Now that records like ‘Revelations’ and ‘Zos Kia Cultus’ are a lifetime away for many younger death metal fans it bears some repeating what additionally important gateways to the long active and thriving Polish death metal scene had been up to for nearly two decades prior. Thanatos would strike their way into view as a band in between movements, a ‘Schizophrenia’ influenced slaughterer of a demo (‘Out of Sanity‘, 1990) would precede their advancement along with a new brutal wave of death metal acts more cognizant of the ‘big’ acts of the day (Morbid Angel, Deicide, etc.) beyond their beer-blasted formative death/thrash years. By 1992 they were officially Trauma though the death/thrash style wouldn’t fully work out of their system for a couple of demos, the most celebrated being ‘Invisible Reality‘ (1993). By 1996 it’d seem like every Polish death act was aiming for ‘Once Upon the Cross’ or ‘Domination’ for guidance but, still buried in the underground Trauma had found remarkable power on their debut full-length tape ‘Comedy is Over’, a record when spun today sounds as if it were ten years ahead of its time and to be fair most wouldn’t hear it outside of Poland for several more years. Much of that spark is evident in each of their seven albums since but the greatest point of nostalgia for fans worldwide came with their broader-reaching Empire Records debut ‘Imperfect Like a God‘ (2003), perhaps the most essential piece for understanding why Trauma were remarkable in their journey from standard death-thrashers towards an inspiring modern death metal band with a real knack for catchy, heavy as fuck songwriting. This eighth album from the band, ‘Ominous Black‘, is a healthy reminder of Trauma past and present and an inspired piece of work considering the seven year wait in between records.
Having followed this band since 2003 I’ve built up some major respect for the project after watching many of their peers go through entire life cycles on big labels, compromising their sound and ultimately circling back towards pure death metal in the last decade or two. No need to return to their roots, eh, since Trauma have been steadfast arguably since the first album. That isn’t to say things haven’t evolved, certain members have brought sparks into their sound here and there while each record features some experimentation. On a superficial level, I could also argue things haven’t evolved much in terms of production sound since ‘DetermiNation‘ (2005), though their records have lost some of the compression that was more common among the brutal death of the 2000’s since. Taking a closer look at the fine print this is due to guitarist Jarosław Misterkiewicz acting as producer on all records alongside mixing/mastering duties from the Wiesławski brothers (Hertz Studio) on each record since their second album. Consistency is a meaningful trait when buying records and Trauma appear all the more die-hard because of it when I consider their full discography.
So, the implication is that ‘Ominous Black’ isn’t going to mess around with your expectations much but it also isn’t a plain follow up to the somewhat ‘off’ push of their last album (‘Karma Obscura‘, 2013). In fact this record expresses much more in the style of their first 3-4 albums, reminding me of both that late 90’s/early 2000’s era (in general) and their important work within it. More specifically the guitar work and bass presence recalls ‘Suffocated in Slumber‘ (2000) in many instances (“Insanity of Holiness”, “The Godless Abyss”) though the band have matured into a certain level of detailed songwriting since; This allows ‘Ominous Black’ to feel both modern and appropriate as a fortifying part of their brutal canon. “Among the Lies” particularly brings to mind the point where bands like Behemoth, Hate Eternal, and Nile had really muscled their way into ‘household’ name status with its doubled vocal style and main verse riff. It serves to slice off Side A with a burst of energy worthy of their ‘Suffocated in Slumber’ record, making it one of my favorite pieces on the full listen.
From that point Side B does everything it can to build a new thread of more expressive and unexpected songs, incorporating some remarkable lead guitar work and further variations of what they’d approached with “Among the Lies”. The gallop and burn of “I Am Universe” appears unassuming at first but it eventually evolves into a memorably sludged-out exodus and another prime highlight from the full listen. “The Godless Abyss” sounds quite a bit like a 2000’s Vader song and this is what’d initially had me recalling ‘Revelations’ as I’d fired up my thoughts on the record as a whole, there is a part of my admiration that stems from recalling my own initial exploration of Polish death metal twenty years ago. Of course results will vary if you’ve none of the same nostalgia and yet Trauma are just as accessible and powerful as they ever were on ‘Ominous Black’. Meditating upon this statement and aiming my recommendation towards folks who’re prone to dig backwards into the old ways, I’d have to give a moderately high recommendation for this fine death metal record from these old pros.
Moderately high recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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