Lovable gorehounds Exhumed return after a three-year recording gap, feeling rather nostalgic as they celebrate their lengthy history, bringing back old cattle into the writing process, and musically, continuing the throwback trend of previous album, Horror. Since picking up the gore metal baton fumbled by idols Carcass on Swansong, Exhumed carved a remarkably consistent career. While lovingly inspired by the English legends, Exhumed were never content with mimicry, possessing the songwriting smarts, hooky infectiousness and underground attitude to remain a vital and durable band over many years. 2019’s Horror returned to the cutthroat deathgrind approach of early efforts, their humble 1998 debut Gore Metal, and slashing follow-up Slaughtercult. It proved a solid deviation from the more playful and technical melodic leanings of 2012’s Necrocracy and 2017’s Death Revenge – two albums I hold in particularly high regard.
From the opening violent convulsions of “Putrescine and Cadaverine” it’s evident Exhumed have once again jettisoned their gritty melodeath desires in favor of those bloodied old school deathgrind roots on their eighth original platter of splatter, entitled To the Dead. Whereas Horror embraced the past in a more refined, polished fashion, To the Dead takes it a step further, blasting a meaner, nastier route, reinforced by a gritty, garage-esque edge and no-frills production job. The return of bassist/vocalist Ross Sewage (Ghoul, Impaled) a couple of albums back proved a masterstroke. His brutal low-end gurgles and vocal eruptions complement Harvey’s higher-range growls and screams superbly, adding a gut-punching counterpoint and old school Exhumed vibe.
Aside from the obvious return to their gnarlier roots, not much has changed from the Exhumed we know and love. Further evidenced by the accompanying promo images, Exhumed don’t take themself too seriously, embracing their horror shtick and having loads of fun pumping out their grisly death metal tunes, complete with ample grind gristle. To the Dead injects doses of the refined, deathgrind bloodbath of Horror, and thrashy, chaotic underground butchery and repugnant brutality of Gore Metal and Slaughtercult. And despite the lack of innovation or surprises, it’s a really cool amalgamation of their polished technical chops and modern traits with the warts and all charms of earlier work. However, To the Dead is not a shameless reliving of past glories, or purely nostalgic exercise, on account of the consistently solid and infectious writing, sharp performances, and reliably chunky platter of meaty riffs and more nuanced, slashing solo work. The album lurches maniacally from one frantic cut to the next, rarely missing a beat, while expertly shifting from blasty, wall-of-noise chaos to catchy, hacksawing riffs, tempo shifts aplenty, and disgustingly rank, casket-crushing grooves.
“Drained of Color” features the aforementioned ingredients in spades, as Harvey’s melodic lead work adds a slick, greasy sheen to the fetid, rotting fun. It marks one of a handful of cut-above tunes. The aptly named “Rank and Defiled” is one of the catchiest death metal ditties of the year, as Sewage’s from-the-belly-of-the-beast gurgles stand out on the song’s simple and addictive chorus. The berserk bloodletting of “Necrotica” rides an intense wave of concentrated extremity, before unfurling into groovier, melodic territory. To the Dead charges to the finish line courtesy of the one-two closing punch of the deliciously deranged “Defecated” and “Disgusted.” Harvey is a riff master of the highest level and his brutal, melodic and feverishly frantic axework is a reliable tool, ably supported by Sebastian Phillips and a tightly on point rhythm section. There are definitely songs, such as those highlighted, that rise above the pack, but even the less impactful cuts get the job done to a solid standard. The shortage of truly exciting or imaginative material is a slight detractor, but the album is such an unrestrained, brutal blast to listen to, that its minor faults are easily forgotten.
Exhumed always deliver to varying degrees of reliable satisfaction. Although returning to their fleshy, gore-soaked roots has created nostalgic, brutal fun, it has perhaps come at the expense of their more adventurous melodic and technical writing. However, when the results are this deadly, it’s difficult to complain. Decades into their career, Exhumed remain a remarkably dependable, consistent, and dare I say it, underappreciated act. To the Dead breaks no new ground, yet slightly edges its predecessor, marking their most brutally animalistic and bloodied album in years.