In case you've just come out of a coma, death metal is back in a major way. This is good because death metal as a genre is effectively the cornerstone of the underground. It's also bad, because the over-saturation factor is a legitimate concern, and it also makes it harder to describe new releases without going back to the same word bank every time.
Corpsessed turned many a head with their strange name and excellent EP, 2010's The Dagger and the Chalice, and now they've come lumbering out of the darkness again with their first full-length, Abysmal Thresholds. So here's the good news – true to the standard of Finnish Death Metal excellence, the band has crafted an album that showcases strong musicianship and memorable riffs. There's a feverish quality to Corpsessed's material that weaves a powerful atmosphere, regardless of the tempo. Open passages and rapid-fire riffs alike throb with the dark current that should define all worthy death metal (Carcass, take note), and the solos are rightly used as an additional harmonic layer rather than noisy window dressing.
The degree of care in composition allows the songs to telegraph ideas in a coherent way, even in a crush of drums and 16th notes. The understated keyboards are an excellent addition as well, with sustained tones that augment the melodies without becoming intrusive. Imprecation utilized a keyboard on their recent debut as well, and it's nice to see more death metal bands reviving a method that has been all but banished to the black metal ghetto.
And now the bad news - one of the notable differences on this release is that the overall sound is a little flatter. It's less obvious after a couple of songs, but there's an vagueness to the production that isn't remedied even at an excessive volume. The Dagger and the Chalice was imminently more pummeling, so it's a disappointment that this, a debut full-length, comes up noticeably short. And while it's great that Corpsessed didn't go for the “brick wall” sound that has sucked all the life out of many latter-day releases, the scooped EQ robs the material of some vital lower frequencies. This is a band that needs the guitars front and center, and they seem to be coming from the periphery, particularly on headphones. The other complaint is that the vocals seem to be intermittently washed out of the mix altogether, to the point where listeners might find themselves reflexively straining to pick them out.
Despite production qualms, Abysmal Thresholds is worthy of your attention on account of its craftsmanship and conviction. It meets all the expected requirements and still manages to add its own memorable stamp on a well-established model. If similar bands can generate music of this quality, then we're in for a brutally good 2014.
For more info: Corpsessed's Abysmal Thresholds is out February 4 via Dark Descent Records, and is available for pre-order at this location.