From far above, bestial howls. From below, nightmarish noises strung together at terrifying angles. There is nowhere to turn on Civerous’s first full-length, Decrepit Flesh Relic. Working with the dark power of multiple genres, this California five-piece has previously unleashed several demos, and they dropped a compilation of these early tracks, The Expedition of Illness, late last year. Decrepit Flesh Relic finds them fully harnessing the powers marshalled for their previous releases to create a forbidding seven songs across forty-five minutes. Listen to an exclusive early full-album stream below.

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Although Civerous travels along death metal’s left-hand path, Decrepit Flesh Relic finds them making frequent detours along blackened roads on wheels of hopeless doom. On tracks like "Herodacy," frenetic rhythms and walls of tremolo-picked despair coexist in diabolical alliance with vocalist Lord Foul, whose vocal approach is one of this full-length’s highlights, consisting of terrifying howls heavily cloaked in a shadow of reverb. It renders even the most rote moments of the album threatening, the listener pinned against a stalagmite while a hooded wraith stalks the halls.

"Cavernous" appears in so many metal reviews that it’s borderline cliché, but a voyage into this record truly feels like spelunking. This is not just because of the vocal treatment or the chilling ambient interludes, but also because each song genuinely surprises as it arrives. From the opening descent of "Eidolon," the record takes constant left turns that bypass death metal’s need to barrel forward or black metal’s lower-fi sensibilities. Including bowed strings on tracks like "Rot Delineated (Decrepit Flesh Relic)" is one of the curatorial master strokes on Decrepit Flesh Relic. If the first several songs make the listener feel as if chased through a cave, "Rot Delineated" is a moment to gasp in horrified wonder at the stalactites above and the frigid pools and strange creatures below.

The pursuit continues deeper moving into the album’s back half, with a cello throughline at the beginning of "Hubiku." This track, incidentally, seems to be named after one of the Yucatán peninsula’s many vast cenotes, which is fitting—the doom metal base layer works like an underground reservoir vaulted by blackened walls and filled with deathly echoes. "Hubiku" has a start-stop compositional structure that pays off for maximum suspense, a dip in a lake of monsters believed to be extinct.

This aquatic fluidity is what sets Civerous apart from the "cavernous" crowd. Rather than a "filthy slab," Decrepit Flesh Relic is porous, a chunk of forbidding limestone riddled with treacherous cracks and sculpted into mesmerizing forms by the water seeping through. Though the doom elements occasionally get a bit boggy, Lord Foul’s vocals soar above and reawaken each track at critical moments, echoing off the ceilings. The sound comes from all sides, as if its source were everywhere at once, and the splashes of Matt Valencia's cymbals down the scree of blast beats make the footing ever uncertain.

For all the record’s horror, its chasms glisten with a sort of blissful despair. Between well-timed negative spaces and string-quartet geodes, Civerous evidently revel in the horror they conjure, spending 11 minutes of the final track, "Spiral of Eyes," reprising the various moods they explore over the album’s first six tracks. If Decrepit Flesh Relic stayed too long in any one genre—say, the funeral doom metal at the end of "Spiral of Eyes" or "Herodacy"’s blackened death metal—it would be a good release, but the band’s ability to shapeshift, to withhold, to attack, and to release at unanticipated turns mimics the strange geology of the dark worlds beneath our feet: surprising and beautiful, yet dark and deadly.

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Decrepit Flesh Relic is out November 19th on Bandcamp via Transylvanian Recordings.