ALTERED DEAD – Returned to Life (2021)REVIEW

Apathetic, cataleptic, and succumbing to an half-hourlong scene of quietly torturous near-death delirium may very well be the thrill of a lifetime -if- we are not only able to survive but, to tangentially compare this catatonia with unsupervised hallucinogenic imbibe in excess. The claustrophobic tunnel vision that self-poisoned altered states result bring to mind not only Poe‘s graphic obsession with being buried alive in a choleric or, medically dead state but also the surrealistic break away from the shared reality of societal pressures that inevitably comes with realizing these zombifying extremes. A near-death experience survivor or internalized lysergic astronaut’s “bad trip” each typically feel this disconnect via the same chemical reactions catalyzed by a state of mortal fear; The most typical result is the cessation of fantasy-ridden obsession with death, a desirous hanging lure that typically dies within the subject as a predictable reformation occurs internally when witnessing their greatest fear. Patiently wait for the latch of death’s door to grind open in response to a precarious life or, force the issue away from thanatophobia with sanity-shaking psychedelics, either way a man resurrected beyond their darkest cave of fear(s) will inevitably become a strengthened outlier rather than a vengefully shambling corpse’d mind. Victoria, British Colombia-based death metal duo Altered Dead busy their hands and minds with infectious and bloody communicable death for much of ‘Returned to Life‘, their second full-length album — Chunking their way beyond palest realism with traditional-yet-unusually colorful (and not entirely archaic) death metal in grittiest form yet. Their punkish, doomed reap upon classic death metal malevolence reaches a moldered and brooding contemplation beyond death on this long awaited follow-up.

Don’t get it into your skull that this record is majorly deep or sporting a giant-brained thesis on life itself so much as these guys’ve taken a commanding step towards the idealized vision of a well-balanced classic late 80’s death metal sound. Altered Dead formed in mind somewhat unofficially around 2011 after the two key members who’re still driving the boat today had worked together on the debut from black metal act Shibboleth‘s debut back in 2010. The band proper had geared up as a trio in 2013 with a self-titled single, a self-titled demo in 2014, then a killer self-titled debut full-length (‘Altered Dead‘, 2016) a couple of years later through Cavernous Records. It wouldn’t make a ton of sense to suggest Altered Dead were death metal/hardcore punk hybrid in style but anyone heavily into Slaughter, Death Breath, and bands like Bastard Grave will feel the textural gore of 80’s death metal and those punkish origins steaming off of that debut. Looking back I can see why it’d prove hard to follow up for anyone in the know, the chainsaw (but not HM-2 skunked) sound of that album still holds up damn well and it just reeks of the right rabid energy. If you’re looking for what they’d filled the five year gap between releases with, drummer/co-vocalist Julian features in horrifying sludge band Resent (see: ‘Crosshairs‘, 2020) a project that also features members of Human Agony. The path forward, divined from a half-decade’s worth of mulling, is a matter of dynamic growth.

A stylistic lens focused upon not only the ‘Mental Funeral’ school of doomed-yet-pure death metal kicks but the fullest range of its disciples throughout the decades is the way forward via the scent of ‘Soulside Journey’, the club-swinging thump of early Unleashed (or, Grave), and the “modern” recollection of these forms by enlightened groups like Vanhelgd. This is the general ballpark I’d set most of the heavier, downtuned and doom-stained standout moments on ‘Returned to Life’ yet Altered Dead retain their own punkish urgency, which will ultimately grind quite a bit harder than those comparisons would suggest. The swinging, crusted and chuggy bounding of the title track (“Returned to Life”) serves as a reminder that these guys are aiming for clever, riff-focused 80’s death metal battery shoved into early 90’s fidelity and (to the uninitiated) this will be the proper introduction to what makes their gig special. I’d like to go ahead and generalize the full-length’s stylistic focus from there but the duo have clearly fixated on brevity, maximum impact and a strong showing of variety throughout as we burn through punkish tweakers (“Final Pathogen”) and their triangular Nirvana 2002-esque bonking extension (“Prosodemic Realms”) in a series of irregular powerful motions. Though I’d lead with this idea that the core of the full listen is ‘Mental Funeral’ by way of an old-souled Swedish macabre mindset in spirit that thought doesn’t really pay off until “Empostomb” kicks in, this is where their knack for massive doom creeps into grinding outs becomes the key statement on this release. A major high within an experience that is over all too soon on a record that is just about ~30 minutes if we discount the noise-to-noise lead-in to their decent cover of Celtic Frost‘s “Into the Crypts of Rays”. Just hey man, give me like five more minutes eh?

This stew of sometimes doomed, sometimes punked, and always ripping death musing had me on the fence to start due to the restless nature of the tracklist and the brief runtime of the full-listen. On one hand I could see ‘Returned to Life’ as a hallucinatory whip through the best elements of death metal circa 1989 complete with an appreciation for the maestros of the riff at the end via a strong cover. Short and effective as it is, this is a bit of a modern take in terms of brevity when considering the excess we’d found peak death metal mired in back in the day; In this sense we’re just crossing the threshold of mini-album sized content before they duck out and it didn’t sit well with me to start. At the same time each piece has its ecstatic motion down, the down-tuned sea of chug and roar they churn out is exemplar, eventful, and often memorable to say the least. This ends up trumping the low caloric feel of its Altered Dead‘s quick burn and though I’d wanted just one more song the “all killer, no filler” route works best for me in the long run. They know better and it makes for a good time with a record that slings serious balls throughout. Beyond that, if you’re going to take me back to the heyday of death metal the cosmic slime’d cover art by Matt Sidney (see: Nightfucker debut) is the right place to start in terms of packaging and helped push me over the edge and buy the record. Their gig is quick, potent, uncomplicated pure (but not too pure) death metal that is easy to recommend. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Returned to Life
LABEL(S):Memento Mori [CD],
Fucking Kill Records [LP]
RELEASE DATE:January 25th, 2021
BUY:Memento Mori Website
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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