It is a mild rarity when a death metal band hits me with a record ‘new’ enough in context of their discography that it’d send me reeling into the recesses of my long term memory for the sake of wondering if I’d ever listened all that closely to them; Or, alternately, if they were ever as distinct as they are today. The answer is as complicated as the thought process in the sense that any stretch of time will create an equal quantity of ‘progress’ among artists who’ve agreed upon a singular vision. Sure, but how valuable is any perceptible progression (in fidelity, songwriting, sound design, tonal range, variation, etc.) within a sub-genre known for deeper traditions of iteration? My own old school death metal attuned senses continue to evolve with an eager eraser pointed at the drapery of ‘retro’ specific acts who’d rely on too-specific references and this despite loving those references. It’d seem the great hypocrisy of the ‘stick to the classics’ mentality is souring to the long term fan: To love the trend-selected ancients and merely like the bands influenced by them, despite their immensely high taste levels, creates a foundation of unwarranted nepotism that perpetuates the importance of demographically aimed content rather than transmutation in the hands of death metal lifers. Such transmuted craft ebbs from the minds of Portland, Oregon death metal band Witch Vomit who manage an appropriately succinct follow-up to their 2016 debut as they continue to pull away from puritanical Scandinavian death metal tonality while retaining a mild Finnish affect on ‘Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave’. It is a moderate evolution for the band but an undoubtedly notable listen all the same.
You’re still in the right ballpark in seeking similarities to debuts from Grave, Immolation, Demigod, and Funebrarum in the oeuvre Witch Vomit touts but prior hints of death/doom are even less prevalent here than they were on the ‘Poisoned Blood’ EP in 2017. Instead a decent number of Incantation-esque swerves provide greater characterization of ‘Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave’. These hallucinogenic curvatures aren’t an unexpected evolution but they offer a more meaningful shift than you’d think, allowing the band to stand out among the countless ‘old school’ death/doom influenced acts shared between Seattle and Portland. The trade-off is a faster, more intense pace that tends to veer away from currently popular primitive notions towards a sound that owes as much to ‘Dawn of Possession’ as it does “Shadows of the Past” or “Slumber of Sullen Eyes”. It all feels incredibly refined and even somewhat understated (for a death metal album) when considering the project’s origins as a duo creating primitive Swedish death metal (a la early Horrendous) on their ‘The Webs of Horror’ (2015) EP, complete with a typical HM-2 guitar tone. I’d still place Witch Vomit in the same league as early Tomb Mold (‘Primordial Malignity’) and Funebrarum above all else.
“Despoilment” may flow directly off of the momentum that the opener (“From Rotten Guts”) provides but its hook comes from a simple guitar technique that pays great dividends. This track isn’t a highlight solely because of a few tremolo dips during a riff but for its holistic representation of what Witch Vomit are today versus their less personalized beginnings. It is the same general boost in quality and conviction that their ‘old school’ brutal death project Torture Rack had enjoyed recently on ‘Malefic Humiliation’. All aspects of fidelity are improved but it is the attention to riff, composition, and the dynamic between rhythmic interest and embellishment that few classic death metal listeners ‘get’ unless they’ve scoured the underground for the right stuff. “Dead Veins” offers a similar hook but this time one of melodic composition turning the face of the album back towards their Swedish and Finnish influences and expounding upon them further on “Squirming in Misery”. Much of the greater differentiation from peers happens within these shorter songs that appear deliberately structured around subtle hooks, the effect is intermittently engaging at first but I’d quickly realized that the more attention I’d give to the two guitarists the more a full listen paid off at just under 28 minutes. In fact the addition of second guitarist Casey Lynch (Aldebaran, Trepanation) may explain why I’d felt like this was a bit of a leap compared to previous records as it appears written with two guitars in mind.
Even if it is just a belching growl (“Fumes of Dying Bodies”) or a swaying whammy bar there is a redeeming point of interest that punctuates each of the seven death metal songs that make up ‘Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave’. None of those details lack but not every song operates on an equal level of ingenuity and this means a couple tracks do end up feeling less considered than the rest. “Dripping Tombs” sounds like a B-side from ‘Manor of Infinite Forms’, for better or worse, and the title track feels like a redundant statement within the full listen despite its solid main riff. By keeping the content tightly written and succinct Witch Vomit get in and get out before things begin to tire but, maybe too quickly before the full listen becomes endearing. I don’t necessarily need a 45 minute opus to be satisfied but 3-5 more minutes might have provided a chance to create something slightly more dynamic from this already boiling pool of ideas. As is, this second record from the band is still easy to give a high recommendation for subtlety that bloomed into character over many listens. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with “Despoilment” for a strong first impression then “Dead Veins” for its memorable outro then circle back to “From Rotten Guts” if you’re still undecided.
Bile from beyond the realm of the dead. 4.0/5.0
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