Death Metal can be one of the most hidebound of genres, not just because of its often tiresome rhetorical convention (where each album is averred to be more extreme and brutal than its predecessor), but also because of the particular musical formulae it’s evolved over its first two decades-plus. The average death platter these days is filled with triggered double-bass clicks, super-compressed and choppy guitars, ridiculously fluid technicality, and of course “brootal” vocals. And a lot of these records are great.
But what immediately stands out about Disma’s Towards the Megalith is its distinctive atmosphere. It is most aptly described as filthy. I don’t use this term to signal a grind or crustpunk influence (although there’s plenty of dirty hardcore somewhere in this band’s DNA), but simply to say that the New Jersey quintet’s debut looks back to the early 1990s wave of death for its sound. That makes sense given that the collective members can boast a kind of death metal apostolic authority, with two members (including superb vocalist Craig Dillard) having spent time in death legends Incantation (and just try to find a band in this idiom who doesn’t worship Onward to Golgotha), and others vets of bands like Goreaphobia, Evoken, Assück and Funebrarum. So while these guys can certainly play like hell, their concern has far more to do with feel. Indeed, though blast beats abound, there’s an almost swinging feel to many of these pieces (check “Of a Past Forlorn”).
This slightly fluid, organic feel to the time confers a lot more power on Disma’s other signatures: their gritty double-timed riffs, the multiple nasty breakdowns (though emphatically not in the Hatebreed sense), and Dillard’s sub-sub-guttural vocals. They epitomize the old school death metal revival currently in the ascendant, even though they never sound merely derivative (as I often find the neo-thrash revivalists). Rather, they filter these familiar elements into a creepy, cavernous approach that’s really effective, with thick layers of feedback, tons of sustain, and doom-like riffing on several tracks (most effectively on “Chasm of Oceanus”). Indeed, some tracks — like “Vault of Membros” — are so drop-tuned and abjected that they have the feel of Corrupted, Ahab and Esoteric, with such palpable weight that the performances feel like slabs of sound.
It took me a while to find my way into Towards the Megalith. While I immediately dug the viscera of tunes like “Purulent Quest” and the South of Heaven guitar filigree everywhere, it wasn’t until I understood Disma’s intense commitment to atmosphere that I started to get just how heavy this record truly is. Now I can’t get enough.