Top 25 of 2016 #8: Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross

Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross
(Dark Descent Records)

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Maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity can be tricky when a band decides to step outside convention, especially when it comes to death metal. Most bands that decide to think outside the box of death metal do so by way of overzealous musicianship, incorporating sounds from non-metal genres, or abandoning form in favor of creating music that is suffocating and cacophonous. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it’d be great to see more bands advance the style from within, instead of always reaching out. Fortunately, we have bands like Ghoulgotha.

Ghoulgotha completely flip death metal on its head while remaining completely in the scope of death metal. The band’s sound is firmly rooted in old school death metal and death/doom, with a combination of fast, aggressive guitar work and slow, lugubrious riffs. What separates Ghoulgotha’s sound from their contemporaries is their masterful use of rhythmic variation. The band is quick to change tempo, even if only for one measure, or from one riff to another. Switching from speedy furry to morose brutality only adds to the non-Euclidian structure of these songs. Meter is also at play, with time signatures switching from simple to compound at a moments notice. The band is very comfortable with odd time signatures, and on top of that time signatures are never stable, with phrases ending in a different time signature than it started in. Certain phrases are repeated in odd intervals as well, and sometimes songs that seemingly end with a funeral trudge are tagged with a fast lick at the end, further adding to the unconventional and mind-bending nature of Ghoulgotha’s music. You can’t tap your feet to this music.

Ghoulgotha’s taste for melody is interesting too. Like most death metal bands, Ghoulgotha’s riffs and melodies are often in a “minor” mode, but there are times the music is pushing more on pantonal and downright chromatic. These moments are some of the most chaotic and engaging this album has to offer. But don’t think the band is only writing weirdo riffs. Songs like “Visceral Seas” showcase the band at their most melodic, which showcases their ear for melodies that range from sorrowful to anthemic. Coupling rhythmic eccentricities with unpredictable melodic content, To Starve The Cross proves to be a very exciting and engaging album, leaving listeners on their toes.

The production on the record is stellar. The guitar tone is raw and visceral, adding an extra layer of gross to the vicious nature of these riffs. Another feature I love about this record is how warm and round the bass tone is, keeping the record from sounding too sharp. The record’s dark atmosphere is what cements this as a great death metal record to me. While many other bands try experimenting with death metal in ways similar to what Ghoulgotha do, many bands bastardize the sound by trying to add too many layers of “complexity” to the music and by polishing the sound, taking away from the grime and grit the style is known for. Instead of turning death metal into something it’s not, Ghoulgotha flip it on its head, creating something completely new and exciting but all too familiar in the process.

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Eternal Warfare Fest – Day 2

Day 2 of the Eternal Warfare was a very special day. In addition to the festivities going on that evening, it was also my 22nd birthday. I celebrated by exploring Portland, eating tons of delicious vegan food at Bye And Bye and Sizzle Pie (best pizza ever), and hanging out with friends and meeting plenty of lovely people at the show, which I’ll start talking about now.

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Starting the night was Vilkacis. Vilkacis is the solo project of Mike Rekevics (Fell Voices, Vanum, Yellow Eyes, literally a million other bands), and they put on one of the most captivating sets at the festival. The band’s primal and relentless black metal pierced my soul and drew me in the whole performance. Each song is storm of blast beats, waves of tremolo guitars, and wickedly entrancing guitar leads that are fierce and powerful. What really made the set was Rekevics’ stage presence. He absorbed the energy from their music and expelled it all onto the crowd. He donned the most serious and grim expression on his face when screaming, and screamed with a force unmatched by anyone I’ve seen before. When not screaming, he stood still, breathing heavy and fist extended towards the crowd. This powerful performance coupled with the music made for one of the most awe-inspiring sets I’ve ever witnessed.

Up next was Aelter, the only non-metal band on the festival. I had no idea what to expect going in and was met with the most emotionally heavy set of the evening. Their music is slow, mournful, and harrowing Americana. Their singer’s cold, ghostly murmur floated on top of very spacy and open guitar work and just filled the room with a thick air of despair and grief. The music was very repetitious, with many songs repeating the same chord progression the whole song. I feel like I would’ve had a stronger connection the music if it were more dynamic and got louder over time, but it did not. That said, this was still quiet the experience, and I’d heavily recommend anyone who is a fan of dark, sorrowful music give Aelter some of their time.

After two very serious sets, R.I.P. offered a change of pace with a fun set of traditional doom metal. The band wasted no time jumping straight into meaty iommic riffing. The singer’s microphone stand was a scythe, and looking back I’m surprised I haven’t seen that done before, so I have to give props for that. In addition to his lively stage presence, the singer also provided some comedic relief, with tongue-in-cheek banter such as “I’m glad your mom let you guys out of the basement to come to the show” and “I know this is a doom metal show, so you guys aren’t used to seeing such incredible musicianship, so I’m sorry about that”. It was a refreshing to see a band be goofballs when every other band had a sincerely serious demeanor while performing.

In what may be an omen for most of the festival’s attendees, Hell took the stage after R.I.P. Hell’s brand of doom is a concoction of the misery and sorrow of funeral doom, the loose groove of sludge metal, and the repetition of drone. Each song they played was a barrage of thick tone and even thicker riffs, and the sections with melodic leads seared into my soul. Their set harbored a sense of community and camaraderie, with many people in the crowd casually cracking jokes with the band in between songs. Seeing as how these guys are local legends and their bassist Nate runs Eternal Warfare and organized the festival, it makes sense the crowd showed the band so much love. It’s always a pleasure to see Hell.

