The ruthless traditions of classic underground death metal style, specifically the extreme ideological extensions of mid-80’s thrash and doom metal rhythms, consistently raise fundamentalist children like wolves. Traditional music that indoctrinates folks in their youths long after it existed tends to create strangely rabid adults who’ve nostalgia for things they’d never experienced, and perhaps spent years fawning over, without ever truly investing research and criticism of those old forms. The reality that blinds the devout, the faithful protectors of old techniques, and perpetuation of the lie that the ‘originals’ were anything more than depressed teenagers discovering stimulant drug combinations during the Reagan administration is most often the realm of the sycophant and fool. There is another way, though. See the continuum today where history repeats itself without progress, where the limitations of the human mind and the lineage of insanity, posturing, and unqualified pretenders all contribute to a pool of overflowing absurdity that does not equate with a personal identity at all. There is no ‘old school’ only a short list of death metal bands that were lucky enough to be remembered on purpose, and countless others who insist upon being remembered by way of persistent fandom, lazy resurrection capitalizing upon nostalgia, or by virtue of a tradition of repeated constructs (techniques, tonality, imagery.) Is a new death metal band who wear their influences like banners of war any less valid than their influences were back in 1991? History will undoubtedly care less about them by virtue of their inspirational lineage and easy categorization, sure, but they will provide thrill and righteous entertainment for those of us living in the moment of their variations upon traditional music. There is great cultural value in maintaining these niches and no doubt Newcastle upon Tyne, England-based death metal band Live Burial do a fine job upholding an exacting slice of ‘old school’ death metal. Their second full-length album ‘Unending Futility’ offers a focused and cumulative window into a very specific realm, a pre-’93 boon of death metal where spheres of influence crossed wildly between the United States, England, and the Netherlands as they used the old roads cobbled by late 80’s thrash metal to find their networks and create less internalized ‘scenes’.
To speak to the ages and the faux reality created in the moment, many would posit Live Burial a death/doom metal band when they first kicked into gear with their first demo (‘Demo 2013‘, 2013) primarily due to one slower song and some resemblance of Autopsy that carries on into today. In fact the band have always leaned towards 80’s death metal and death/thrash metal for the true spark of their sound rather than any sort of death/doom metal. The band’s first EP (‘Live Burial‘, 2014) showed those colors a bit more boldly with its death/thrash rip and, dry Obituary-esque buzzing guitar tone. The first hint of unique personality shows up there by way of bassist Lee Anderson (Horrified, Plague Rider) who springs into action on that record and fights against the thickness of its classic death metal tonality. As often as folks compare that point of Live Burial‘s career to Asphyx and ‘Mental Funeral’-era Autopsy I’d say the bass performances instead pull in a strong Pestilence vibe that continues to persist today. They are not a progressive death metal band just yet, though, as their related projects cover that realm nicely. The emergence of the quintet’s first full-length (‘Forced Back to Life‘, 2016) was expectedly plain as a debut that arrived sans any particularly compelling point of view beyond resembling a band like Morgoth, a solid ‘old school’ sound that made direct references to Death‘s early releases. Their was a personality there, it was just somewhat buried by worship and ‘retro’ feeling upfront that’d obscured the impact of the record severely. ‘Unending Futily’ instead aims for the straightforward rip of albums like ‘Consuming Impulse’ or Impaler‘s ‘Charnel Deity’. In fact, if you look at the short list of death metal albums Deaf Records released in the early 90’s there is the sense that Live Burial would’ve fit in particularly well next to bands like Accidental Suicide and Impaler back in the day. Hey let’s us not get too carried away though, the full listen is not so categorically musty and graven.
What’d stood out about Live Burial back in 2014 still stands out today, their grip upon thrashing hulks a la ‘The Rack’ (“Swing of the Pendulum”) and the ability to spin towards some ‘old school’ death/thrash tonality makes for an intense listen that is still helped along by a commanding bass guitar presence. That isn’t to say that they have not evolved but the core concept of their pure death metal sound is yet unperturbed by advances in fidelity, which speaks to the steadfast editing of ideas that streamlines their songwriting within an appropriately narrow vision. That might sound reductive but I truly appreciate the authentic traditional aspect of their fast-ripping ’91 styled death metal performances. I’d definitely heard shades of ‘Scream Bloody Gore’, ‘Death After Death’ and ‘Mental Funeral’ in past works but this time around those influences blend together enough to sound less like imitation thanks to a very full production, balanced but still hairy and raw when the beats per minute begin to rocket along. “Condemned to the Boats” is a fine example of how far Live Burial have come in the last eight or so years, hitting upon those classic death/thrash forms, ripping into some sharp guitar techniques, and letting the bass truly enhance the riffs rather than follow them. “Swing of the Pendulum” drives home this point, striking upon one of the more satisfying moments on the album when Anderson‘s low end introduces a Vanhelgd-esque slower section. They’ve not necessarily recreated ‘Piece of Time’ just yet but the bass presence continues to be an inspiring point of distinction.
The power of the old school death metal album that lasts throughout the ages often lies in easy impact, sub-40 minute length, and big riffs that you’ll never forget… Sure, there are stylistic innovations and interesting techniques driving a lot of well-remembered and revered records from the early 90’s but the listenability of the entire album is key to maintaining station in any aging record collectors sagging shelves. In this sense Live Burial have invoked the spirits of old by keeping songs tight in their attack and succinct whenever possible. There is no meandering nonsense or wasted space on the ~41 minutes of ‘Unending Futility’ and the flow from song-to-song allows the album to be an entity with useful parts that push forward without any lazy bullshit wrecking the immersion of its insistent, menacing sound. The one point where these guys do fully indulge, the nine minute closer “Cemetery Fog” which features Kari Kankanpaa (Solothus) on guest vocals, ends up being a major highlight for the full listen and one huge reason to keep listening to the whole record over and over again. It is a mountain of a song and a sort of ‘payoff’ moment for the tension created in the middle of the album as doomed refrains and ‘Testimony of the Ancients’-esque riffs begin to threaten its arrival.
I’d end up giving this album many listens, sometimes intermittent and other days I’d put it on 4-5 times in a row. The songwriting itself isn’t all that memorable outside of the moment but it feels great to be in the moment. With that said, the experience should prove notable for the quality of the production/render, Live Burial‘s intense ‘old school’ death metal style, the number of riffs-per-minute, and a bass guitar presence that isn’t overbearing but still allows for a notable personal touch. High recommendation.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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