This is probably the last album review I’ll pen in 2016 for Ave Noctum and fuck me, what a belter to go out on!

I could waffle on like normal with some sub Jeremy Clarkson prose but it’s Friday night and I wanna go to the pub! So…..

This is hands down the best death metal release this year!

Yes, that’s a bold statement. We’ve been blessed with some brilliant DM records this year but this, the second full length from Echelon, being released just before Xmas gets my vote as an easy #1 in that genre.

Echelon may not be the most familiar band name to most of us however the members most certainly will be.

Vocalist David Ingram (ex-Bolt Thrower ex-Benediction and current Hail Of Bullets & Down Among The Dead Men frontman) supplies his unmistakeable and ungodly growls while Rogga Johansson (Ribspreader, Revolting, Paganizer, Down Among The Dead Men, Johansson / Speckmann just about every other decent old school death metal band) churns out monstrous riff after monstrous riff. I’m gobsmacked by how many projects this guy has on the go, he must live on a diet of caffeine and amphet!

The band is fleshed out on this release with frequent collaborators Johan Berglund (Ribspreader, The Grotesquery) handles bass duties while Kjetil Lynghaug (Paganizer, Johansson / Speckmann) plays lead guitar and Travis Ruvo (Cropsy Maniac) pounds the drums.

If you’ve heard Echelons first album, last year’s snappily titled “Indulgence Over Abstinence Behind The Obsidian Veil” you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Traditional, old school death metal with the emphasis on groove, catchy yet tank-heavy riffs and ‘proper’ death metal vocals. For my money, David Ingram & Kam Lee are the best DM singers out there and on this record David gives what I reckon is his best performance to date.

With ‘The Brimstone Aggrandizement’ David & Rogga have taken everything that made their first album so good and distilled it even further. More groove, more memorable riffs and a bit of a Carcass influence creeping in behind the Bolt Thrower / Stockholm feel to the record. All this is enhanced by a faultless mix courtesy of Ronnie Bjornstrom.

Kicking off with ‘Plague Of The Altruistic’  a gong sounds and then there’s this just unfuckwithable intro riff flattening everything in front of it for 40s before another, groove sodden riff picks things up and along with David’s voice propels the song along at a decent pace. A great start and on any other death metal album this track would probably be a highlight however ‘The Forbidden Industry’ is up next opening with a riff that could have been penned by Iommi, lulling you into thinking it’s gonna be a doomy kinda song before surging forward like a pitbull in a playground. ‘Lex Talionis’ is a straight ahead, super aggressive DM blaster featuring some fantastic drumming.

‘Of Warlocks And Wolves’ has a very late Carcass feel to it with some strong melodies throughout. The title track, while only 3m27s has a very epic vibe and when David orders you to “scream like a banshee” you won’t be able to refuse!

‘The Feared Religion’ with its “Hail Satan” intro is probably my favourite track. It ticks all the DM boxes for me, killer solos, chunky riffs and malignant vocals.

Album closer ‘Monsters In The Gene Pool’ is an odd one. Very ‘goth’ sounding at first to the point where I thought it might have been a Sisters Of Mercy cover or something. It’s not though and it’s a really cool tune to end on which may be familiar in some ways to fans of QOTSA. This segues nicely into ‘Sonic Vortex’ a tasty little outro that, like “Regenerative Genesis” on Echelon’s 1st album, will appeal to Dr Who fans….. I won’t spoil it.

As I said earlier on, this is without doubt my favourite death metal album of the year. The term ‘old school’ is thrown about a lot in reviews. It can mean different things to different ears but to me it’s like the aural equivalent of comparing Tobe Hooper’s original ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ to the glossy Michael Bay produced remake. Yes, the modern version might be more fancy & more technical but where’s the grit, the integrity, the atmosphere and the credibility that the old master had in spades in his original vision? And that’s what’s lacking in a lot of modern metal, not just the DM genre.

It’s heart-warming therefore to know that there’s a band like Echelon out there. A band of blokes who couldn’t write a shit song if they wanted to. Blokes so invested and steeped in death metal tradition that you can hear the care and pride they take in their art. And you know the best thing about it? They make it sound piss easy!

(10/10 Mark Eve)