With the current glut of new-old-school death metal out there, a band like Maul is faced with a particular challenge. On Seraphic Punishment, the North Dakota outfit needs to show the world that they can play straightforward, crushing death metal without making people immediately think, "ah, they sound just like [insert 1987-1993 death metal band here]."
You can tell it's a challenge the band takes seriously, as the artwork for Seraphic Punishment both reflects extreme metal tropes through its imagery, but subverts them through the choice of colors. (To be honest, it reminds me a little of an old Where's Waldo image, the one with vampires and stuff on it. Not a diss!) And it's definitely a case of the packaging reflecting the product, as Maul has crafted a solid death metal work here that doesn't simply ape the old Gods.
That doesn't mean there aren't some similarities with bands both old and new. You can definitely sense the influence of classic Finnish death metal bands like Demigod, Purtenance and Adramalech. The echoes of Swedish bands like Gorement and God Macabre feature even more prominently, along with slight hints of Vader in the faster moments and Autopsy in the slower ones. Likewise, fans of newer bands like Witch Vomit, Tomb Mold and Cerebral Rot will find a lot to enjoy here.
But the band's real strength comes from what how they throw everything together. I don't think they've totally fashioned their own distinct take on death metal quite yet, but the quality of the riffs and the variation present in the songwriting shows they're very close. I love how deep Garrett reaches into his lungs for those ferocious vocals. Never underestimate how hard it is to sustain those lows, my friends! As with the rest of the band, he doesn't just stick to one technique, rather he employs other ones when they count — his voice even reaching pig squeal territory here and there.
Listen up for the doomy goodness on the opening track, "Of Human Frailty," which acts as a cool contrast with the barbaric beats the songs starts with. Be sure to stretch before jumping into the pit on the album's excellent title track, in which a subtle thrash/crossover influence creeps in around the two-minute mark. And although each song has its own highlights to offer the listener, "Infatuation" is probably my personal favorite. It's a blistering, energetic death metal jam with lots of cool riffs and ripping screams tucked in — and applied in a way that takes the listener by welcome surprise.
Maul's debut album will accomplish a few important things. First, it'll help put Fargo, North Dakota on the death metal map in a way it hasn't been before (readers, correct me if there's a well-known band I didn't realize was from there). Second, while it adds another legion to the armies of old-school death metal devotees, it avoids the mistake of simply emulating a classic album and beating it to … well, death. Third, and most importantly, it's a fun and impressive metal album. I'd advise turning it up loud, as the nasties on the album cover strike me as the type you'd want to join rather than oppose.