Released: 2009, Century Media
It’s been an unbelievable year for death metal – Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Nile, Vader, Gorod, Obituary, Pestilence etc – and even in October they’re still rolling in. Asphyx is, perhaps unfairly, better known as the band Martin van Drunen joined after leaving Pestilence way back in 1990. A lot of people tend to overlook the fact that he only spent two years with them before leaving to form his own band and later joining English death outfit Bolt Thrower. Asphyx has always been the brainchild of Bob Bagchus and Eric Daniels (who left in 2000 – the third and last time the band had broken up, after ON THE WINGS OF INFERNO). With the triumphant return of Pestilence earlier this year, how would Asphyx sans Daniels but plus van Drunen fare?
It’s almost impossible to find more superlatives for DEATH…THE BRUTAL WAY. It’s death metal, and it’s brutal – the clue is in the name, and it’s everything it says on the packet. Music-wise, Asphyx retain their unique sound blend of Swedish death metal with early deathrash (Death, Possessed) mixed in effectively with old-school doom a la Cathedral and Pentagram. The Swedish sound is so prevalent, so reminiscent of the classic Sunlight Studios sound and so beloved by bands like Grave, Entombed/Nihilist, Dismember, Therion, Grotesque etc. That buzzy, chainsaw-guitar laden with fuzzy bottom end just takes you right back to 1991 – in fact, the entire production just reeks of, for want of a better word, old-school. Death metal bands today try to go one of two ways: ultra modern with clicky-click drums and compressed everything-else, or old school. Few succeed with the old-school sound; Obituary perhaps do it the best, and now you can add Asphyx to that list. It’s just beautiful, the way they conjure up memories of the heydays of Entombed, Death, Possessed, Dismember etc.
The sludgy, rotten atmosphere of vileness and sickness is further heightened with liberal doses of doom-y interludes, taking you down long protracted corridors of stifling putridity and eldritch murmurings of…you get the idea. This is as heavy as you want, and perhaps heavier than you need. Martin van Drunen is in perfect form, sounding like a cross between Chuck Schuldiner and the incomprehensible John Tardy, and the rasp you heard on LAST ONE ON EARTH and THE RACK is as recognisable and as unique as ever. People who worried that Asphyx’s sound would change with the departure of Eric Daniels may put their fears to rest, and their ears to the test.
Best tracks: Everything. My personal favourite is ‘Black Hole Storm’ that starts off slow with a haunting piano dirge, goes on slow with the piano theme repeated and explored and concludes…slow. ‘Asphyx II (They Died As They Marched)’ might have been risky as a follow-up to one of their classics on LAST ONE ON EARTH, but when it’s as well-done as this, it’s an almost immutable natural progression.
With this band, you never know if they’ll be around next year or even next week, such is the turbulence that dogs their footsteps. Any band with van Drunen is bound to have a few ups and downs. Thankfully, they’ve given us DEATH…THE BRUTAL WAY at least, anything they choose to do from now on is probably a bonus. Get this album for your old-school death metal fix for the next lunar year at least. Wasteland of Terror guaranteed.