Father Befouled: Crowned in Veneficum
Out 25th March on Everlasting Spew Records
I wanted to set myself a challenge when reviewing ‘Crowned in Veneficum’, the fifth LP from American death metallers Father Befouled. How long can you go without mentioned the “I” word? Turns out not very long. Much like Emyn Muil or Caladan Brood are to Summoning, Father Befouled are not so much a clone of Incantation as they are Incantation scholars. With each album they expand their studied rumination on the Incantation brand of swampy death/doom that little bit further. The level of detail, nuance, and forethought they dedicate to this pursuit elevates the art of imitation into a new branch of academia: “Incantation studies”. But let’s be serious, the flavour of death metal Father Befouled have been cranking out both predates and is far more considered than the usual OSDM racket.
This is the art of imitation as an act of penetration. They pierce through other interpretations of Incantation that only ever go skin deep, peel back the layers of sinew and bone and eke out a unique and oddly addictive niche atop this newly uncovered flesh. Their ability to smash chaotically fast death metal against droning doom segments that gradually layer up tritone informed harmonic material is so studied that their style of death metal could be viewed as the expanded universe for this brand of death/doom, a new and subtly detailed world where the minutia of this style can be properly unpacked.
The production is fairly warm and organic, with a domineering guitar tone designed to fill out every aspect of the mix, allowing little room to clog up the faster passages with reverb or inertia, but retaining plenty of powerful sustain for those all important drone passages. Drums are relatively soft and low in the mix, opting for a more diminished metronomic role within this direct brand of death metal. Vocals are unsurprisingly guttural, adding some much needed rough edges to the mix given how soft the guitar tone is.
Soft but not lacking in heaviness however. This is still immersive death/doom that makes hay out of those slower passages, using them to build tension and release by way of repetitions that gradually build up the layers with each new iteration. And like an elastic band stretched to the limit, we await the final and inevitable cacophony with anticipation. There’s something mesmerizingly basic about how Father Befouled build these tracks up. The compositions themselves are not all that simple. They are in fact emotionally nuanced and studied works of contrast; between order and chaos, between cyclical rumination and melodic developments. But the raw materials from which they construct this complex architecture is undeniably rudimentary. If we look at an individual riff or chord progression there’s really not much in the way of multifaceted technique to consider for the most part.
But achieving artistic complexity from relatively simple building blocks is in itself cause for praise. It may be the case that Father Befouled’s appeal just doesn’t extend all that far beyond Incantation obsessives who enjoy studying how this style can be unfurled in new and curious directions. But taken on its own terms, ‘Crowned in Veneficum’ still comes out head and shoulders above the vast majority of death metal coming out today, and warrants some attention from the wider death metal community as a subtly original work.
Ancient Gate: Forgotten Dark Age
Out 25th March on Hessian Firm
Originally released in May 2021, this EP from Argentina’s Ancient Gate sees them expand their theatrical offering via material that is both more aggressive and more atmospheric than 2020’s ‘Empire Beyond Dusk’ LP. Where the full length opted for an ethereal, obscure, cinematic tone by which to colour in riffs of mournful and melodic black metal, ‘Forgotten Dark Age’ takes a punchier, catchier approach that is no less lacking in immersive soundscapes and elongated narratives as a result.
In terms of presentation alone this calls to mind something like Agatus’ ‘Dawn of Martyrdom’. Both are replete with immediacy and energy yet maintain that fantastical undertone that pulls the listener into the experience. And both place melodic character as being of central importance to achieving this over and above textural layering.
The guitar tone is sharp and domineering, almost to the point of abrasion. But this only lends an aggression and conviction to the melodic throughlines as they twist and meander around these pieces with confidence. Drums are equally brash, opting for more mid-paced, driving rhythms over a wash of cold blast-beats alone. The passionate revelries of the vocal performance are placed front and centre, working as the perfect contrast to the distant and ethereal keyboards that supplement the guitars with understated atmospherics.
True to both the name Ancient Gate and the title of this EP, ‘Forgotten Dark Age’ feels like peering through a window into another age replete with its own self contained narratives and Homeric moral standards. These tracks have a melodic character that supervenes over and above any individual riff or chord sequence. Even the simplest two note exchange takes on new significance when placed within these epic soundscapes. Everything seems to build toward the title track which is placed roughly at the heart of this EP from a structural perspective, as it gradually builds tension through a bombastically simple two chord riff played at marching speed. This is perfectly contrasted by the euphoric crescendo that follows, defined by cathartic guitar leads and slower, riding tempos.
Emerging on the other side of this EP, ‘Beneath the Crimson Moon’ opens up new landscapes with more laboured, mid-paced riffing that seems to circle around its theme with tantric patience. Again, those ghostly keyboards soar above the mix, stitching together each contrasting passage within and across these tracks, granting them a clear conceptual unity. Ancient Gate prove to be adept at contrasting the immediacy of certain riffs with more elongated melodic narratives that create a sense of journey and progression within the music.
None of the tricks behind this EP are particularly subtle or novel, but there is something to be said for taking the time to arrange riffs and melodies in the appropriate order which creates the illusion of inevitability. And this is ultimately what makes the music of Ancient Gate sound so intuitively fantastical. There is no ill placed refrain or transition that does not quite sit right in the stomach. We are therefore dragged into the experience with no laborious suspension of disbelief required to insert ourselves into the experience.
Amon Acid: Demon Rider
Out 31st March on Helter Skelter Productions / Regain Records
The new single from these psychedelic stoner doomsters will hold few surprises, but what it does it does to perfection. Two relatively short tracks are offered up on ‘Demon Rider’ to tide us over until the next full length following the crisp and refreshing ‘Paradigm Shift’ released back in 2020.
The opening title track offers a mix of Monolord style doom riffs supplemented by some welcome lead guitar work that moves past simple textural variation and begins to take on a melodic character of its own. Ambient noise and random projectiles of static sit behind the mix, fleshing it out with a sense of malevolence that really serves to elevate the overall presentation. Vocals are a deep, clean, oddly monotonous presence, serving to further supplement the drone of the guitars.
‘The Incredible Melting Man’ is the more light hearted number, offering a mix of droning doom and roadhouse rock in a jaunty nod to 1970s b-movies (the actual film was in turn a nod to the monster movies of the 50s, and so the wheels of nostalgia keep on turning). But this is a fun romp through fast paced psychobilly, heavy stoner doom, and some welcome campy horror aesthetics that will only please stoner doom’s remaining faithful support base.
And for those of us interested in Amon Acid’s trippy textural experimentation and refreshingly nuanced approach to melody, there is still plenty on offer on this single to keep us happy until the next LP eventually lands.