Death metal is almost 20 years old, and for having such explosive beginnings in Sweden, England, and Florida, its rate of progress has slowed to a crawl. Part of the problem is due to its nature – when you trade in extremity, what do you do when you get there? Now drummers regularly blast upwards of 250 bpm, vocalists make Cookie Monster sound like Jewel, and guitarists sweep pick and multi-finger tap in their sleep.
The Netherlands' Devious tackles this issue by stepping back and surveying death metal's history. But its second album, Domain, doesn't retread the usual retro haunting grounds – early Cannibal Corpse, Left Hand Path-style Swedish metal, Suffocation. Instead, it's absorbed sounds from across the death metal spectrum and recombined them into a fresh, coherent whole; imagine Altars of Madness-era Morbid Angel somehow gaining knowledge of Swedish melodeath, Death's last three albums, and today's technical death metal.
The result is one of the most balanced death metal albums in ages. It has plenty of blasting, but it's never so fast that the body stops responding. It's technical, but the riffs are memorable. It's brutal, but flashes of melody constantly shine through. The album is even sequenced like an LP or cassette tape, with six songs on each side forming a logical progression. So much death metal now just flies by you; this album will make you nod your head, pump your fist, do whatever it is you do when metal physically affects you.
At the same time, this album moves the mind. The harmonies and melodies are adventurous, recalling Carcass' Heartwork, not in note choice, but in spirit. Varied song tempos, rich guitar tones, and strong production make this album a deep listen. Add evocative artwork and a well-shot video, and you have one of death metal's finer packages in recent times.