I was unhealthily obsessed with Heads for the Dead’s first album Serpent’s Curse, so when I heard that the band were coming back with a follow-up, I immediately began badgering Transcending Obscurity label head Kunal Choksi to line up another premiere slot. Songwriter Jonny Pettersson and vocalist Ralf Hauber are joined this time by drummer Ed Warbie for a return to the world of camp-horror death metal they nailed so perfectly the first time around. The band’s follow-up full-length Into the Red drops later this year, but we’ve got the second track “The Coffin Scratcher” for you right now.

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As with Serpent’s Curse, Heads for the Dead have again created a record that gives the impression of unconstrained frenzy, the success of which is ultimately rooted in disciplined and intentional songwriting. “The Coffin Scratcher” exemplifies Pettersson’s dialed-in approach on Into the Red — punchy, efficient, elegant in its restraint.

I’m convinced Hauber persuaded his bandmates to bury him alive in preparation for the studio. Being trapped under six feet of dirt and behind a thick wooden lid, nailed shut, with a precious short supply of air and surrounded by the tiny scritching of hungry insect mandibles desperate to feast on your soon-to-be-decaying body — that’s the experience this song channels, and Hauber’s gut-churching wails embody this visceral fear.

Horror and metal are longtime friends, but it’s clear that Heads for the Dead approach both with equal parts studied consideration and unabashed love. While on the surface dealing with unsavory themes, the old-school horror that informs Heads for the Dead wants you to have fun while you watch. It’s fun to give yourself over to a movie, invite it to manipulate your emotions and expectations, and ultimately, allow yourself to be afraid when it wants you to be. You’ll see the jump scare coming, but it’ll still get you, because you’ve agreed to a shared experience on the filmmaker’s terms.

This thread of exhilaration-through-fear defines Heads for the Dead. There’s no outright mirth in Pettersson’s melodies, nor in the band’s lyrics. But tangible across the record is that same type of good-natured assuredness that you and they are in on the gag together. Pettersson’s charisma as a songwriter makes it all that much easier to enmesh yourself with the band in mutual thrills. Like its beloved inspiration, Into the Red is a vibrant celebration of the unique glee produced when we willingly surrender ourselves to terror.

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Into The Red releases December 11th via Transcending Obscurity.


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