Twenty-two years after their brilliant debut ‘Internal Caustic Torments’ arrived, at long last Sweden’s Wombbath are back with another slab of unadulterated death metal. Perhaps what distinguished these guys from many of their native contemporaries was the clear homage to bands such as Massacre and Napalm Death that their music paid back in 1993. As the band acknowledges in the promo pack with ‘Downfall Rising’ however, they, like so many others, lost the plot by straying away from the death metal path in the mid-nineties. To say that their reappearance is well overdue (especially with death metal firmly on the agenda) is an understatement of the highest order.
So, what do we get from Wombbath anno 2015? Well along with original member Håkan Stuvemark comes a host of talent from the Swedish death metal scene including contributors to bands such as Skineater and Just Before Dawn. On top of which, we are treated to a mastering job courtesy of none other than James Murphy. No sooner has the curious ‘Intro’ passed and we are assaulted by the full force of this revamped beast. ‘Under Apokalypsens Svarta Vingar’ lumps right in with mammoth Swedeath chords and melodies, eventually morphing into the expected crunching death attack. Melodies swirl out of the cataclysmic morass, as do a few punishing blast-beats. The striking contrast is how those US/UK influences mentioned earlier have given way to an overtly Scandinavian sound; unsurprising really considering that this is a different line-up, two decades on.
Despite this, ‘Downfall Rising’ still kicks arse. As the likes of Under The Church have proven, the sound of an authentic beast reanimating has the potential to deliver this art in a way that the floods of newcomers can only dream of. And this is certainly also the case with Wombbath’s return. From the oppressive, crusty layers of ‘Underneath the Rotten Soil’ to the funereal melodies on ‘I Am the Abyss’ a sense of utter doom pervades the atmosphere. It’s no word of a lie to say that listening to this is like you’ve just plumped for a record from your dustiest shelf full of forgotten early ‘90s treasures. With ‘Fall of the Weak’ (my favourite track), for instance, we are treated to a vague, entrancing strummed intro which is then shattered by arguably the heaviest doom riff of the entire record. Better still, the track proceeds to rage like Grave armed with a production from Hell.
I think what the album does so well is contrasting light and dark to evoke a tangible atmosphere i.e. in ways like that mentioned above, which is of course what all the truly great Swedish death metal bands did so well back in the day. One minute riffs like tank fumes suffocate the listener; the next, a sumptuous piece of solo work or melody pops up to add further dimensions to the experience. Perhaps the least accessible song of the bunch would be ‘Putrid and Bound (By the Seed of Satan)’ which obtusely ploughs on with its disorientating guitar lines and fits of rage. Mission accomplished then, as I definitely feel both putrid and bound after enduring its near five minutes. In contrast, ‘Paid In Blood’ immediately sets about kicking your head off, and in some ways reminds me of Entombed in the way that Jonny Pettersson roars and bellows his rage over the savage music.
Outro ‘Abandoned Furthermore’ seems all set to be purely orchestral/semi-acoustic until riffs barge in and those harsh vocals reappear, only in a more melancholic mood. The keyboard accompaniments may initially seem a bit over the top but as you go with the flow it makes more sense and, well, it’s not as if many early ‘90s classics didn’t dabble similarly with such effects. Undoubtedly the greatest criticism I expect to see levelled at ‘Downfall Rising’ is its short appearance, embodying just an intro, an outro and six tracks proper. But, as with those closing dramatics, I’m inclined to overlook this in favour of the excellent Swedeath on offer throughout.
Not only have Wombbath upped the ante – despite departing from those wider earlier influences, they have produced a disc which easily stands up against their previous long-lost classic. A result which in all honesty I didn’t expect and one which will hopefully gain the band the attention they deserve. Albeit twenty-two years late.