We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again forever and ever: 20 Buck Spin knows death metal. It’s an indisputable fact that they are having a goddamn moment right now, and I have been enraptured the entire way through (AND IT’S ONLY MAY). So naturally, when the time came to pick an album to review this week, I saw a 20 Buck Spin release and I had to slap my name on it sight unseen. I’ve no history with Ascended Dead, but Evenfall of the Apocalypse sure seems to have people on the edge of their seats. And at the end of the day…it’s 20 Buck Spin. How bad could it be?
San Diego’s Ascended Dead have an ethos and an aesthetic that they have carefully cultivated over their brief but electrifying tenure in the scene: death metal done the old way. Not “old-school death metal” as is all the rage right now; rather, this is death metal that goes back to the very heart of death metal, with a strong emphasis on the “death” part. This is vile, evil, frantic, frenzied and face-meltingly intense death metal that pulls no punches and goes right for the jugular. Evenfall of the Apocalypse is their first proper release since their 2017 debut, but that hasn’t stopped them from releasing splits, EPs and demos galore (not to mention live shows; catch drummer Charlie Koryn behind the kit with none other than Morbid Angel on their US tour right now). In fact, the perceived downtime has allowed them to sharpen their skills and hone their craft to great effect here. While the initial impression could be that this is savagery taken straight off the cuff with no prior thought, a deeper listen reveals that everything on Evenfall is intentional and done with purpose. Every frantic riff, every noodly solo, every indecipherable howl and shriek has a place in the tapestry of torn-off bits of flesh that this record sews together. Make no mistake about it, Evenfall is a death metal album that does not dwell on the past: rather, it takes the true spirit of death metal and drop-kicks it squarely into the 21st century.
Perhaps no track on Evenfall of the Apocalypse better illustrates this than the most unlikely track on the album: the (mostly) acoustic “Passage to Eternity.” Most death metal bands use acoustic songs as an interlude, and “Passage to Eternity” may well have been relegated to such a fate by lesser bands, but Ascended Dead turn it into a full on rager that builds steadily, at first with gentle arpeggios that grow more sinister with each repetition before soaring electric and acoustic leads give way to a glorious cacophony of nasty-ass riffing that simply does not quit. All the pieces began their lives in the aether of death metal history, but the way they are put together makes them something so much more than what they should be on their own. This is first and foremost a testament to the skill of everyone involved in making Evenfall. The riffs, despite the fact that it feels like they go in a million different directions at once, are nothing short of killer; the drum work is of the kind of caliber you’d expect from someone invited to sit with the almighty Morbid Angel on tour; the vocals have an edge to them that is primal, visceral and unburdened by pretense. It all flows out in a way that is devastatingly emotional, albeit that those emotions are more raging than sorrowful.
There is so much on Evenfall of the Apocalypse that is beautifully unexpected. Sure, the death metal elements have been dialed up to eleven, but the attention to detail and memorability factor are also at the level I need them to be. Ascended Dead have met the high expectations I had for them, considering their labelmates and peers. Now hopefully it won’t be six more years before we hear from them again.
Evenfall of the Apocalypse will be available May 12 on 20 Buck Spin. For more information on Ascended Dead, visit their official website.