Lithuania is a country with a rich history – a medieval superpower when united with Poland in the 16th century, and one of the last pagan bastions as Christianity swept Europe, there is a lot for history buffs to dig into. What Lithuania is not known for, however, is heavy metal. There isn’t a signature, regional sound that is instantly recognisable in a similar vein of Swedish or Florida death metal, German or Bay Area thrash, or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. That said, in would be grossly unfair to claim the Baltic nation is without hidden gems. One such is old-school death metal worshippers, Kaunas-based quartet CRYPTS OF DESPAIR, who are on the cusp of releasing their debut album, The Stench of the Earth, through Testimony Records.
Though as popular as ever, modern bands carrying a classically old-school death metal sound often fall into the trap of simply rehashing old ideas. Often, it sounds excellent, and when done well the band can capture the atmosphere and vibe of the early ‘90s – but it brings little new or innovative to the table. This is the only real pitfall with CRYPTS OF DESPAIR’S debut – and even then, though there is nothing revolutionary about The Stench of the Earth, the quality of what is on offer is high enough that this slight can be forgiven.
Immediately clear from the opening moments of The Stench of the Earth is the quality of the production. The sound quality here is brilliant, with enough clarity to allow each musician to shine while still carrying an extremely raw, visceral sound and atmosphere. The vocals are a lesson in verbal savagery, while the guitars seem to mix the buzzsaw sound of Sweden’s Sunlight Studios era and the crushing brutality of Tampa’s best and brightest. Meanwhile, in the rhythm section, the bass, while not pushed to the forefront of the mix, gives a hint of warmth to the otherwise frost-bitten sound and the drums gallop through up-tempo blasting and occasional hints of cymbal-focus atmospherics.
Though The Stench of the Earth starts well, it is just around the midway point that the record really comes into its own. Starting with the UNLEASHED-esque Fleshless Eternity, CRYPTS OF DESPAIR ramp up the songwriting and execution, carving their way through a selection of utterly brilliant tracks. A contender for the best track on the album, Possessed By Astral Parasites is an utterly brutalising blast back to the early days of MORBID ANGEL and MALEVOLENT CREATION. Just shy of six minutes, Monuments of Fear stands as Possessed By Astral Parasites’ strongest rival of best song. A sinister, haunting intro leads into a crushing display of heaviness, before CRYPTS OF DESPAIR dive into what they do best – raw, visceral, fast death metal.
Anyone looking for an artistic approach to death metal would be better off avoiding CRYPTS OF DESPAIR. However, for those who simply enjoy classic, early 90s death, there is a lot to love on The Stench of the Earth. Though it breaks little new ground, The Stench of the Earth is a 41 minute offering of pure death metal – raw, organic, and monstrously heavy, the record is a late-year must-have for death metal fans. From a cursory listen, one could be forgiven The Stench of the Earth is a forgotten opus from 1991, such is the quality of the old-school atmosphere CRYPTS OF DESPAIR have created.
The Stench of the Earth is out now via Testimony Records.
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