Fortunate man that I am, I once again get to jump into a very hotly anticipated album on the 2020 docket, this time courtesy of Las Vegas newcomers Cordyceps. Their EP Black Blood Butchery took the underground metal scene by storm way back in 2017, being especially highly praised by The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad as “thinking man’s brutal death metal.” Now, after hectic touring, a lineup change and being signed to a label we’ve got a full-length debut with Betrayal. If it’s good enough for Trevor Strnad, it’s gotta be good enough for the rest of us, right?
Cordyceps are relatively new to the scene, but their music listens like a love letter to everything that makes death metal outrageous, fun, brutal and crushingly heavy. In true Unique Leader fashion, Cordyceps play a pretty technical style of death metal, and while it’s true they have been described as “thinking man’s” music, the emphasis here is definitely more on brutality and killer riffs than sweeping diminished arpeggiated lead lines and 4 handed tapping. The songwriting on Betrayal carries on where Black Blood Butchery left off, but with even more of an emphasis on crushing brutality and less focus on melody or atmosphere. The riffs pound, slam and chug through the lower register of the guitars and there’s never a break in the aggression from minute one until the album is done pummeling you into submission. The drums are frantic and perfectly compliment the riffs, with plenty of points of showing off but never stealing the spotlight unnecessarily. Maybe the most brutal aspect of the songs, and the one that I feel sets Cordyceps apart from their contemporaries, are the vocals from drummer-turned-singer Rafael Gonzalez. It’s not even really fair to call these “growls” when most of his range extends so deep it’s almost vocal fry. Not quite at Demilich levels, but it’s pretty damn close, and it feels like a fresh way to take death metal vocals and make them more brutal, which was the name of the game between EP and LP. It’s fair to say they’ve achieved that goal. These are tracks that hit with all the subtlety of the Kool Aid Man crashing through the wall of your house, except instead of them offering you a refreshing beverage from the top of his open head, he punches you repeatedly in the face until you’re unconscious.
I will say, as I’ve said before about bands of this ilk, that this is an album that does not have a lot of emotional depth to it. If you’re looking for anthemic melodies or catchy choruses or moments of tender calm amidst the storm aggression, you’re not really going to find any of that here. Betrayal kinda only does the one thing, but it does that one thing incredibly well. That’s not to say there isn’t anything interesting going on here. “Comatose Subservient” features discordant arpeggios that ring out in an almost nauseating way over the heavy chords making up the backbone of the song. It adds particularly nicely to the atmosphere of the track and helps it stand out a lot from the almost constant riffing, and it really showcases how crisp and tight the production on the whole album is. Another song showcasing some variety is recent single “Maelstrom of Hypocrisy,” featuring guest vocals from none other than fellow Las Vegas dweller Mitch Harris of Napalm Death. His vocals help fill some of the space left unoccupied by low-tuned guitars and guttural vocals and it really opens the song up. Speaking of singles, it’s hard to talk about this album with out mentioning lead single “Parasitic Degenerate,” which is nothing short of an absolute slapper. It just bounces from riff to riff to riff, and each one hits harder than the last.
Is Betrayal everything that it was hyped to be? Absolutely. I felt myself, upon first listen, missing a tiny bit of the atmosphere that was present in Black Blood Butchery, but the more I listen to Betrayal the more I realize that this Cordyceps is setting out a vision for where they want their career to go and dedicating themselves to a sound that shows how they have grown and changed as a band over the course of three years. Injecting some fresh blood probably also helped shape the sound, but more importantly everyone seems to be on the same page, and that page is “crush everything within earshot into microscopic pieces.”