Initially formed as a revival of cult Swedish death metal demo kings Nirvana 2002 around 2012, Under the Church have made serious changes to their sound and approach while remaining steadfastly devoted to their traditional Swedish death metal sound. The rumbling guitar tone and d-beat kicks that fire off ‘Supernatural Punishment’ are immediately too-familiar, for better or worse, and perhaps don’t hint at the level of variation and riff expression available throughout the album. It is an album that echoes the best of Nihilist, Celtic Frost and the more rotten aspects of ‘Mental Funeral’. To pass it off as yet another Sunlight studios buzz-piece from an old school super-grouping would be a tragic, short-sighted mistake.
Beneath the above-the-waist energetic beating of guitars bellows the new vocalist who is none other than Erik Sahlström who you might have heard in post-‘Left Hand Pathology’ General Surgery and Crucifyre but I personally know him better from post-Kaamos band Serpent Obscene and the less interesting death/thrash era of Maze of Torment. That isn’t to say his performance is similar on this Under the Church album, but I think Crucifyre fans will recognize him immediately. His best moment on the album is probably “Staircase from Hell” both in clarity and delivery of the lyrical narrative, it echoes Entombed‘s ‘Clandestine’ but touches upon Sodom style speed metal riffing and wailing solos that are revelatory. With repeated listens I began warming up to the density of speed metal influence and the album is much less Entombed worship and more a heavy tribute to the rhythms of German speed metal and the era that spawned their Autopsy influenced sound.
Fans of Merciless should be excited to see Erik Wallin’s continued involvement with both this band and Death Breath as it seems Merciless are due for resurrection anytime now. Based on studio reports I’m not clear as to whether or not Wallin and ex-Morbid guitarist Marcus Klack played on this record, they’re listed as live guitarists… but fans of ‘Rabid Armageddon’ will find the guitar arrangements almost entirely different here. Although the guitar tone doesn’t vary greatly Under the Church’s influences and arrangements go from blackened speed metal to death n’ roll and even classic doom/death at the drop of a hat. I’ve always felt this guitar tone can only really hold up for 30 minutes or so without becoming an irritating buzz in the ear and keeping the record at 31 gives the songs just enough room to have impact but never drag on needlessly. I don’t think ‘Supernatural Punishment’ is out to change the world of death metal, and Under the Church haven’t done so, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the best Swedish death metal albums of the year.
|Released||November 10, 2017|
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