Death Metal: American, Scandinavian, and Slaughterday’s Nightmare Vortex

The difference between American and European death metal can be attributed, using a conveniently broad brush, to their individual approaches to song composition, and, more specifically, in the way individual components are constructed and arranged in the greater framework of the song. Traditional metal song writing, much like the rock n roll it was born from, generally consisted of a beginning, a middle, and a neatly resolved end, but the advent of the extreme thrash of the 80s (Slayer, Dark Angel, Sepultura and Razor) fairly nullified this scheme of things by introducing the concept of a rapidly-mutating riff played with the frenzy of hardcore. Like a self perpetuating virus, the riff permeated the song, acting as punctuation in the moment, without little, if any, concern for its own survival beyond that moment. American death metal adopted the incendiary nihilism of this development but refused to embrace its self-absorbed nature, instead looking back into heavy metal’s past for the ambition and grandeur it hoped to project.

Like the Americas, Scandinavia chose to filter their interpretation of death metal through two separate sieves; the simpler punk-friendly, D-beat driven vibe inspired by the likes of Repulsion and Autopsy found home with an epic form of heavy metal, suffused with a peculiarly native sense of melody, creating a variant moody and intensely evocative of the cold climes most of these bands lived in. Riffs and guitar leads were centered around rock-based pentatonic patterns, forgoing atonality and chromaticism for the most part, lending the music a less abstract, sparser feel than its American counterpart. Unfortunately, as impressive as the initial spurt of creativity may have been, this style of death metal hasn’t aged well, shackled by self-imposed restrictions and preyed on by many a lesser band over the last ten years.

Where do Slaughterday fit in this pattern? As a modern band playing an almost thirty-year old rule book, the Germans bring little innovation to the genre, preferring to stay in the shadow of superior precedents like Sorcery. The melodic quotient is upped even more than is the norm for the style, some segments verging on the cloying, destroying any allusions to a more somber aesthetic that the band may have aspired to. Where a band like Funebrarum used established conventions to further accentuate a sense of dread and decay, Slaughterday are closer to an Amott-ridden Carcass, taking apart a morose, shroud-like fabric and injecting it with a cheerful, hard rocking pigmentation.

Slaughterday have a decent grasp on dynamics and the need to vary tempos in a template such as theirs – many a section reminiscent of Morbus Chron‘s debut, in fact, the riff to ‘Nightmare Vortex’  being a suspiciously close approximation of The Chron’s ‘Coughing In A Coffin’ – but the parts filling up these bridges are too boilerplate to retain any memorability. Technically competent and well-learned of the music’s history, the band is caught in a crisis of identity over real, putrid death metal and the simplified ‘death n roll’ of the mid 90s that is so obviously close to its heart. This indecision and the facelessness it inevitably gives way to is Slaughterday‘s greatest indictment.

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