Often, I'm reminded of Profanatica's first interview, a grainy VHS dispatch immortalized on the internet. The cult trio huddle around two candles, their faces smudged to cartoonish effect with black paint. They giggle as they rip pages from a bible and eat them.
"Death metal seems just as trendy as disco," says their drummer and vocalist, Paul Ledney.
The video is from 1991, but it rings just as true in 2020 and beyond.
Death metal has enjoyed a resurgence this past decade. But with its upswing, a throng of self-proclaimed "old school" death metal bands with all too familiar tones. Their entire being seems like a tribute to bands like Mortician, Dismember and Obituary. Imitation is flattery, but this blatant past worship often leaves this reviewer underwhelmed. The pioneers who blazed the death metal genre a quarter-century ago did it with innovation. Nastier riffs, faster drums, more hellish vocals – this evolution of brutality is death metal's core appeal, not nostalgia.
So, where does Cemetery Filth fit into the picture? Somewhere in the middle, perhaps. Dominion reeks of the classic death metal recipe. This Atlanta-based quartet sounds very much like Florida in 1992. Comparisons to Morbid Angel above all, as well as Death and Malevolent Creation, are well earned. But, this is a thinking man's death metal record, one that captures the progressive-minded work ethic to propel the genre forward.
Dominion is packed with its share of savage grooves. The opening "Subduction" swells with an overlapping pattern of atonal guitar and bass harmonies. It's a geology-themed song, with its introduction building like layers of dirt being penetrated to reach the oozing core at the heart of this record. The full Filth experience kicks in, as pounding percussion commands blast beats and agile double bass drums. Matt Kilpatrick, the driving force of this outfit, helms the lead guitar and vocal duties. His howls spew forth like a young David Vincent before he went full cowboy goth. The bass guitar of Devin Kelley (also of Suppressive Fire) clangs and throbs with a bouncy metallic zest.
This is an extremely moshable album. The riffs jump around throughout the realm of music in a mostly cohesive fashion, from swampy grooves to adrenaline-pumping thrash beats, primitive breakdowns, and crawling mid tempos. "Exhumed Visions" rages like a Leprosy-era Death track, then sidesteps into a brooding instrumental mid-section as a guitar solo screeches into the ether, then jumps right back into its frenzied mosh-pit cadence.
The midpoint track "Festering Vacuity" is one of the strongest moments. Chris McDonald's drum stamina is on full display. The double bass footwork hardly relents, save for a quick bass solo, and a few ride cymbal grooves, a la Dave Lombardo. "Churning Of The Shallows" creeps with menacing guitar chugs, each dig like the rhythmic chanting of a deranged cult as they summon forth the ancient ones.
Dominion drips with a welcome sense of familiarity. Each song has moments reminiscent of the classic death metal albums from the early nineties, but these Cemetery dwellers prove their songwriting elevates them beyond mere imitation.
The production shines with gruesome clarity. The nuances between the twin guitar melodies are carved out in the soundscape. The bass guitar rumbles every step of the way to the war-like drum section, and the vocals cut through it all like a gas-powered chainsaw.
The closing track, "Dominion," is preceded by a medieval acoustic guitar instrumental, another nod to Morbid Angel's playbook. This is probably the strongest homage to Trey Azagthoth and company on the record. This ominous finale is a dazzling affair for the lead guitars. Solo licks flow like lava, until the track fades to silence. The otherworldly portal into the bombastic world of Cemetery Filth is closed.
At its "worst", Dominion sounds like the lost Morbid Angel album between Covenant and Domination. A more flattering take is that Dominion will be remembered as a modern death metal classic, viciously executed by four shredders who learned from the best.