Underneath the trappings of an underground death metal band, Toxemia create 1970s-style doom metal, formed mainly of heavy metal elements but incorporating stylistic influences from a variety of darker shades of underground metal, most notably Autopsy Mental Funeral.
In chord progressions, song structure and lead guitar, this album most closely resembles what might happen if old Saint Vitus crossed over with a primitive proto-death metal band like Master, albeit at the slower tempi necessary for doom metal. Each song features a riff loop for verse and chorus with discursive riffs and use of both freeform lead guitar and rhythmic lead guitar overlays to distinguish the song. Clear themes emerge and while tonally there are few surprises, the arrangement of these familiar elements in forms that fit the particular worldview of this band makes these tracks interesting. While the underground metal influence can be seen in tremolo technique and layering of drums and guitars around a tempo change in the death metal style, the essence of Ancient Demon remains in the hard rock/heavy metal roots of the first generation of doom metal bands.
Experienced listeners may find some kinship here with the first Varathron album which also took a theatrical approach to traditional heavy metal and created dark atmospheres which both fulfilled expectations of that genre and distorted them into outsider commentary on the conventions themselves. The use of doom-death technique accelerates this band past most of the bands heading backward in time in the doom metal genre, but its spirit remains in that ideal and its execution is both faithful and inventive.
Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.
Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.
In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.
When a genre becomes buried under layers of confusion, people identify it by what it lacks more than what it is. A more sensible approach understands such a genre as having a spirit or other indefinable center that holds the rest together. Such is the case in death metal, which is relevant as Execration clearly aspire to an old-school death metal style that incorporates sounds from newer hybrid-metal genres.
For example, Morbid Dimensions makes greater use of the open strum as a harmonic fill between riffs, and prefers that its phrases end in rhythmic suspension, allowing them to use such fills to keep the music from becoming too violent. While they do not incorporate blatant sweeps, Execration enjoy putting riffs with clear influence from punk in with the metal, creating an oil on water effect. The band explores the textures and rhythms of the smarter edge of metalcore, stoner doom metal and the post-metal era, but works them into songs which aesthetically and compositionally hail the old school underground metal approach.
In that general mission, Execration succeed triumphantly: Morbid Dimensions presents an album of mid-paced doom-death songs which touch on favorite riff archetypes without becoming derivative, although in fairness this band sounds like Dismember playing Desecresy while taking advice from Hypocrisy and Unleashed. Riffs combine to form highly textured and thoughtful songs with a melodic basis, but the target here is clearly the post-metal model of long slow simple melodies unfurling rather than a charging desire to fit riffs together into brain Jenga about the imponderable. To break up the melodic mood domination, Execration vary the pattern with both Black Sabbath-sounding riffs and classic mid-paced death metal riffs. Like modern metal however, emphasis rides on the vocals rather than guitars, which creates more of a recognizable song format to rock listeners.
At their best, Execration manage a better version of the old-school sound than the twin evils of those who make imitations without soul, and those who make hybrids without sense. Despite this being a competent album, the inclusion of too many of the newer influences prevents Execration from using old school songwriting alone, and so sometimes they end up with riff salad. Several of these songs include one or two riffs that have no real relation to the content and suggest either hasty songwriting, or an argument between creators that is resolved by pacifying everyone and including whatever each person wants to throw in. For raw ability, Execration ranks up there with recent doom-death tyrants Desecresy, and if they can keep the randomness and post-nu-metal influences out, they might make a crushing album out of these raw materials.
Coming from the tradition of thunderous American death metal that incorporates doom passages, Funerus write European-style melodies through their songs and as a result create an architecture of moods that gives us song a distinct presence.
Reduced to Sludge uses rolling rhythm riffs, upset by longer fretboard-walking riffs that set up a more complex rhythmic expectation, and then as these riffs repeat modifies them to bring out a melody. Often this is a simple riff that, like a rebuttal, speaks back to the verse-chorus arrangement and expands its two and three notes into a whole melodic phrase.
Funerus shows its influences strongly from all over the map. The easy ones to pick out are Asphyx, Cianide and Entombed, and it’s foolish to expect this band to avoid some influence from Incantation from which its guitarist is loaned. Its faster riffs are simpler and evoke more of a NYDM feel, while its phrasal riffs sound more like the Incantation-Revenant-Profanatica-Demoncy spectrum of cavernous occult doom-death.
While Reduced to Slude demonstrates a range of powerful death metal riff archetypes, its vocals emerge straight from the early days of death metal, sounding both gruff and breathless without being fully guttural while also avoiding the rasp of black metal. These guide the onslaught of riffs when intense, and as it slows the textures meld, creating a sonic veil from which the listener gradually emerges.
Although Funerus stays with a classic death metal sound and thus does not offer a quirky or unexpected aesthetic, the result is that Funerus stays true to its roots and has a voice it is comfortable with. The result is an album of shorter songs that feel like longer songs, and despite being rudimentary and using similar techniques, avoid boredom by staying true to their essential mission of creating a dark and thunderous mood.
Jill Funerus, wife and bandmate of Ibex Moon label head and Incantation guitarist John McEntee, and composer of songs for Funerus along with McEntee and Sam Inzerra on drums, has been diagnosed with a heart attack in response to recent health problems.
Funerus began in the early 1990s in Pennsylvania as a Swedish death metal-influenced doom-death band. Jill Daily, who uses the stage name Jill Funerus, went on to become the bassist for this band influenced by Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Obituary and Carcass.
After terminating in 1994, the band resurrected itself with a new line-up in the early 2000s, and with the help of John McEntee (Ibex Moon/Incantation), rose again in a new form and began gigging. The band are known for being professional and easy-going at the same time, in addition to making crushing grinding doomy music.
Our thoughts are will Jill, John and their family and friends at this time.
Doom metal isn’t a genre, but a palette of moods. Since doom metal itself varies all over the place in tempo, it doesn’t make sense to look at the first rhythm on an album, but instead to grasp the overall feel.
Unending Degradation is a heck of a doom metal album. It is structured like doom metal in that tracks are based around a riff and a return to its theme, building with harmony and rhythm a plodding expectation that is both welcome when it is gratified, and gradually grinding us into the ground. Behind it is the science of the four-note minor key melody.
Someone tossed this to me and said, “Hey, check out this old school death metal,” but I think he was very, very high. This isn’t death metal at all; it’s doom-death, but its heart is doom metal. These tunes plod, trudge, dirge and resonate. The music doesn’t get any faster than the first Cathedral EP. The majority of it is radiantly dark and slow, and repetitive.
I wouldn’t expect old school death metal. There’s no riff Jenga here. There’s layers of variants on a theme producing a mood more like an ambient band or techno than death metal. But if you like the old school dark and doomy, this album full of catchy melodies and churning rhythms should satisfy.