Death metal has in its just under 40 years as a genre, given birth to some of the most diverse and genre-bending expressions of rage and misanthropy to have ever been expressed in musical form. From the guttural pig squealing madness of slamming death metal to the wonderfully intricate, often beautiful and yet still searingly harsh melodic and technical death metal genres, death metal has no doubt become a poster-child for sonic diversity within music. Now I was lucky enough to recently catch the Faces of Death Tour in Southampton, featuring Fallujah, Harbinger, Allegaeon and others, all showing off amazing blends of virtuosity and crushing brutality, in fact, I could hardly move my neck the next day (I knew taking part in that wall of death was a bad idea) so it’s safe to say that I have a healthy (or unhealthy) appreciation for the more contemporary death metal acts out there at the moment.
However, despite this, I would be lying if I said sometimes I didn’t yearn for the groovy simplicity and earnestness of straight cut death metal, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find bands that don’t just embody the ethos of that thrash metal laced goodness, but also the raw and hard-charging sound of it in isolation, without sudden timing signature changes, visionary artsy synth sections or unnecessary 5 minute ambient interlude tracks that are the equivalent of buying a Venezuelan lottery ticket, winning and then going to claim your prize the next day to find that it’s now worth a fraction of what it was. Indeed, I grow tired of the compromise, tired of the need to reinvent the wheel – thankfully, Leper Colony are set to drop one of the most untainted and refreshingly simple (If such hard and fast music can be said to be simple) death metal albums for quite some while.
You know that part of “Angel of Death” by Slayer right at the start where Tom does that cool as hell banshee scream? Well, Leper Colony open up their self-titled and first release with such a trick. Is it as good? No, you’ll never beat Slayer for that, but what follows in “The Human Paradox” is a distinctively traditional and claustrophobic affair, with shifting tempos, coarse production and a sublime jauntiness that encourages irresponsible head banging and immediate engagement. It’s good simple fun, it’s not going to win an award for being some sort of Wagner-esque masterpiece, with rise and fall dynamics that hint at emotional subtleties and dizzyingly grand narratives and frankly I don’t want it to, I like it for the agricultural slugfest that it is.
Now that the scene is set and the listener knows exactly what to expect from “Leper Colony” there are no real shocks in “Perdition’s End,” which despite perhaps being a bit slower a burn and having a greater focuses on solo work (which I must add is pretty good!) the same sort of pugilistic and dark vibe can be felt across the song, along with the thrash and traditional death metal elements you’d be right to expect right after “The Human Paradox” this is not boring however, due to the relatively short nature of the track and the minute differences between the general trappings of the songs being enough to sustain enjoyment throughout.
I perhaps should note that despite my appreciation for the traditional sound that Leper Colony so obviously want to cultivate, it perhaps in the first two tracks leans too heavily on its influences, I’ve mentioned Slayer and I’ll mention them again right away. Now Slayer aren’t technically a death metal band, but they certainly were instrumental in the sound death metal had going forward, but I can’t unhear just how similar the instrumentals sound to something Slayer would put out. There’s also a strong Death influence that is right at the forefront at the music as well – and no doubt if I was a bigger fan of Death I would hear it even more. Despite liking the songs I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I also at the same time am disappointed that they don’t so much as incorporate the traditional sound they’re targeting as they do embrace it at the cost of anything that makes the songs particularly individual.
Thankfully, track number 3 “The Surgical Undeadvours” feels very much a unique and distinctive take on their inspirations for the album. I really like this song, the right amount of chug to riff ratio, excellent vocal performance, great use of Arabian style riffs and a mix so noisy that if you placed your headphones on any hard surface it’d probably trigger seismographs for miles around. It’s just another song that’s great fun and ultimately, as much as I love a serious album, there’s a place for music that is made to simply be enjoyed, not deeply contemplated or analyzed.
The quality remains but the originality does not in “Tar and Feathers” which once again returns to imitation rather than outright innovation. I think if I highlight this every single time it’s true I’ll end up sounding like a broken record so it’s suffice to say, there’s not an awful lot of originality here unless said otherwise. Irrespective of this, “Tar and Feathers” is another well put together and thoroughly enjoyable song when you’re simply listening to it in a causal manner, and will no doubt be exactly what some people are looking for.
