Outer Heaven is so old school they even got Relapse Records all nostalgic. The once-undisputed leader of the death metal underground has branched out for so long there’s a generation of fans who don't remember black and white show flyers with the label's PO Box and half a dozen undecipherable logos.

Gatecreeper might have been the instigator as the two bands shared a split which might have gotten the label’s attention, or maybe they caught the their ear due to hailing from Douglassville, a backwoods enclave by their own estimation about an hour drive from the record company’s Philly homebase. No matter how they found each other, it should prove as good a match now as it did decades ago.

Four of the band’s members were active on the stage with vocalist Austin Haines leaving it entirely to sing from the crowd, allowing his mates to own the planks. Can’t blame them -- each song had riffs thicker than concrete; most were performed at breakneck speed until the band slammed on the breaks for meaty breakdown parts that encouraged violent reactions from bands and fans alike. Drummer Paul Chrismer is the secret weapon who helps them seamlessly navigate the tempo changes with a double bass that literally vibrated my beer off the table.

Of Feather and Bone was able to get as much intensity (truth be told, it was actually more intense) despite being the opposite in almost every way. The Denver group is a classic trio -- the term “power trio” seems so ineffectual when contemplating the relentless Of Feather And Bone attack -- whose members were locked behind drums and mic stands since both Dave Grant and Alvino Salcedo both sang, unable to migrate around the stage. Also, they only knew one speed: Careening like a roller coaster without any brakes.

The most obvious difference between Of Feather and Bone and the bands that they were sandwiched between is their denial of death metal purism. The band's live presence seems a lot closer to grinding crust than death metal, which makes abundant sense given Of Feather and Bone's roots as a hardcore band. Close your eyes and you are whisked away to a basement show. Of Feather And Bone just happen to be crust punks who bathe regularly and really like Bolt Thrower.

Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms will be in the running for the best death metal album of the year, and this is from a band with one of the best names in metal history (even for those who don’t play Bloodborne). It was a treat that the band played nearly the entire record -- five of the seven songs off the release made up the entire set save for set closer “Vernal Grace – Outro” from last year’s Primordial Malignity. Especially noteworthy was “Abysswalker,” which somehow marries the tremolo abuse of Morbid Angel’s “Immortal Rites” and the sick groove of Obituary’s “Immortal Visions.”

The live show surpassed the studio versions by simply outmuscling them. The subterranean death metal was even sludgier, like an avalanche of coal dust filling a mine, suffocating anyone unfortunate enough to have not noticed the canary was long dead. These riffs are played at mostly mid-tempo or faster speeds; it felt like a sinkhole swallowing your soul. The same material slowed down might be the best doom you will hear; speed it up like Tomb Mold does and heads are removed.

It is a little unusual to have Max Klebanoff handle vocal duties from behind his drum kit but it’s not unheard of in extreme music. Dan Beehler in Exciter was the first and I am old enough to have caught Deceased before King Fowley relinquished the throne. Still, the way he literally doesn’t miss a beat while pulling double duty is impressive.

Death metal has grown stagnant over the years, at least in part because the genre as a whole seems resistant to change. Outer Heaven excels through purism, whereas Of Feather And Bone and Tomb Mold add interesting ideas and musicianship to the formula while retaining complete brutality. If death metal has a renaissance, bands such as these will be the reason why.


photos by Tashina Byrd



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