As this column has often observed, the oversaturation and collapse of the death metal underground is looming once again. There's no room for more sound-alike bands, and general attention has been split into slivers so fine that it seems no single band can rise to the top of the heap. That was the problem back in 1994, and the internet didn't even exist yet. The difference is that in 2014, bands are able to create and record their material on their own with little to no budget and distribute it for free, so it's not imperative that they convince everyone to buy a copy. It seems like what would otherwise prove to be a disincentive for quality has unwittingly encouraged more new death metal bands driven by a genuine desire to create rather than pander.
Such is the case with Austria's Blood Urn, a virtually unknown (and presumed one-man) act that strikes with a vengeance. It's a shame that all legitimate death metal has to be categorized as “old school”, since the old way is really the only way, but Blood Urn does indeed nail every requirement on the checklist. The sound is warm, thick, and pounding, with nary a hint of modern influences to undermine the material. Vocals are flanked with reverb they way your older brother's death metal always sounded, a chamber of growls that clamor through the speakers. Sparing applications of era-correct keyboards further reveal a knowing grasp of aesthetic and composition that make the material feel fully-formed and confident.
This demo also gains points for maintaining drive and hooks in an era where shapeless, miasmal songwriting has become all the rage. Blood Urn dismissed such indulgences with percussion-driven riffs and steady, beefy musicianship throughout. While the approach still lingers close to the established model of Incantation worship, there is enough thoughtful musicality and inspired passages that bring the work closer to more stand-alone entries like Imprecation. Where they could easily become more of the same, the songs instead compel and engross with surprising efficacy. If nothing else, the band demonstrates the crucial difference between parroting and creating, which is going to be all the more important if this style is to continue to thrive.
With ...Of Gory Sorcery and Death, Blood Urn had made a statement that is rare to encounter in such a young band. The message is that death metal is still great, and it doesn't have to be regurgitated or oversold in the meantime. Perhaps the best thing about this release is its resolutely clandestine nature, especially since it is only available on cassette. It's one of those releases that one day could have everyone wondering how they missed it at the time, though perhaps therein is the key to its magic.