Depending on the parts of the musical spectrum that you’re interested in, or even keep an eye on, you may or may not have noticed a significant increase in the amount of new bands, publicity, fans and general visibility surrounding the world of death metal of late. There seems to be a resurgence of sorts, but not in quite the same way as the myriad emo revivals have happened, for example. Monthly listeners to both the new crop of bands and their progenitors are up on and vintage merch has become even more de rigeur than it was before, if you can believe it. But what’s behind this explosion in a scene that has historically been hard to penetrate or market beyond a hardcore contingent of superfans…?
To find out, Sam Houlden dug a bit deeper, speaking to new era death metal bands Undeath and Sanguisugabogg about the state of the scene today, what has influenced it and where it’s headed.
There are a number of opposing opinions about what constitutes death metal’s greatest period. There is a school of thought that it never got better than the early days. Bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary coming out of the Floridian scene in the early to mid-80’s basically defined the death metal sound. They created something that had been hinted at before, but they made it flesh, so to speak. There are also death metal fans who maintain that the UK crop from the early 90’s such as Napalm Death (after the first 2 albums they’re more death than grind), Carcass and Bolt Thrower are the standard bearers for what the genre can achieve. I also speak to a lot of fans who believe the soul of death metal lies in the theme of its name and as such they look to the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Deicide or Suffocation to get their hit.
Most pleasingly though, is the amount of people who are now championing the current death metal landscape as one of (if not the) most quality-rich and diverse that the genre has ever seen in its thirty-five or forty-year history. As the various branches continue to grow from their mutual points of origin, different characteristics develop and recede as the years go on, but something that is certainly becoming more prevalent at the moment is an increasingly overt love for, and drawing influence from, Old School Death Metal, or OSDM as it’s more often know. A whole new crop of bands who were brought up listening to some of the music I’ve mentioned above, are now generating some of the most exciting and downright enjoyable death metal in years.
I spoke to a few of the bands in this new crop about what drives them, inspires them and what’s next for this burgeoning scene. Rochester, NY’s Undeath released their debut album Lesions of a Different Kind last year on Prosthetic Records. It gained widespread acclaim and the band have just recently been cited by Max Cavalera as one of his favourite current bands. Not bad going. I asked Alex (Jones – vocals) about his journey with death metal:
So Alex, did you gravitate to death metal early on, or were there any real gateway bands you think helped you get into it? Alex: I definitely was not a death metal head at an early age. I didn’t start getting into it in any sort of meaningful way until I had already gotten pretty into other heavy stuff like black metal, crust punk, etc. But then when I was probably about sixteen or seventeen or so, I was introduced to stuff like Slaughter of the Soul, Obscura and Heartwork, and that kind of sh*t just hooked me immediately. I couldn’t get enough death metal if I tried after that.
Who were the first death metal bands that really resonated with you and do you still listen to them regularly now? Alex: At the Gates, Gorguts, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Cryptopsy, Death. Basically all of the “entry-level” stuff, for lack of a better term. I still listen to that stuff all the time; it’s considered classic for a reason.
The aesthetic of the band and the wider death metal scene, especially OSDM, is a huge part of bands having strong identities. Is it something you spend a lot of time on? And are there any artists, films or anything else you feel is a big influence on your style? Alex: As far as influences go, I’m sure there’s plenty of subconscious stuff there like the horror movies we dig and the bands that we love, but we’re just trying to be Undeath, you know? We never sit down and say “let’s write a song that sounds like ______” or whatever. We’re just trying to write sick Undeath songs.
Would you say that the death metal scene is in a good place creatively at the moment? And are there any underground bands you want to give a shoutout to? Alex: I would definitely say that the death metal scene is in a fantastic place right now. Shoutout to all the bands I listed before, plus Turris Eburnea, Fluids, Hyperdontia, Cerebral Rot, Seep, Evulse, Astriferous and everyone else making nasty ass death metal!
