Let’s face it, metal isn’t for everyone. And brutal, blackened, technical death metal especially isn’t for everyone — which is why, when a group truly exemplifies the art form, bringing out nuances yet unheard of, it's safe to trust their apparent authenticity.
Because after listening to even one song from metal’s darkest subgenre, there’s really no room for thinly veiled veneers or facades of voyeurism; the music doesn’t allow for it. The shellacking your senses receive from the onslaught of blast beats and guttural growls is enough to pummel any poseur into another genre. And for that we thank you, Satan.
Enter Houston’s own Desecrate the Faith.
Last year, these veterans embarked on a European tour into the birthplace of black metal, and this year, followed that up with an astonishingly adept new album. Titled Unholy Infestation (Comatose), the record may well be the best example of extreme metal a Houston band has offered up to date. Although death-metal skeptics may not think the genre leaves room for prolific or cunning songwriting, DTF not only proves that it does, but challenges other extreme metal bands to step up their skill.
“Our goal for this record was to come together and continue to form our sound and identity,” explains guitarist Tyler Shiery. “This album was definitely a team effort, with all band members contributing to the writing process. We really wanted this album to feel like one cohesive entity and bring in all our individual influences into one massive juggernaut.”
The finesse and creative liberties exhibited here, within an otherwise exact art form, are more than surprising; it evokes that familiar feeling of finding a hit record before any of your friends do. The surge of adrenaline takes hold with the inaugural listen; combined with the stunning cover art by Rudi Gorgingsuicide, Unholy Infestation is a career-topping achievement for a band that is sadly unfamiliar outside death-metal circles. For the common Houston music fan, this epic album is their loss.
Yes, but why death metal?
This genre is far more than a highlight reel of snuff films and inhumane barbarism for shock effect. It also can’t be reduced to the cheap thrills of angsty teens witnessing I Spit on Your Grave under a haze of pot smoke for the first time. To dismiss death metal is to dismiss a musically mature dialogue that seeks to answer our culture’s obsession with Christianity.
That answer is found in hymnals to Satan. In this modern age of fragility and hypersensitivity, death metal is, well, the last place in music where safe spaces do not exist. They’re not supposed to exist here — or rather, think of the genre as a safe space to say whatever the hell you want, even if that includes anti-church attitudes detailing exactly how to disembowel a pedophile priest. Death metal is an outlet for protest, a complex musical offering, and a musical flexing of the bicep muscles. Its strengths only grow darker with its evolution; think of it as the Roman Colosseum of music.
Once you understand the motivation behind death metal's imagery and calls for a violent reckoning, a sense of gory justice and the satisfaction that brutality can exact out of an offender, the message is transformative — a voice of justice in a world where karma bypasses far too many asshats.
Examine closely, for example, “Forced Gender Reassignment” by Cattle Decapitation. Gratuitous gore? Sure, probably. Justified reaction to a sociopolitical climate that is heavily dusted in ancient religious dogma and unfairly targets gay and transgendered persons? Absolutely.
In what sounds like someone ripping open a portal to hell, Unholy Infestation begins with “Daemones Nos Ave Satanas” and the impeccable drumming skills of Mike Caputo. Blasts, grooves and multiple time changes (too many to count) make what seems like several tracks blend seamlessly into one without the slightest interruption. Add to that singer John Hull's low-end vocal growls — whose airy depths literally sound like the vocalized windpipes of a possessed flute tuned to D — and you have the makings of a most sacrilegious cacophony.
“Predatory Impalement” is a sadistic beating, an ode to the death of God told from inside the mind of His killer. Musically, this song picks up the tempo just enough to bang your head in time, before it slows to a grind so gratifying in its growling scrape against your eardrum that I found myself listening to it on repeat for days.
Another track, “Angel Eater,” peels itself apart layer by layer, with bass and vocals that resonate in your gut and a riff that propels the song forward in an unexpectedly interesting way. While I kept expecting songs that merely repeated what has already been done in this genre, DTF have created an album that continually transitions into compelling developments. The intro alone on “Septic Womb” was a variation of technical death I hadn’t yet heard, highlighted by Caputo's extraordinary percussive acrobatics. Unholy Infestation is a masterfully crafted work of metal wizardry.
What’s next? As guitarist Johnathan Bayliss explains, DTF simply wants to continue their upward trajectory. “In a year, I hope to see the album still getting attention both here in the States, but also internationally,” he says.
Caputo echoes the sentiment, saying, “We hope to have our music reach new people, play places we've never played before, and build new friendships with fans and bands.”
Is Europe in their future again? According to bassist Coleson Cowden, they hope so. “During our time in Europe, we learned a lot about the culture," he says. "Our brand of [music] was very well-received. We were also amazed to discover that in Czech Republic, you can buy a six-pack of two-liter beers!”
For now, they will play Chicago's Domination Fest July 28 and then tour the U.S. until August 6.
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As Hull explains, this is no Slayer-esque form of theater; this is blasphemy in all its unholy glory. “The biggest inspiration [for the album] would have to be the corruption and lies of Christianity," he says. Hull does not shy away from his dislike of the church: “Not only that, let's just say the entire falsehood that creates church and a God or savior.”
Lightening momentarily, Hull adds, “Independence and self-reliance is all you need to prosper in any shape or form you seek. Never let a false prophet direct your life or, most importantly, your checkbook. Be you, live free and bow to nothing.”
Unholy Infestation is the back swing of a pendulum that began in the depths of American Christianity. It doesn’t seek to reconcile, amend or atone. This record and its 12-song invocation to darkness seek to impale your eardums, devour your sense of self-righteousness, summon Armegeddon and burn every vestige of sanctification that ever existed.
Catch DTF's release party for Unholy Infestation, featuring special guests In Prism, Putrid Womb, K.T.C.M., Suicide Pandemic, and ID (from Austin) tonight at Eastdown Warehouse, 850 McKee. Doors open at 6 p.m.; $5 cover or free with flyer.