There’s something in the cold air, the frozen waters of Finland that just makes everything that comes out of the metal scene there just left of center. It’s a fleeting, hard to pin sensation, a slight queasiness that leaves you wondering what otherwordly nightmare the riffs originated from. Ghastly make the most of that mystification with their second full length Death Velour, and the result is a filthy cadaverous slab of death metal that mourns even as it drags you into the bowels of hell.
The trio work a doom encrusted death meal that owes allegiance to classic bands like Dismember, Carnage, and Entombed as well as western counterparts like Incantation and traces of early Death. You can hear it in the lead melodies on tracks like “Death By Meditation” and “Whispers Through the Aether.” But the technicality in Death Velour isn’t shooting for shredding theatrics or razor-sharp riffage. What it does is excel at lurching, nausea inducing arpeggios and head bashing riffs that wend and weave through your nervous system, leaving you in doubt of your senses. Continuing with “Whispers Through the Aether” there’s a section about half way through that recalls the tingling moment in Entombed’s “Left Hand Path” when you realize the track is taking you somewhere more sinister. Where that song uses the riff as a kind of left-turn extended outro, Ghastly turn the song on its head and progress down an evil doom path before rising back and down, re-stating the theme on a lone guitar.
The band is equally good at simply pummeling you in the brain case, as is evidenced by the wonderfully titled “The Magic of Severed Limbs.” There’s a bottomless quality to the bass and drums, drawing you ever downward as the guitars slice with buzzsaw precision. The vocals from “Gassy Sam” (aka Sami Harju of Garden of Worms) range from death-rattled rasps to full throated roars and gibbering screams, ensuring that the tracks never feel remotely safe. Solos abound in the song as well, buried in a miasma of reverb but piercing and effective nonetheless.
Moving on to the second half of Death Velour (treading that perfect album length of about 35 minutes) “Velvet Blue” puts to music the eerie feeling the gorgeous cover conveys. If bands take anything away from Ghastly’s sophomore album (and they should take away a lot) it’s that you can convey a lot with your color choices – artist Riikka Pesonennot has crafted a stunning and evocative masterpiece of album art that stands apart from the glut of traditional death metal covers that invade our inbox every month. “Violence For the Hell of It” treads a similar path, alternating between brutal aggression and seasick slower riffs that refuse to provide stable ground. By the time the massive 9-minute closer “Scarlet Woman” encapsulates everything that had come before, it traps you in a vice of perverse riffage and frostbitten blasts.
Maybe it’s the extended periods of light and dark, being so far north above the Equator. Maybe its the strange dreams those days and nights bring. To dwell too long invites madness, and Death Velour brings me close enough to it that I know not to tread too far. Ghastly bring evolution through homage and attention to the progenitors of the genre, and we, the cursed, are the better for it.