How would you describe your sound and approach to someone who isn’t totally familiar with DM; and what would you say about the scene that might help bring them in? Alex: If you like other genres of music that have big hooks and choruses, and you love songs that get stuck in your head, I would say that you’ll probably find a lot to like in Undeath even if you aren’t the biggest death metal fan!
It’s not hard to see why the death metal scene can appear daunting, even impenetrable to those less familiar with it. The song names, vocal approach, artwork; all designed in some way or another to challenge or repel. Another band in the OSDM scene who are one of the best current examples of this, is Sanguisugabogg. The band hail from Ohio and were only formed in 2019, but with songs like “Turkish Blood Orgy”, “Dead As Sh*t” and “Dick Filet”, people started to take notice. The band released their debut Tortured Whole on Century Media in March. Around that time, I spoke to Cameron Boggs (Guitar) about being part of this new generation: So who were the first DM bands that really resonated with you? Cameron: The first thing I fell in love with in death metal was the Steve Tucker-era Morbid Angel material. Gateways to Annihilation, Heretic…I fucking love those records so much and I think that comes through with our stuff because that stuff’s all groove. Trey started playing a 7-string and stopped being so thrashy. It’s definitely them and Dying Fetus. I can never imagine those bands doing anything wrong.
So do you still listen to those bands and those records a lot, or do you listen to heaps of new stuff? Cameron: Honestly, I listen to Mortician, Dying Fetus, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse probably more than anything else. I love listening to new shit, but I’m really bad at listening the day it comes out. I’m kind of an old guy in that way. I figure it’ll still be there when I want to listen to it. But then I do listen to a lot of stuff that isn’t death metal, too.
There seems to be a great deal of reverence for those bands but it’s cool that there are also now parts of the scene that isn’t at all po-faced. Cameron: Yeah, there are a load of people who don’t like fun who hate us. I love all the serious stuff and I can get down with that too, but you need a balance. Like, you need some bands who are gonna talk about killing people in the lyrics…and eating cum!
So who are some of the other bands in the OSDM scene I should be keeping an eye on? Cameron: Undeath is my favourite death metal band at the moment. I’ve also been digging Skulmagot. I think they’re from Helsinki. They’re like a groovier Cannibal Corpse mixed with Candlemass sh*t. Another couple of death metal bands; Mutilatred, they’re our dudes from Ohio. They’re like the heaviest band ever. And Stabbed; they’re on Maggotstomp and that EP they put out is heavy as shit. When we were in NY doing our music video we got really drunk with those dudes in the park and they bought us weed, we did some acid with them at a studio one night after we were done shooting. We love those dudes, they’re really cool.
It sounds like a pretty good scene to be part of. Cameron: Anywhere we go we just have a good time and kind of make stories with everyone. It seems hard for us to go to a city and not have someone go “Remember what we did there?” Everywhere we go I feel people just say “Goddammit those guys just party so hard”
Between that and making great music, it sounds like a pretty good way to spend your time to me! Cameron: Man, honestly, we just don’t stop having fun.
And it’s that sense of fun, maybe unexpectedly, that runs rich through the OSDM scene. From the fans to the artists, there is a gleefully sincere love of the music, the imagery and ultimately the sense of community that comes from being around like-minded, enthusiastic people. Also, the wilfully transgressive nature of the art in question means that rarely will being in an OSDM band end up being a real commercial concern, so the DIY spirit is alive and well in the scene. Tapes, artwork, production and more besides are often the result of favours being called in and that makes it feel all the more organic and community-minded.
OSDM at its core is a sound. One that is built on the classic death metal template. The new breed are, by their own admission, standing on the shoulders of giants. But the current rampant creativity is producing something of a feedback loop and every other week I’m struck by another new band and how they’re wielding the same basic tools, but creating their own individual take on the sound. As someone on the fringes, it’s exciting to see what is happening in this scene and being along for the ride is something I can’t help but feel I’ll be talking or writing about in years to come. If you’ve ever thought about dipping your toe into this world, now is literally as good a time as any. And frankly, I can advocate for not dipping a toe but jumping in with both feet. It might seem scary at first, but then don’t all the best things?