Yup, still playing catch up from last year. Oh well, so it goes. Outer Heaven is a quintet of Pennsylvanian boys who are all about the death metal. Formed in 2012, they recently signed to Relapse Records(!) and last year put out their first full length, Realms of Eternal Decay to much critical and fan acclaim. While not topping many year end lists, they usually ended up placing somewhere in those coveted 10 highest spots. There’s something to be said of the power of everybody thinking your album rules hard, especially considering most of these people listen to and review countless albums, and sift through even more crap.
Realms of Eternal Decay is another album that borrows more from ’90s death metal than the hyperspeed brutal and technical death metal of the 2000s and beyond. I wouldn’t quite chalk up this album to just more OSDM worship. Inspired by, for sure. But ripping off, not exactly. Outer Heaven bring a handful of modernisms to their sound, with Behemoth-esque howled and (what I assume to be) multi-layered vocals, with vocalist Austin Haines sounding more like the ancient spirit of a demon escaping a newly opened tomb than a person at a microphone. Vocals are deep, decrepit, and low, but luckily avoid sounding gurgled or piggish like a dime-a-dozen brutal slam vocalist. Just about as incomprehensible, but definitely unique. They’ve got a decidedly hoarse quality to them that reminds me of the stripped throats of yore, but aren’t just an impression of Chuck Schuldiner. My only wish was that Haines brought more variance to his performance. He sounds absolutely killer, but even with a runtime as short as 33 minutes, the vocals get stale by the end.
Following suite, production is monstrous and claustrophobic. The bass shines through solo a couple times with a filthy, grimy tone, and when locking in with the guitars and kick pedals makes for a huge wall of sound. Without the bass, the guitars would be all crunch (Facebook tells me they use Lace pickups and Orange amps, so yeah, these guys’ rigs are crunch machines), so having a real complimentary bass tone that adds some girth without muddying up the works is choice. Unfortunately, when everything is barreling forward in ful force Realms of Eternal Decay gets messier than I’d like. With the drums blasting and two guitars, a bass, and a huge vocal sound all competing for space it gets tough to focus on any one thing and it just washes over you as a wall of noise, which is a shame because the riffing is pretty top notch across most of this album.
Grooves from the Grave
The songwriting that Outer Heaven brings to Realms of Eternal Decay is commendable. Riffs snake through the relatively short songs, evolving and expanding on themes and melodies or rhythms that came earlier in the tune. It’s a tight mix of 16th note flurries and groovy, almost death-doom chords that Outer Heaven can dance between pretty flawlessly. Opener “Vortex of Thought”, “Bloodspire”, and my favourite of the album “Multicellular Savagery” all switch between almost-grindcore like speed, moshable midtempo grooves, and plodding palm mutes smoothly and I think a big credit to that goes to drummer Paul Chrismer. He can change up the rhythms behind these mutating riffs that will drastically change the way they feel. On first listen it might not be too apparent, but the more I spun Realms of Eternal Decay, the more I felt that Chrismer was in the driver’s seat.
Overall, Realms of Eternal Decay is a solid slab of death metal that toes the line between modern and old school (much like my beloved Necrot) and the modern, more thought out songwriting paired with the blunt savagery of the production makes for something really entertaining. The album whizzes by, with the longest song being a touch over four and a half minutes. Talk about lean! Other than the one note vocals, this is an album that was honed to be a precision strike of death metal goodness. It’s got everything you want and nothing you don’t.