One of the more exciting traditions gaining real momentum within extreme metal in the last couple of years has been increasingly devotional and esoteric approach that bands across the spectrum are pouring into their music. Czech duo Death Karma’s debut full-length epitomizes this ideal, transforming the occultic death practices of societies around the globe into a selection of dynamic, otherworldly, and mystical atmospheres that veer from tinkling sitars and tribal drumbeats, to searing black metal riffery and devilish howls. Such an atmosphere is undoubtedly reminiscent of the musical philosophizing of Cult of Fire (which is probably unsurprising given 50% of Death Karma’s personnel are active in that very project), yet with ‘The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part I’, the cultural gaze departs from the Indian sub-continent fascination of their brethren to draw on inspiration from Eastern Europe, Central America, Asia and Madagascar to admirably varied and highly engaging results.
Beginning with ‘Journey of the Soul’; a frantic and riff-driven experience inspired by ancient Slovakian burial customs, the record wastes little time barreling into a chaotic pace before paving way to hazily transcendent passages of synth and organ, setting the scene for the shamanistic affair of ‘Famidihana’. The subsequent ‘Chichen Itza’ marks a stand out point for the record, with its deliciously primal orations and gruesome unease perfectly expressing the horror of human sacrifice that allegedly took part in the ancient Mayan city from which the track takes its name, before morphing into an emphatic and meditative climax of guitar melodies and cavernous drumbeats. Travelling next to the band’s home country, ‘Umrlčí Prkna’ feels like more conventionally Slavic burst of aggression and creepy mysticism in the Eastern European black metal tradition, marrying raging blasts, eerie synth and punchy, stripped down riffs to add a chilling, haunting sound to the album’s repertoire. In contrast, the vibrancy and bombastic energy of ‘Towers of Silence’ brings to mind musical warmth more akin to the Greek black metal school, with Death Karma packing the instrumental with screaming hooks and rumbling bass to brilliantly complement the track’s thrash-inspired riffery. Finishing their journey in the Far East with ‘Hanging Coffins’, the band explores this ancient Chinese funerary tradition by conjuring such imagery with sky-gazing synth and guitar melodies that flow seamlessly into the record’s frenetic, emphatic climax, before the song transforms from screaming guitar solos into a tranquil, sacramental conclusion that feels both subtle and soulful.
Despite sharing a fundamental musical and personal link with Cult of Fire (fans of the band will recognize in Death Karma an unmistakable similarity in terms of production and style), ‘The History…’ is packed with more than enough originality to mark the band as a distinct creative force in their own right. Wherever the duo chooses to turn their sights for Part II of this story, in their hands the destinations are sure to provide a fascinating and grisly listen.
Releases February 13th, 2015
Iron Bonehead LP/Necroshine CD
Listen to/purchase here.