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I'll be the first to admit that I was not expecting much out of this album, as my reaction to all of the prior Deathchain output has been lukewarm at best. Great band name wasted on a fairly average attempt at death/thrash. However, it might be best not to think of Death Gods as anything other than sheer death metal, because it's clearly an amalgamation of acts like Morbid Angel, Krisiun, Nile and Behemoth, only more potent thanks to its truly dark tones. Considering what a great job Corpse did with last year's Winterwolf debut album (Deathchain actually started as Winterwolf for its first two demos, then split off into a separate entity), perhaps I should not have been so completely surprised by the quality here.
The guitars are not only enormous sounding, like bludgeons from beyond the grave, but the riffs that they spit forth are quite intense through "The Crawling Chaos", "Scimitar", "The Beyond" and the thick chugging force of "We Are Unearthed". They're not always the catchiest, and that is perhaps the one fact holding this record back from a perfect score, but you will nevertheless feel each hammering chord like it were being played upon your spine. Kassara's drums thunder across the opaque nexus created through the guttural vocals and weighted guitar lines, while the bass lies beneath as a fundamental leviathan. Each track is dynamic and interesting, with some variation from the herald of "Storming the Death Gods" through the smoldering maple syrup grooves of "Howling of the Blind". The band even manages to pull off a 12+ minute epic here, "Cthulhu Rising", without it growing tired through its highly varied sequences.
Sometimes, if you throw enough meat into the machine, you'll arrive at the perfect ground beef, and I'd be honored to spread Death Gods on any sandwich or pasta dish. The tones alone are enough to floor most listeners, but the Finns have seen fit to also include great music, and without directly biting off the trendier styles of the day: brutal US tech death, atmospheric Incantation worship or 90s Swedish fellatio. Deathchain might incorporate trace elements of all these and more, but they manage to emerge a force unto themselves, a fresh voice to welcome the end of all things, the crushing weight of an Elder God leaning gradually onto its prey so it can savor every moment of their asphyxiation and the breaking of their pathetic frames. It's about fucking time!
It is hard to put to words, but there is something distinctively Finnish about Deathchain which is one reason why they've never been very known outside of the country, even as far as bands playing this kind of music go. Another reason is their choice of labels. Neither Dynamic Arts or Cobra Records have much in the way of distribution outside of the country's borders. The early form of the band-turned-side project, Winterwolf, signed on to Xtreem Music and the are far more widely acknowledged though they do have two advantages that Deathchain lack: Their style of early Swedish death metal is riding the wave right now in terms of popularity and Antti Boman of Demilich fame is taking part in the band.
But that is neither here nor there, Winterwolf isn't the topic for the day. Death Gods is Deathchain's fifth album and third in their current, deathier style. The band lost a lot of fans wit the departure of their previous vocalist, Rotten, and the shift in style that left the thrash influences mostly by the wayside. While the last two have been quite hit and miss affairs in terms of songs, Death Gods has changed that. Instead of hits and misses, it has hits and knockouts. The majority of the album consists of fast-paced charging and pounding this and that way. Previously Morbid Angel had been the biggest influence, some Swedish death has crept into the band's sound. A lot of the guitar leads and even some of the more melodic riffs draw influence from across the Gulf of Finland. These influences make for an album with a lot more dynamics in comparison to what Deathchain have done before.
While the bulk of the album consists of these punishing and frantic ragers that squash one into pulp, the best of Death Gods is found in the slower songs. We Are Unearthed is impressive already with its comparably snail-paced and doomy atmosphere enhanced with simple, but impendingly apocalyptic sounding leads. However the real gems are the last two songs: Howling of the Blind and Cthulhu Rising. Howling of the Blind starts off leisurely with a melodic and laid back riff, which sets the tone for the first part of the song: Slowly and melodically building and adding to the atmosphere. The latter half is marked by intense drum beats and fills, busy guitar riffs, prominent and commanding vocals, but especially by the two, often dual-layered solos, very reminiscent of Trey Azagthoth. Which is rather fitting as evident by the very last sequence of the song, composed with live situations in mind: K.J.Chaos musters his most commanding tone as the rest of the instrumentation takes backseat to his vocals. He calls forth Azathoth to consume the universe, a magnificently grandiose finish to the excellent build-up. Cthulhu Rising is a similar beast though much longer with the length being twelve minutes in total even if three of them are taken by the intro and outro. It is a more dynamic beast in comparison to Howling of the Blind, which is not that surprising considering nine minutes of the same Deathchain might get a bit tiresome. The song clearly separates into three different parts (five if you count the gramophone-intro and the acoustic outro): The slow beginning, the frantic and fast-tempoed middle with blastbeats and tremolo leads, finally a slow finish, echoing riffs and melodies from both previous parts.
What ties the last two songs tightest together is the sense of melody that permeates the riffs and songwriting. The slower pace and longer length allows the band more space to explore more intricate structures and ways of developing the song. The melodicity is present on other songs as well, but often is restricted to the background with the harsh and crushing riffs and vocals and punishing drums taking the foreground. Deathchain have finally stumbled upon something great here. Hopefully they'll keep exploring that part of their songwriting more on later albums.