New year, same old shit. The world’s all jacked up, go listen to death metal.
Depravity (no, not that Depravity) are an Australian brutal death metal band who have been gestating down under until they hit the international underground scene this year with their debut full length Evil Upheaval. While having kind of a dopey name for their first album, Depravity do make the statement that “this is what Morbid Angel should have sounded like today”. Bold claim. I ain’t gonna defend Morbid Angel‘s subpar output as of late, but implying you’re going to be putting out a sequel to Covenant twenty-five years later is one hell of a flex. Could it be possible?
Brutal Death Metal 101
Evil Upheaval is a treasure trove of brutal death metal tropes. The album opens with some slow ringing guitars and a suitably disturbing sample before exploding into the neck-snappingly fast “Manic Onslaught” proper. The bass is a nearly inaudible duplication of the guitars, only an octave lower. Riffs abound with pit opening grooves and 16th note flurries, punctuated by some tempo shifts and even a slam section cutting “Repugnant” in half. Vocals come in throat-shreddingly hot, and stay there the entire time. Drums manically twist between speedy double kick work and blastbeats, sometimes both. Forty minutes pass and then the album is done before it overstays its welcome. Brutal death metal done by the books.
And that’s okay.
Sometimes, Dead Is Better
Depravity are beating a dead horse with their debut, but god damn did they decide to bring a sledgehammer instead of a lead pipe to the party. Evil Upheaval is a quick, tight 40 minute romp of brutal death metal that flirts with tech-death simply by nature of how fast these songs are coming at you. Definitely inspired by bands like Suffocation, Morbid Angel, and Vital Remains, these Aussies have one goal: to play blisteringly heavy death metal. That’s it. No frills. No experimentation. Get in, get the job done, and get out. I like music that blends genres and pushes boundaries, but sometimes you just want to blast some death metal and headbang. Similar to Necrot, Depravity bring in an album that is grade A, distilled death metal that, while nothing we haven’t heard before, is a cut above average in the unfathomably large portfolio of the genre.
In a world of wild and wacky metal that has fused with every other genre of music you could possibly think of, it’s easy for young bands to want to come out swinging with as unique as a sound as possible on their first album. What ends up happening is usually these bands end up wrapping themselves up to far into how experimental they can get and end up releasing something shaky because of how far outside their comfort zone they might be. Evil Upheaval on the other hand is Depravity checking almost every box for everything you need to make great, plain Jane death metal. Dizzying tempos and frenetic fretwork abound on this album, with some of the most energetic drum performances I’ve heard in a while. I think part of that is due to the production which is ungodly in how heavy it is. Other than the bass, everything is mixed so well and sounds absolutely immense. I think that the drums were triggered, but I have no qualms about it because the performance is so tight and the overall product sounds awesome. Also, people need to calm the fuck down about drum triggers in general.
Pop Music and Memes
Depravity have spent some time honing the songwriting on display here, because while most of the tunes follow a sort of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge/solo-chorus/outro formula, none of the songs get tiring. It’s worked for pop music for decades and decades, so why not for brutal death metal? Sure, like most extreme metal albums Evil Upheaval is inherently samey from start to finish in that it melts your face for forty minutes straight without respite, but even on a surface level listen Depravity bring enough interesting and memorable riffs and dance through tempo changes so smoothly that the shining moments will grab your attention even if it’s on in the background. On subsequent listens this album unravels like the Lament Configuration, with Depravity standing in front of you arms outstretched telling you they have such sights to show you. “Insanity Reality” and the title track both have catchy enough hooks at the end of the chorus that you can howl along to, album closer “Vile Defloration” showcases some doom-laden and melodic stylings that would make any mid-90s Swedish death metal band blush, and “Tormented” gives me a reason to finally use my favorite meme in an actual applicable context:
Shaking the Sophomore Slump
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of this album. Depravity have made quite the splash with their debut, and while it served it’s purpose of showcasing a group of fantastic musicians and songwriters, I’m interested to see where their next album will take them. There’s lots of room for improvement here. Expanding the mostly one-note vocals from a low bark to the range of a Glen Benton or adding in the psychopathy of Lord Worm will add a whole new dynamic to the music that will create even more memorable moments throughout, and tossing in more melodic guitar leads throughout, not unlike Vital Remains‘ magnum opus Dechristianize will craft a catchier album overall. Maybe there’s more these down under death metallers can do to improve, but if album number two is just a retreading of their debut, I doubt they’ll gain any more traction with me.
I’m rooting for you all the way from Canada, Depravity. You shot straight into my heart with Evil Upheaval, but only a more ambitious follow up will truly cement you as modern death metal titans.