Death metal: the purest form of extreme metal, the least friendly to new listeners, the final destination of any true metallic journey (at least for those who don’t wimp out along the way), and my personal favorite heavy genre. So if you’re anything like me — weak to the charms of fabulous, formless death — you’re experiencing the same delirious glee as we watch the death metal scene explode in a burst of creativity. I mean, c’mon: the caliber of death metal coming out in 2016 is unthinkable, possibly the single best year we’ve seen since 1991. From the absurdly technical (Wormed) to the steadfastly traditional (Interment), from crawling, sprawling death/doom (Inverloch) to mind-expanding maximalism (Gorguts’ 30-minute, single-song EP), every variation and sub-mutation is well represented.
All this while a crop of newer bands carve out a sound all their own: drawing from Immolation, Demilich, older Gorguts, and a slew of weirder acts, bands like Chthe’ilist, Reptilian, Nucleus, and now Zealotry (who un-coincidentally share a guitarist with Chthe’ilist) are shifting focus to the fringe zones, probing the more experimental edges of death. Every one of these bands is fantastic; Zealotry might be the best of the lot, or to put it another way, Zealotry’s second LP, The Last Witness, might be the most interesting manifestation of the new style. Call it kitchen-sink death metal; call it whatever you want (chaotic death?). Riffs are circuitous, technical but unpolished, progressive in theory and hideous in execution, like jagged space debris caught in an unknowable orbit. There are melodies, if you can call them that, but they’re hard to pin down, a blurry smear of diminished scales, angles, and abstractions meant to disorient. As unpleasant as all that sounds, Zealotry understand the virtues of pacing and variety: we get short bangers laced with haunting octave leads (“Arc Of Eradication”), epic psychedelic death freakouts loaded with cosmic synths and space choirs (“Progeny Omega”), and a drawn-out denouement with harmonized clean acoustics and an incongruous burst of cello (“Silence”), reminiscent of Gorguts’ recent masterwork, Colored Sands. There’s a feast here if you’ve got the stomach. Listen.
The Last Witness is out now via Zealotry.