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Dredging Decay - 87%

Five_Nails, September 11th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Vic Records (Reissue, Remastered)

Alongside Shadows Fall, Jungle Rot, and Hecate Enthroned, the Greek incarnation of Exhumation released its first album in 1997 to round out a diverse expanse of underground metal debuts during this waning period of the '90s. What makes Exhumation stand out among that list of comparatively more successful releases is how deep a diamond this band is in the rough. Finding few friends among the three other stillborn starts from other outfits under the same name by that year (and five more since) this Greek iteration finds itself digging its heels into the thrashier end of the death metal spectrum in order to provide a staunch bedrock on which to build its more melodic moments.

Engulfed in erratic percussive energy, lamentatious guitar is swallowed by whirlpools of melancholy washed with orchestral swings as Exhumation attempts to navigate its 'Seas of Eternal Silence'. Where the Hellenic quintet is characterized as melodic death metal for its flowing guitars hinging on accessible arrangements that end up enchanting with delicate diminishing measures, this outfit doesn't shy away from the intensive thrashing roots of death metal that so many bands in the melodic offshoot seemed to have shunned in subsequent years when infusing their own styles into the substantial beatdown necessary to elicit such anguished harmonies.

Exhumation shines by taking a quintessentially Death sound in “Dreamy Recollection” right off its strict rails into a broad melodic tangent through such a drastic deviation that it would definitely satisfy Schuldiner's more progressive sensibilities. Starting out with the hammering snare and rolling double bass from Pantelis Athanasiadis, shredding guitars from Panos Giatzoglou and Marios Iliopoulos provide an imposing thunder thickened by the bass handled by John Nokteridis as his vocals give a gruff scream until a raucous chorus comes up. Curt bellows of heaving melody crash into the meter and fall back into the atonal treble rhythm like white caps appearing in a battleship grey surf. Holding onto its hammering initial structure and squeezing it into a kaleidoscope of creativity puts this song evenly on the fence between 'Leprosy' and 'The Sound of Perseverance' in a way that honors the waning career of Death while Exhumation also forces itself forward from miring in its own grief to actively embracing the coming storm. While the band cannot help but mollify its passages in “Ceaseless Sorrow” and let its anguish flow, Exhumation makes sure to fight through its anguish with the furious trappings of extreme metal to make for a fruitful journey rather than a fitful forlornness.

Thomas Bairachtaris employs regal synth sounds common to albums like 'In the Nightside Eclipse' or 'Dark Requiems. . . and Unsilent Massacre'. Usually employed in ominous interludes between aggressive moments these atmospherics end up becoming a beautiful baying backdrop to the crumbling curls of emotional melodies expanding the title track from its furious base into a melancholic motion. In “Forgotten Days” this synth seamlessly blends into the breathy space between brash lead guitar notes and whips the groovy mechanical rhythmic interlude into majesty as this synthetic orchestration, hammered by the desolation of the drumming, meets the human acumen for improvisation to ramp up the delirious depression before becoming trapped in a melodic whirlpool with its tentacular appendages inhaled by the sea.

Still, what becomes increasingly noticeable throughout this album is that Exhumation, while plotting out some compelling endpoints to its apogees, has trouble forging the path to those places without losing its way in filler where it would benefit to make a clean break. Where the band's ideas are expansive, shortening some of its songs and tightening up its structure would likely allow a wider range of ideas to come forth. Cutting off one grotesque head in order for two to come up, Exhumation could conjure its own hydra without losing itself in the tumultuous middle passages of each voyage. Though it is true that storms like these provide the drama necessary to start a shanty, not every cruise leaves a fleet as lost as Odysseus. This uncertainty seems as much due to Exhumation's influences, starkly sourced from Sepultura in the likes of “Passing Suns”, as it seems the band was wowed by the achievements of early Death and the increasingly extreme thrashing troupes throughout the style's early years and provides an honest attempt at emulation but simply has trouble rounding itself out as gracefully as it had in “Ceaseless Sorrow”.

Regardless, Exhumation's forthright and impressive first full-length is made even more inspiring in its placement in time. Released six months and five days prior to Amon Amarth's first full-length, 'Seas of Eternal Silence' is an album that harbors its intensity with the foreboding contraction of an ocean and expresses itself in the indefatigable onslaught of a tsunami when it finally rips out of its malaise. “Guilts of Innocence” riles itself up from the thrash drum cadence into roiling blast beating that provides apogee to its assault and finally is able to blend itself into the aggressive atonality that compliments with percussion the lofty ambitions of the treble that, through this frantic piece, pits Death's thrashier momentum up against the increasing velocity of an emerging generation. A curious aspect of Exhumation's art is in how closely it sticks to the oldschool elements of early death metal. Showing its uneasiness with the hyper-aggressive approach of the new blood, Exhumation comes across as a demonstration of this transitional time in the traditional death metal approach, showing an appreciation for the aggression of the previous years while attempting a more artsy attitude in its own execution.

Originally Hosted on “The Pit of the Damned”: http://thepitofthedamned.blogspot.it/