Death. We’ve all heard of it; we’ve all had it affect our life in some way. Heck, we spend most of our lives fearing and trying to avoid it. Every culture deals with death differently and some of those rituals are fascinating—particularly to Death Karma vocalist, bassist and guitarist Infernal Vlad. Thus, the groundwork is lain for Death Karma’s first LP, The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part I, a six-track concept album that seeks to reveal the rituals surrounding death & burial in Slovakia, Madagascar, Mexico, Czech Republic, India and China. Musically, it’s blackened death metal with elements of symphonic black metal, thrash and OSDM—and aside from a very digitally-compressed and tinny production standard, it’s generally a thoroughly effective album.
The first track covers Slovakia—a country ripe with burial superstitions and deep-seeded religion—and opens ominously as church organs and spoken word (in what I assume is Slovakian) dominate before a very loudly-mixed and hard-hitting blast-beat laced with tormented vocals drops the hammer. The track spirals into a chaotic, head-bobbing thrash sound, complete with catchy riffs and organ accompaniment. Next up comes “Madagascar,” the island nation on which the bones of the dead are ceremoniously brought forth from crypts and rewrapped in cloth—a process called famadihana. The song opens similarly, with a heavy focus on atmosphere and continued employment of the organ as an atmospheric tool, before a classic black metal riff develops as the backbone of the tale. Unfortunately, this track suffers the most, in my opinion, from the overly compressed production.
“Mexico” is the most diverse and unexpected track on the album. Organs once again set the mood, this time accompanied by an ambient guitar, then give way to a tribal drum circle and crackling fires. Of all the tracks, this one most effectively pulls you into its country’s ritualistic nature, channeling Mexico’s ancient death rituals and sacrifices where people were literally buried in blood. Track No. 4, “Czech Republic,” focuses mainly on a town that essentially stored frozen bodies for springtime burial, and follows the previous patterns using atmosphere to set the mood before fuzzy thrash riffage and organs give way to swirling black metal blasts.
“India,” the least effective track on the album, opens the most simply—with an old school, chugging riff. The track vacilates between classic riffage, thrash and “build-up” parts that ultimately lead to nowhere. And given the theme of the album, the choice to go instrumental for this track seems a bit odd. We close with “China,” where coffins are hung on high rocks to ensure that the deceased peace will not be disturbed. This track reveals a more subdued, almost zen, approach to song-writing. Vocals return as cavernous and haunting as ever to really drive home the mood.
Death Karma—an offshoot of another Eastern European band black metal band, Cult of Fire—aren’t really doing anything new by making a concept album, but they are doing something effective and enticing. I imagine that lighting a candle and reading along with a lyric book would help get the job done. Overall, despite some occasional poor production, The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part I makes quite an impression. I’m looking forward to their release of Part II. Maybe they’ll teach about your country or culture next time out!