Next was one of the festival’s main draws, Blood Incantation. The young death metal band has made quite the name for themselves recently with their cosmic take on technical death metal. The crowd’s excitement was evident, as tons of people crowded around the stage in anticipation for their set to start. This was also the only set the whole festival that had people moshing. The band was equipped with the most non-Euclidian looking BC Rich guitars I’ve seen, and I wouldn’t have hoped for anything less. The band were all great performers, each member playing effortlessly and moving around the stage and headbanging while performing. Each member showcased masterful musician ship. Both guitarists were shredding to the highest degree, whether it was for solos or just the crazy riffs these guys write. The bassist plays a fretless bass, which I’m always delighted to see, and had a really rich and round tone. I have to give the most props to the drummer, though. He put on the most impressive drumming performance I’ve seen all year, with some of the fastest and most ridiculous drum parts and fills I’ve witnessed. The frontman’s stage banter was great too, mostly pointing out how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of the cosmos. The set comprised of an even mix of material from the Interdimensional Extinction EP and their new full-length, Starspawn. Blood Incantation’s set was one of the most fun at the fest, and definitely the most impressive display of musicality. I’m really excited to see them again in month at California Deathfest. Blood Incantation are currently trekking the east coast, so I highly recommend you go see them if they play in your area.

Volahn took the stage next. In a haze of red light, Volahn dove right into their ritual chaos. Their music is fervent, with waves of savage blasting and furious, melodic riffing. They took little to no time in between songs, leaving little time for me to give my neck a break. I really like how Volahn incorporate the signature spring reverb of Fender guitars into their sound, giving some of the riffs and melodies they play a surf rock vibe at times, conjuring images of jaguar warriors shredding the gnar at the beaches of Tulum. Jokes aside, witnessing Volahn’s violent ritual gave me a sense of pride and a connection to my heritage I’ve never felt before. I never expected to get that from a metal concert, so I’m now very thankful that Volahn and the Black Twilight Circle exist.

Ending the night was the band I was most excited to see at the festival, Ash Borer. Ash Borer have been mostly silent over the last couple of years, so when it was announced they were playing this festival I knew it was going to be special and I had to go. Before the festivities started one of my friends informed me that Ash Borer would be playing their new album in its entirety, and my excitement went through the roof, and I made sure to snag a spot up front for their set. Around 11:00, the house lights went down and the stage was set with purple lighting and clouds of fog and my anticipation was overflowing. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I know the music I heard during their set far exceeded any expectations I had in my mind. The new material they were playing was the most powerful I’ve heard from them yet. While their music has always been aggressive, this new shit is the most intense stuff they’ve written. I was entranced and compelled to headbang for the entirety of the set, overcome by their psychic violence. This set was a very cathartic experience for me, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left speechless after they were done. They have a new album coming out later this year on Profound Lore. Be sure to pick it up, cuz it’s the best black metal you’ll hear this year. And probably next year too.

Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross

a0271546946_16

Maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity can be tricky when a band decides to step outside convention, especially when it comes to death metal. Most bands that decide to think outside the death metal box do so by way of overzealous musicianship, incorporating sounds from non-metal genres, or abandoning form in favor of creating music that is suffocating and cacophonous. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it’d be great to see more bands advance the style from within, instead of reaching out. Fortunately, we have bands like Ghoulgotha.

Ghoulgotha completely flip death metal on its head while remaining completely in the scope of death metal. The band’s sound is firmly rooted in old school death metal and death/doom, with a combination of fast, aggressive guitar work and slow, lugubrious riffs. What separates Ghoulgotha’s sound from their contemporaries is their masterful use of rhythmic variation. The band is quick to change tempo, even if only for one measure, or from one riff to another. Switching from speedy furry to morose brutality only adds to the non-Euclidian structure of these songs. Meter is also at play, with time signatures switching from simple to compound at a moments notice. The band is very comfortable with odd time signatures, and on top of that time signatures are never stable, with phrases ending in a different time signature than it started in. Certain phrases are repeated in odd intervals as well, and sometimes songs that seemingly end with a funeral trudge are tagged with a fast lick at the end, further adding to the unconventional and mind-bending nature of Ghoulgotha’s music. You can’t tap your feet to this music.

Ghoulgotha’s taste for melody is interesting too. Like most death metal bands, Ghoulgotha’s riffs and melodies are often in a minor mode, but there are times the music is pushing more on pantonal and downright chromatic. These moments are some of the most chaotic and engaging this album has to offer. But don’t think the band is only writing weirdo riffs. Songs like “Visceral Seas” showcase the band at their most melodic, which showcases their ear for melodies that range from sorrowful to anthemic. Coupling rhythmic eccentricities with unpredictable melodic content, To Starve The Cross proves to be a very exciting and engaging album, leaving listeners on their toes the way a horror flick might (idk I don’t like scary movies tbh).

The production on the record is stellar. The guitar tone is raw and visceral, adding an extra layer of gross to the vicious nature of these riffs. Another feature I love about this record is how warm and round the bass tone is, keeping the record from sounding too sharp. The record’s dark atmosphere is what cements this as a great death metal record to me. While many other bands try experimenting with death metal in ways similar to what Ghoulgotha do, many bands bastardize the sound by trying to add too many layers of “complexity” to the music and by polishing the sound, taking away from the grime and grit the style is known for. Instead of turning death metal into something it’s not, Ghoulgotha flip it on its head, creating something completely new and exciting but all too familiar in the process.

Stream/Purchase To Starve The Cross, https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/to-starve-the-cross