Lesions of a Different Kind by UndeathRelease date: October 23, 2020
Label: Prosthetic Records
2020 has been a year punctuated by the kinds of imagery usually reserved for horror or dystopian future films, and in the realm of music, would find closest kinship with death metal. Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that death metal has retained its clawed grip on the extreme metal world this year. There’s still plenty of amazing albums and interesting, exciting things happening in doom, sludge and black metal, as well as the remainder of the extreme music landscape, but pound for fetid pound, death metal is still enjoying a wretched bloom; its masturbated renaissance.
In a previous review I reflected that this hellish new dawn was mostly brought about by bands finding – and then exploring almost to destruction – the outer limits of what death metal as a subgenre can be. Bands that have been bringing in disparate sounds and techniques from the haunts of hardcore and noise, as well as the even farther flung worlds of electronica and jazz. Not always successful, but admirable, and when it has gone well, it has seemingly gone very well indeed this year. But old-school death metal is also enjoying another revitalisation under our dying sun – the corpse is reanimated once more.
When one operates in such an ungodly area as classic death metal, the sum of all your infernal efforts can be very quickly categorised into three areas. First reaction: it’s absolutely fucking awful. Perhaps even laughably so. But this is broadly the same for all music, after all. Sorry to state it so plainly, but some bands just don’t have the technical ability, creativity or potential for growth in them, right from the outset. That’s a pretty big percentage, let’s be honest. (Have you actually done a true deep dive of Bandcamp or Soundcloud in your favourite genres? You will be rewarded with a diamond eventually, I promise. But it will be a diamond from the rough. Very rough. Sewage baked with vomit rough).
The second area a band might fall in, is that they’re pretty good. They’ve got some playing ability, and will no doubt get some heads nodding furiously when performing live in a dive club as the clock strikes midnight and the third happy hour in a row begins in earnest. But really, when all is said and done, it’s rinse [the blood out… get it out, GET IT OUT!!!] and repeat. This is the overwhelming percentage of old school death metal – and, rather aptly (metaphorically at least), it was the only thing that managed to finally suffocate itself.
This music is perfectly ‘serviceable’, but not only does it not move the genre on, but it bakes in a staleness that proves to be the band in question, and the scene’s, eventual undoing. One assumes we could very well have the beginnings here of having a sight on an infinite progression and regression in this genre; ebbs and flows of viscera, as we witness rot setting in and eventually newly deformed life birthing from the poisoned, necrotic womb.
The scalpel thin percentage that remains is our third eventuality – old school metal done so well and with such songwriting prowess that it proves irresistible and, despite its heaviness and gratuitously gross subject matter, still brings a smile to the listener’s face.
Undeath operate in this rarefied small percentile. The band made fans of the genre – and mysteriously even beyond its usually iron clad walls – rabid with excitement in 2019. A demo appeared in February, swiftly followed by Sentient Autolysis, an EP, released that summer, in July. As well as pretty much everyone else being delirious and awed, clearly the fine folks at Prosthetic Records were too, and the Rochester, New York trio were promptly signed.
Lesions of a Different Kind is the result. A putrid, festering boil on the hulking body of the genre that spawned it. It’s the audio equivalent of a boot having a full body’s worth of weight transferred to it as it balances atop a head. A grinding of the plates of the skull, a suffocating pall, a retching from the deep and then a clicking and a crunching as the bone loses structural integrity under said weight and the brain mashes and the eyes pop, both running from orifices like melted chewing gum. Teeth bend, but outward as an atypical forced underbite cleaves the jaw in twain. Undeath’s debut album kind of sounds like that.
Coming in at just thirty-six minutes and with ten tracks, Legions of a Different Kind does not stand on ceremony. Opening track ‘Suitably Hacked to Gore’ is indicative of that. It races out of the gates brandishing a thousand knives. Is there a body or is it a creature from our deepest nightmares made of knives? The musicianship throughout the album is jaw-dropping, with dizzying guitar playing that features some absolutely huge riffs and some impressive solos, as well as precise, gnawing, rumbling bass and some truly ecstatic, insane, possessed drumming. The LP is festooned with so many riffs that Undeath have an embarrassment of riches – some get used only once or twice before the band move relentlessly on.
After all, there are nine circles of hell and Undeath want us to traverse them all. The album is our tourist swamp ride through the infernal vista. See the sights! Hell is here. More terror is coming.
‘Shackles of Sanity’ repeats the same mind-blowing trick as the first track, with superb, ultra-tight songwriting that simply proves irresistible. The pummelling drums are a highlight here, with the instrument seemingly taking perverse delight in hammering nails directly into the listener’s ear canals. The entirety of the record is of a very high standard, but there are some standouts, and the title track is certainly one. This is somehow more incandescent with rage and horror than the previous two songs and it’s weirdly catchy. I can just see an army of people in a metal bar nodding in eerie unison to this as they sip their beers and pretend to be interested in the conversation while this rages overhead. I don’t think I’ve ever used this term in a review, particularly for heavy music, but this is an absolute goddamn banger.
‘Entranced by the Pendulum’ continues the band stretching their deformed muscles (or are they wings?), dragging their listeners over rocky terrain at inhuman speed. What’s left is bloody and broken, but Undeath don’t care because it’s about the nauseating journey and the revolting destination, but not those foolish, repugnant paramours with whom they attempt to be a guide (that’s us, FYI). ‘Acidic Twilight Visions’ is another highlight, drowning in its own blood, throat cut, as it flashes by in its own wicked, pestilent and inimitable way. The guitar tone on this track and so many others is so grainy and clear at the same time – its rotten to the core.
‘Lord of the Grave’ thunders with some sickening guitar passages and once again one can’t help but smile as you can imagine the band clambering over the corpses of their peers to stand aloft under the blood red sun. Drenched in every bodily fluid you can think of and licking their lips in satisfaction. ‘Kicked in the Protruding Guts’ is a chug fest and features some excellent changing up of the pace, as do so many of the tracks on this album, keeping the listener constantly engaged and hysterically foxed. After numerous listens of the record, I do think, however, that this is a track that could have done with a little trim (losing twenty or thirty seconds, tops, understand). It’s the only moment on the album where the momentum ever so slightly – ever so slightly – wavers.
The following song, ‘Phantasmal Festering’, seems to react off the length of the previous track though, and despite being one of the longer tracks on the LP, it feels like it’s impatient to thrash through the lines of devil spawn configured on the battlefield. The bass work on this one is pretty special – super technical and at double time, and yet sounding very clear, despite the muddy overall sound the band enjoy to sink into. It’s here where the production of the record needs special mention because a reference to ‘muddy sound’ may inspire thoughts of an album that has passages of indistinguishable heaviness. This is not the case. Everything is pinpoint accurate and razor sharp on Legions of a Different Kind – the ‘muddiness’ comes from the composition and aesthetic not the overall soundscape. It’s a rare feat on any album, let alone one in the death metal canon.
The album closes with the pair of ‘Chained to a Reeking Rotted Body’ and ‘Archfiend Coercion Methods’. The former is one of the shortest on the record, but changes the pace, creating a subtle lull – the instrumentation is more drawn out and although there are vocals, they don’t fill the audio palette as much as they have previously. This allows the final track to both sound absolutely massive and utterly evil. It feels like a melting pot for all the ideas and venom of before to be whisked into a frenzy. It’s pure filth, it’s glorious and a stunning way to close a mind-blowing debut.
Legions of a Different Kind is a triumph. No more, no less. Bow down to your undead overlords. Their reign of terror has only just begun.