With some bands, you can just feel it. With DISENTOMB, it's the difference between voyeuristically watching a massacre and knowingly being complicit in the bloodshed: this is death metal, of course, but "The Decaying Light" cuts much deeper than that. These songs will drag you to the heart of the hellish vortex and make you watch as the inexplicable and indefensible contorts before your tear-filled eyes; your own nightmares made real and rendered in riffs. A million miles away from the usual brutal death metal blueprint of blastbeats, gutturals and meat-head beatdowns, this Australian quintet have tapped into a sense of existential disquiet and looming Lovecraft-ian trauma that we would normally associate only with the outer limits of black metal or doom's avant-garde fringes. Revelatory from start to finish, their third album builds on the characterful savagery of its predecessors, but whether through meticulous sonic tinkering or straightforward inspiration, DISENTOMB have mutated beyond expectations.
It's obvious from the start: rather than batter everyone into instant submission, "Collapsing Skies" lets the band's malevolent intent spread its bat wings at jaw-shattering mid-pace, casting a menacing shadow over everything that follows. It's a supremely gripping and distinctive start to a modern death metal record, as DISENTOMB's uniquely grim, bass-heavy undertow grinds inexorably forward to the inevitable mayhem that follows. When first single "Your Prayers Echo Into Nothingness" erupts as expected, the intensity of the delivery is almost overwhelming. Eschewing standard song structures is nothing unusual at this end of the brutality spectrum, but even considering brutal death metal's vexed relationship with linearity, DISENTOMB's songwriting stands out as brilliantly perverse and ingenious. Flat-out tirades like "Undying Dysphoria" do absolutely everything that fans of this music will demand, but it's hard to recall the last time anyone conjured an overall atmosphere as oppressive and alien as this. The only obvious antecedent here would be MORBID ANGEL's first four albums, wherein the persistent sense that something other was propelling the band forward was hard to ignore. Here, DISENTOMB have that same air of imperious disdain and that same mastery of a wildly off-kilter formula.
Having established that this is both a career peak and a haughty display of superiority, "The Decaying Light" reaches an apex of efficacy on the swirling nightmare of the title track. One of those labyrinths of riffs and jarring about-turns that very few bands can pull off with conviction, it morphs into the chilling downward spiral doom-grind of "The Great Abandonment", adding yet more layers of pitch-black dread along the way. Once again demonstrating their unerring gift for dynamics, "Dredged into Existence" follows at full pelt; a snarling groove helix with a hyper-blasted backbone, it proves that DISENTOMB have perfected their tech-death chops too. And the thrills and horrors keep coming, as this laudably cohesive and absorbing death trip winds to a devastating conclusion. The final unholy triumvirate of "Invocation in the Cathedral of Dust", "Rebirth Through Excoriation" and instrumental comedown "Withering" would almost certainly tear your soul apart — if you had one.
Anyone still harboring the delusion that brutal slam is a one-dimensional subgenre needs to hear "The Decaying Light" immediately. Not just streets ahead of the competition, but a genuinely exciting glimpse into the genre's wide-open future: it's a death metal album for connoisseurs and the curious alike.