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Cerebral Rot and Fetid Ravaged Denver with Death Metal on Friday the 13th

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Cerebral Rot

It was the evening of Friday, September 13th when I headed toward Denver’s South Broadway neighborhood, a haven for punks, metalheads, and countercultural folks of all sorts. As a symbolic early herald of autumn, the twilight sky was decorated with an eerie harvest moon, marking the first Friday the 13th in almost two decades to do so. The setting was ideal for the night’s main event: up-and-coming Seattle death metal acts Cerebral Rot and Fetid, the masterminds behind two of this summer’s most blasphemously gore-splattered OSDM-style albums. The two bands were set to make an appearance at the Hi-Dive on this foreboding date — as burgeoning champions of first-wave death metal, their studio material already impressed me profoundly, so I quickly leapt at the opportunity to witness their brutal assault in the flesh.

Approaching the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth where the Hi-Dive is neatly tucked, I assumed by the surging crowd of metal-goers smoking and socializing outside the club that I had arrived between sets. To my pleasant surprise, though, I managed to stroll into the venue just before the start of Cerebral Rot’s set. Once inside, I was immediately drawn to the well-stocked merch table standing past the bar, toward the back of the venue. The spread hosted an unreal diorama of patches, tour shirts, long-sleeves, all bookmarked by the two headlining bands’ debut LPs — Odious Descent into Decay and Steeping Corporeal Mess on either side. The records from two of the most prodigious recent signees to 20 Buck Spin’s formidable roster of OSDM revivalists stood side-to-side in a slime-ridden landscape of gore and tangled calligraphy.

I soon made my way toward the front of the pit, spotting several eager fans already posted by the stage. By the esoteric, genre-specific selection of merchandise sported by those present (namely one individual’s nostalgic TimeGhoul shirt), I took pleasure in the fact that many amongst the crowd were of the crate-digging, music-nerd ilk.

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Cerebral Rot

Cerebral Rot members Ian Schwab and Zach Nehl stood on the dimly lit stage and performed a meticulous soundcheck, carefully adjusting their tone as to achieve perfect contours of grime and crunch. Schwab, also known as the Purveyor of Destruction, requested green lights and a thick fog; though green lighting was achieved, there was no fog to be had this evening. Nevertheless, the band launched straight into material from Odious Descent — immediately, their live presence soon reinforced my belief that their material had successfully tapped into the primordial core of vintage Neanderthal death metal, sans frills and adulterations. As the denim-clad quartet unleashed their barrage of hammering steamroller riffs — all narrated by Schwab’s heartwarmingly monstrous vocal inflections — I felt the lurking evil of the music boiling up through the surface of the stage and spilling out into the audience.

The highlight of the group’s performance was in the serpentine and atonal solos conjured by Schwab throughout the set, which he would call up from the depths of hell to cast demise over the already lingering despair of Cerebral Rot’s poisonous riffage. The most piercing of these came during their precisely executed presentation of Odious Descent’s plodding title track; with wailing dive bombs and wild tonalities writhing over guttural, oily death metal carnage, this band sealed their reputation as one of the more effective emulators of arcane old-school extreme metal energy.

After Cerebral Rot’s madness, Fetid began to load in their equipment, and I noted that the latter group’s demeanor was considerably more understated, bassist Chelsea Loh’s massive coffin-shaped bass case notwithstanding. Guitarist and vocalist Clyle Lindstrom also provides secondary guitars for Cerebral Rot, a role he has filled since 2018, but seemed remarkably calm and poised despite having just finished a 45-minute set of grueling material. After a brisk soundcheck, the trio humbly thanked the crowd for staying until the end of the show and proceeded seamlessly into their material.

The shape of their sound was unimaginably massive, with destructive grooves seeping forth at a sludgy crawl suddenly exploding into double bass and tremolo; with long strands of sweat-soaked hair obscuring his face, Lindstrom traded demonic and guttural vocal lines with drummer Julian Rhea’s equally frightening yowl. As their set progressed, Fetid matched increasingly brutal downtempo onslaughts with blistering speed, constantly increasing in intensity only to break into soul-crushing, crowd-pleasing breakdowns. As I sank deeper and deeper into Fetid’s cathartic, bass-heavy presentation of death metal, their set took on a meditative, almost mesmerizing quality; the stoic and unfazed impassiveness of the band in unison with their demonically otherworldly material had entranced me into a state of undivided attention between my mind and their derelict, oozing aural display.

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As Lindstrom and Rhea split vocal duties, and a wall of sound stampede reduced to a more streamlined three-piece arrangement, Fetid presented a significantly different perspective on death metal than Cerebral Rot, despite the strikingly narrow niche that both groups occupy. Even with my lofty expectations going into the show, I found both groups incredibly satisfying, going above and beyond the standards set by their debut albums. Each presented an auditory and aesthetic angle on Seattle’s rising OSDM scene that wholly contrasted with the other, and both infused their performance with a vital dose of feral, pulse-pounding fun. Looking back on the nonchalant semi-professionalism pervading the venue that night, there was a slightly tongue-in-cheek nature surrounding the whole event; perhaps death metallers have finally come full circle and are finally able to openly admit that we’re all just huge music nerds. It may have been the fateful alignment of the date and the moon that evoked this bizarre energy; then again, it may have simply been the the spirit of death metal.

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