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Album Review: EXECRATIONReturn to the Void

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Norway’s Execration made a lot of “best of” lists back in 2014 with Morbid Dimensions, and they’ve become a prominent voice in modern death metal. This would be a good time to insert the glib assertion that “Norway is more commonly known for black metal, blah blah blah.” But it’s true! Along with Obliteration and Reptilian, Execration is one of the few ragers from Norway not tied in some way to the old days of Helvete or the modern Nidrosian scene. This makes them worth watching as an interesting exception and because…I mean, come on it’s death metal.

On Return to the Void, Execration plays a very modern form of death metal, one that emphasizes dissonance and creating an atmosphere over crushing brutality or technical flights of fancy. This puts them in line with bands like Horrendous and Ulcerate, while also dancing in the shadows of bands like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord (putting the Memoria trilogy aside). And while I’m not sure the band intended this, but I can’t help but notice some shades of Remission-era Mastodon in those guitar arrangements.

In a recent interview, guitarist and vocalist Chris Johansen went into greater detail about the band’s style:

Well, it’s metal, for sure. Some defining characters of our music are frequent shifts and turns in tempo, attitude, and harmonics, and a heavy atmosphere. It’s progressive at times, it borrows heavily from thrash, death, and black metal, and sometimes even doom and heavy. I haven’t thought of us as a pure death metal band for many years.

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Songs like “Hammers of Vulcan” take listeners on a journey into the vast mysteries of the cosmos, but sometimes still bring the listener back to Earth on songs like “Cephalic Transmissions” with its almost punky bridges. (Sidenote: I wonder if their Return to the Void title is an homage to Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void”) There’s an almost seasickness to the guitars, particularly with how the guitarists strike the notes on the higher strings. Alternatively, there are moments of chugging crunch on songs like “Nekrocosm.”

To be honest, this style isn’t exactly my thing. I tend to like my death metal more straightforward or at least self-consciously exhilarating rather than dizzying (think of that new Origin album to see what I mean). But its execution is excellent. Each instrument does what it’s supposed to do. There’s plenty of echo and reverb going on in the mix (which I usually like a lot, so I can’t fault them for this). So while I have nothing against the band or this album, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone like me. But if this style is what you look for in extreme music, dive right in. If you want a good snapshot of where a lot of extreme metal is today, this is the right place to look.

Score: 7.5/10

Favorite songs: “Return to the Void,” “Cephalic Transmissions” and “Hammers of Vulcan”

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