, it’s a safe offering at a digestible thirty-six minutes. But boy howdy, do these guys have a future ahead of them. Until then, Drowning in Circles is still a punishing and eerie album for death metal fans of all breeds, funneled through a claustrophobic density that recalls spiritual reverence and spiraling insanity in equal measure. Drowning has never been this fun.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Everlasting Spew Records
Websites: venomousskeleton.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/venomousskeleton
 Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

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