Deeds of Flesh – Portals to Canaan

by Brett Stevens
October 18, 2013 –

deeds_of_flesh-portals_to_canaanDeeds of Flesh pioneered the West coast version of the percussive death metal innovated in New York by bands like Suffocation and Morpheus Descends, itself a derivative of the more textured muted-chord riffing of speed metal bands like Prong, Vio-lence, Exhorder and Exodus. With Portals to Canaan, Deeds of Flesh hope to expand their style into the future.

As a result, they’ve brought in some influences. Some come from expected quarters, like the Gorguts Obscura influence visible on many tracks, or the modern “tek-deth” borrowings. Others are more obscure: the use of background drones and electronic effects like Tangerine Dream, for example, or the repeated allusions to tracks from all of the first three Deicide albums. This tendency shows a band in touch with how stale both the old school bands currently and the entire concept of modern metal have become.

Portals to Canaan does one better, which is that it attempts to make these riffs work with another. This leads to a sort of game: how outlandish can we be and still pull it off? As a result, the guitar fireworks immediately dive into almost paranoid riffs that despite being primitive show a delicate sensibility of avoiding predictability. Deeds of Flesh love breakneck tempi, but even more, they love to break up patterns, transition through a series of barely related ideas, and then return to the original. Tempo changes explode, riffs invert themselves, and guitars chase each other oblivion and emerge in harmony.

The primary downside of this album is that it borrows from both deathgrind and tek-deth, which both include tropes that are aesthetically annoying. Deathgrind has the chromatic chugging advance while the vocals chant in double time, and tek-deth has its video-game-sound sweeps and noodly squeal riffs. Deeds of Flesh try to minimize this whenever possible, but rely on it frequently enough that it is hard to overcome. What is great about this album however is that it is able to unite its wide variety with the riffs themselves, like an old school band, and not fall into the nu-death trap of being so divergent that the only unification can be found through return to very standard song forms after short deviations.

Culminating in the epic track “Orphans of Sickness,” Deeds of Flesh Portals to Canaan offers a credible attempt to find a new path through metal. I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence. In addition, the use of ambient sound and innovative song construction makes this release a good listen, even if as I do you wince at the core/grind parts.

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8 comments

  • Madhu

    “I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence.”

    I agree to an extent; this is a genuine piece of metal here despite the metalcore trappings. However, it’s probably an abortive path. The use of these modern techniques doesn’t add anything to the music except for an obstacle to be overcome. I strongly suspect that it’s only there as a feeble attempt to draw in younger audiences.

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  • stormwinds

    Arguably this is the best death metal for 2013. Not sure what does this say about death metal or 2013, but you might want to give this album a chance and not turn it off after the first “noodly squeal riff” (like I did the first time I listened to it).
    As for the modern techniques, maybe they think they add to the futuristic / sci-fi / video game atmosphere, which in itself might be an attempt to draw in younger audiences (not so feeble as they seem to succeed at that), but I prefer this thematology instead of another br00tal death metal album about a guy cutting his victims to pieces. Plus, that “Amidst the Ruins” opening riff totally sounds like it came out of a 90s Sonic game, I chuckle every time I listen to it.

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  • Anthony

    …but in all seriousness, the skill (both technical and stylistic) with which this band performs the Orphans of Sickness shows that their heart is still in the right place. Deeds of Flesh’s work prior to their second to last album has been a favorite of mine for years, but when Of What’s to Come came out, I got pretty disgusted. This new album is similarly off-putting at first listen, but like the review indicates, the songwriting skill is still there in how all of the wildly disparate components link together. It’s a new aesthetic for them, but the album itself is well-written. I might have to revisit Of What’s to Come, as well.

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  • EDS

    I hear a lot of past and present Deeds of Flesh on Portals to Canaan. I hear a few nods to the first two Decrepit Birth albums and some sections similar in vain to Aeons Past era Element. I feel some vibes of Truth Beyond… era Neuraxis. Plus, as stated in the review, some modern day tekk-death wankery and death grind is mixed in there as well on nearly every track. Deeds have done a great job tying these influences together and creating songs that have great construction and flow. However, this seems to be a giant amalgam of the modern California death metal (Unique Leader) of the 2000′s and the international tekk-death/broodle death scenes. I find a few songs rise above the rest and are catchy enough to get me air guitaring and my head nodding, but overall this can be filed under the “Entertaining Releases of 2013″, not the “Best of….”.

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