Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross
(Dark Descent Records)
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.