Brazenly addictive and drenched in a self-assured swagger that fills the track with a more idiosyncratic and finite sense of style is album midpoint, “Rapture Addict.” Indeed if this is what the rapture is supposed to sound like, then perhaps I can understand exactly why such a big deal is made about it, though I may decide to stick around during it in order to hear this song a few more times. I think whilst the riffs, vocals, percussion and combination of all three together are obviously the core of what makes the song good, there’s something to be said as well for the way in which the song develops, with a high intensity right from the start that increases over the course of the song in a way that feel organic and natural, never quite disturbing the initial flow of the track and allowing for each new segment to expand upon the groundwork of the previous one to create a track that is unified in what it offers. Certainly, it bodes well for the latter half of the album that Leper Colony seem to have found their feet.
Up next is the title track, another pretty solid song that certainly seems to cement the transition to a sound that is evolving upon the bands inspirations, rather than getting largely lost in it. With a galloping drumbeat and some black metal style vocals sitting in a decently high register at points, there’s a stronger sense of foreboding in “Leper Colony” than elsewhere on the record, with rage being traded for tension and an end-of-days style. An altogether less thrashy affair than other songs previous to it, “Leper Colony” is an aguish soaked miasma that threatens to choke its listeners, infesting the lungs with chlorinous lesions and bubonic pustules of intransient condemnation. With such a sinister sound, it is always good to see the band try to represent the thematic core of the album in a slightly different way than breakneck tempos and jaunty riffage, and instead create a slower, more pronounced and nuanced piece to convey another angle of similar ideas.
I would say that Leper Colony like to err on the more simplistic side of riff structures, selecting a middling intensity and adding a smidge of technicality combing both with alternating tempos and a preponderance of loud dynamics. It’s very classically death metal, with some great solo work and a refreshing lack of guitar chug, which seems to be the flavor of the last decade or two in death metal, as deathcore encroaches further and further into the genre and blurring the lines between the two.
The 7th track of the album “A Flow So Greatly Macabre” is perhaps one of the heaviest offerings that exists across the whole album, with a super muddy production approach that has a noxiously thick fog cover the entire composition in a muted coarseness that emphazises the strained vocals and indignantly rapacious percussion, leaving each instrument just about perceptible in a sea of harsh noise. Of course that might not necessarily sound complimentary, but to me, that’s exactly what I want in extreme metal, a messy, DIY, abrasive morass. Fast as you like and bolder than a 50-something man whose testosterone levels are dropping at an alarming rate who goes out to buy a Porsche and leaves his wife so he can get a small taste of the primal confidence he had as a youth, “A Flow So Greatly Macabre” is a thrashy brawler of a track that is sure to get you ready to dive into a mosh pit as soon as you hear it.
You know sometimes the best way to start a track is by just absolutely shredding the hell out of it, no doubt that by 30 seconds into “Flesh Crawl Demise” things are so shredded by the immense guitar playing on display that it’s a surprise they don’t resemble compromising documents about Operation Northwood. Things don’t exactly slow down at any point either, with all the energy and aggression of “A Flow So Greatly Macabre” present here in “Flesh Crawl Demise” again, it’s certainly back into the foible of being a bit more of mashup of influences song than it is Leper Colony’s own distinct sound, but after a good run of songs that are, it is no longer a criticism, and in fact becomes quite welcome!
To conclude the album we have the final track, “Gruesome End” which is actually the shortest track as well. The short length doesn’t prevent it from being a good end to proceedings though, striking a balance between all elements incorporated on “Leper Colony” that is satisfying, if not exactly the high point of the entire album.
Leper Colony’s self-titled debut is an album that displays promise, and is completed to a fair standard, even if I can’t say the would score points for originality. Nevertheless, all the elements of a band that can produce great albums are there, and if you enjoy death metal infused with slower riffs and an amalgam of influences from the greats of the genre, this record will merit you attention.
Released By: Transcending Obscurity Records
Release Date: January 13th, 2022
Genre(s): Death Metal
- Rogga Johansson (Paganizer) / Guitar, Bass
- Marc Grewe (ex-Morgoth, Insidious Disease) / Vocals
- Jon Skäre (Consumption) / Drums
“Leper Colony” track listing:
- The Human Paradox
- Perdition’s End
- The Surgical Endeavours
- Tar and Feathers
- Rapture Addict
- Leper Colony
- A Flow So Greatly Macabre
- Flesh Crawl Demise
- Gruesome End
Order “Leper Colony” HERE.
Leper Colony's debut offers passages of energetic, riff-pervaded death metal with a traditional edge, and despite sounding too close to their influences at times, it feels like an untainted and diversely structured record