Wednesday 10 February 2021

Kaal Akuma - In the Mouth of Madness (2021)

Country: Bangladesh
Style: Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 18 Jan 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Here's something interesting from Bangladesh, courtesy of a death metal trio called Kaal Akuma, who are on their debut album. I'm not sure how new this material is, as at least one track was released as a single in 2019, the year they were formed, but it really doesn't matter because this is old school stuff, the sort of early death metal that was dismissed by many people, only to prove massively influential to entire subgenres. If I'd heard this in 1985, I'd have spun it alongside Seven Churches until the cows came home.

Excluding the final track, Yamantaka, which I'll get to later, the band seem to function in two modes.

The first is fast and heavy and it's how they tend to start out songs. Everything's tuned deep and low and it's delivered without compromise. They aren't the sort of band to banter with the audience, just get their heads down and launch into their next song without any fuss. The music very much does the talking and anyone listening is either going to drift away from the wall of sound unimpressed or let it seep into their soul as if it's a mission statement they've just bought off on. The tone is massively important and it's that old school evil tone, dripping in ichor, that still sounds so delicious to me.

The second is much slower, achingly slower, and it arrives in variants of extremity. Mostly, like in the middle of songs like Feast on Mortals or Master of Metnal, it manifests as relentlessly slow riffs in a similar tone, which only serves to make the sound more evil. I'd call it doom metal but the tone's still death, whatever speed it's unfolding as. Sometimes, though, Akif fully unleashes his guitar and solos so eerily and so consumed by wild feedback that this starts to resemble drone metal or what we could call ambient death. The end of Black Death Sacrifice fits that bill, during which I started to feel like I was the sacrifice, both before and after the act.

That's not what the lyrics say, of course, but that sort of narrative epic fits what Kaal Akuma do. There are only five songs on offer here, but the album doesn't skimp. The shortest song is the closer, which is still well over six minutes and the title track lasts almost ten. Lyrically, we're actually in interesting territory, approaching the genre's traditional overblown affectation for death through Asian plague, Lovecraftian horror and Mayan sacrifice. I should point out that Metnal is not the typo we might see it as; it's the name of the underworld for the Mayans of the Yucatan peninsula, equivalent to Xibalba to those further south.

And talking of death gods, as we apparently are, that brings us to the final piece of music, which isn't so much a song as an instrumental folk death ritual. It's called Yamantaka, which, as those who took a glorious trip with me into last year's Neptunian Maximalism triple album, is the Sanskrit name of the destroyer of death in Vajrayana Buddhism. I should add that this isn't as dark as it sounds, because it sounds frickin' dark; destroying death is the final step taken to end the cycle of rebirth and reach the state of enlightenment.

I adored this piece of music, which is the icing on the cake that is this album. It highlights that, while the band may remind of Possessed meeting early Bathory, there's an avant-garde mindset throughout that has to be traced back to Celtic Frost. That all those names are formative ones is telling to me.

I'm sure that today, this is just one death metal album in a swamp of death metal albums, struggling to make itself known, especially given its source. How many sixteen year old western kids are working through the Bangladeshi death metal scene right now? But I'm hearing this as something out of time, the sort of mid-eighties sidestep from the expected that went on to launch entire genres of music. It's primal stuff that feels like the beginning of something rather than the end. Maybe it will be.

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