Reviewed: [June 2019]
Released [2019 Agonia Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
While never nearly as grotesque as their name implies, Malta’s Beheaded have been doling out bruising death metal for 25-plus years. Yet Only Death Can Save You is just the band’s sixth album.
But these days the quintet are enjoying a period of heretofore unheard of stability – their list of ex-members, especially ex-vocalists, is extensive to say the least – which has allowed Beheaded to follow up 2017’s Beast Incarnate in comparatively short order and capitalize on its momentum. This after the five-year stretch between Beast and 2012’s Never To Dawn and the seven years between that and 2005’s Ominous Bloodline.
Only Death offers few frills and no bullshit, though there is a bit of a hardcore bluster from frontman Frank Calleja’s bulldog vocals, which eschew the traditional guttural barfing for a shouted/barked delivery that is more than a little bit angry and certainly sacrilegious here. But that works in the band’s favor, and they get right down to it with the corrosive opener “The Charlatan’s Enunciation” driven by Davide Billia’s stampeding tempos and Grech Omar and Simone Brigo’s surging riffs.
“Evil Be to Him Who Evil Seeks” follows suit, but with some slashing hooklines that are really quite catchy, in spite of the song’s otherwise vicious presentation. And that’s how things play out over much of the album as the songs jockey back and forth between all-out brutality that rides Billia’s breakneck blast beats and modestly tempered intensity, as on “Unholy Man,” the title track or “From the Fire Where It All Began,” with shout-along vocals, bracing grooves or a combo plate of both.
The only outliers here are the forboding, though somewhat aimless instrumental “Gallows Walk,” which might have been better served as the album’s intro, and the low-and-slow “Embrace Your Messiah” that recalls Cannibal Corpse’s crushing “Scourge Of Iron.” It makes for a much more effective death march in the middle of it all, and is certainly the album’s standout song.
When finally given the chance to strike while the iron was hot, Beheaded seem to have made the most of the opportunity. Only Death Can Save You doesn’t mess around and delivers an effective and efficient death metal battering that might not have much in the way of flare, but has ferocity to spare.