Cordyceps - Betrayal (Cover Artwork)


Betrayal (2020)

UNique Leader

Las Vegas-based death metal band Cordyceps have been around for the best part of 6 years at this point. They’ve garnered some auspicious plaudits, support slots and supporters, yet this is their debut record. There’s a balance to be struck when it comes to what point a band drops a debut record and most would probably agree that 6 years after their formation is probably a little on the slow side. But 3 years ago, their debut EP Black Blood Butchery was released and people started to really sit up and take notice. Soon followed a series of festivals slots, a lineup change, signing to current label Unique Leader and work in earnest on their full introduction to the scene, in the form of Betrayal.

There is something of a running debate as to whether ‘brutal death metal’ is a sub-genre in its own right or not and whether or not you believe it is, there is no denying the fact that this record would be best described within the scene as brutal death metal. The distinction for me is primarily in the complexity and technicality of the approach, most often eschewing melody, whereas more traditional death metal bands often have quite pronounced melodies, though admittedly you have to be willing to listen for them in the first place. But back to my point; Cordyceps are very much cut from the ‘brutal’ cloth. From the wild changes in pace, rapid-fire muted and syncopated rhythms to the ubiquitous guttural growl of drummer/vocalist and founding member Raphael Gonzalez. The band exist to evoke the darkness and well, brutality that exists in life. However, whereas in some band’s hands that can result in a wild, savage approach that can find the band removed from the intent and emotion behind the songs, Cordyceps have an absolute precision to them. In another style, it might come across as clinical or machine-like, but Cordyceps simply feel lean, tight and malevolent.

Gonzalez and co. have spent a long time arriving at their sound and it’s a sound that is incredibly effective, however there are points on this record where I do find myself longing for a greater degree of dynamic range. Aside from the occasional pinch harmonics, there are rarely notes that are not muted and as such, the rhythmic attack is almost all you’re given to hold onto in terms of hooks. That is something that is true of a lot of bands in this scene, though it could be argued Cordyceps stick to it more rigidly than most. What makes me feel even more strongly that they should explore that aspect is the occasional, sinister intros/outros or auditory snippets where they use isolated or distorted string sounds to conjure an ambience of unease. This, they do incredibly well. In fact, there are few things the band try that they don’t do well. “Comatose Subservient” for example, when higher-range backing vocals add depth and guitar notes are allowed to actually ring out, the song could be an amalgam of Cattle Decapitation and Tomb Mold. Similarly, in the brief periods where songs lurch into a groove for more than a few seconds, (“Parasitic Degenerate” exemplifies this maybe better than any other track) then I do tend to feel more engaged, and that’s partially by virtue of the shift in approach being so noticeable. It’s all well-executed, it’s just that such an overwhelming majority of the record sits in one place. The band are good at that thing, I just hope they realise they’re good at more than that one thing.

I’m sure that purists will argue that this record is a distillation of brutal death metal in 2020, and I would be hard pressed to disagree to be completely honest. I think however, that the band’s abilities are such that they would benefit from not being constrained by genre boundaries quite so much. There is intelligence, craft and technical brilliance here, but there feels like there could also be room for experimentation, boundary-pushing and greater dynamics. Cordyceps are very good. This record is very good as an example of brutal death metal. But I’m certain they have more in them.