An absolute, instrumental death metal album and the changes which this shift in paradigm would necessarily induce in core songwriting remains fascinating to think about. Tonal consistency and eventual unity across the album, much after the manner of classical composition, would have to be the overriding aspect of such an endeavor. Death metal, despite all its innovation to the contrary, still remains constrained by convention; thus the constitution of albums into discrete, fully self-contained “songs”. This, of itself, is no bad thing, is even an integral part of metal songwriting, and has given occasion to many a classic over the years; but the format’s rigid delineation doesn’t quite help in creating the seamless, overarching fabric that could conceivably be the next step in the genre’s evolution.
Bands like The Chasm, Into Oblivion, and Zealotry have tantalizingly hinted at just such a possibility, where vocals relinquish their ornamental role and allow the instrumentation to play sole shepherd. Engulfed‘s style is noticeably different from these bands; vocals still conduct songs with some officiousness, but it is also possible to visualize Engulfed in Obscurity purely as a function of riff and percussion without being none the worse for wear because of it.
It is a tightrope to walk. On the one hand, we speak of album-wide cohesiveness to escape the straitjacket of the songform, yet we also appreciate the primacy of the “hook” to all metal composition. Engulfed certainly have the tonal unity to speak for them but whether this stems from wider vision or inherent melodic limitation is yet to be seen. At this early stage, there is little to tell one song apart from another on this album; Engulfed play an intensely modal form of blackened death metal, not dissimilar to what Adversarial plied on All Idols Fall Before The Hammer (and so egregiously parted ways with on the follow-up). Entire riff shapes, played almost-exclusively as single-note melodies, are shifted up or down the musical register, with notes added or subtracted to culminate in an appropriate call-answer aesthetic. This modal approach, where notes are contained within a definite, scalar framework, gives a continuous quality to the music, but it also robs it of the spontaneity from which idiosyncratic character is built. The challenge that now presents itself to this collective is to retain much of this admirable continuity whilst simultaneously breaking stride and letting the highs and the lows stand forth with greater detail.