Ossuarium – Living Tomb (2019)

Ossuarium demonstrate the existential crisis that has beset many new death metal bands. Like bargain-bin patchwork quilt, their influences cover the gamut of popular stylings in contemporary metal: from cavern-core dissonance to ambient tinkerings to somewhat bathetic transformations into Candlemass-lite doom and even the ill-advised groove of metalcore, Living Tomb is an album birthed into confusion and schizophrenia. Perhaps a democratic distribution of songwriting duties is partially responsible for this state of affairs: when everyone has an equal say in proceedings, regardless of the merit of what they’re actually saying, the outcome is liable to be fractured.

This is most clearly seen in repeated fade-outs of sections for new, unrelated riffs to emerge. While cessation of hostilities to make a lateral break in narrative is a much-cherished facet of death metal, this temporary relaxing of contiguous logic has to be used not only with economy but also intent and aggression to match what has gone before. It certainly is no pit-stop or lay-and-pray strategy or some miraculous fountain for inspiration lacking. It also isn’t something any amount of drone, distortion, or clean notes gilded in portent can hide.

But there is an abundance of feeling in the scene that atmosphere trumps all, that because death metal as a genre contains the word “death” in it, any musical styling of a suitably morbid flavor can be shoehorned into this music. Great death metal – all great metal, in fact – however, sustains itself on a precarious balance between both style and genre, an idea that seems lost on bands like Ossuarium. Torn between styles, and then when they do choose one, oblivious to the effect their execution can have – for example, something as elementary as the disconnect caused by using a diminished fifth and a perfect fifth in the same cavern-core song – Ossuarium need to take a step back and meditate first on what they want to convey, and then select with great precision the tools they can use in that expression.

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