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Portugese black/death metal formation Decayed and myself have somewhat of a long history. I remember first hearing this band, when some kind of obscure label two people heard of re-released their 1996 album “Resurrectiónem Mortuórum”. Since those days I have heard much (but certainly not all) of their discography upon release, thanks to the fine people at BlackSeed Productions, who despite all my inevitable nagging and bitching, continue to send promos of their priority releases. This is, of course, wholeheartedly appreciated and I thank them for the continued support.

“The Ancient Brethren” is this band’s ninth full-length release since forming in 1990, and while the line-ups may have changed, Decayed’s sound never strayed too much from the path of devastatingly heavy and utterly relentless death/black metal. Much like 2008’s “The Black Metal Flame” this record emphasizes the band’s death metal aspect more, and like that record there is a current of Australian war-metal and early European death metal that runs through out this record. This is also Decayed’s most concrete and meatiest sounding record to date. The production has the fullness of the best 90s Morrisound productions and a clarity often associated with European productions. Where a lot of contemporary bands tend to get lost in digital, sterile and flat sounding productions “The Ancient Brethren” sounds organic, analog and possesses the sort of crunch similar to Possessed’s “Seven Churches” or any early thrash metal record.

As Decayed are one of the earlier practitioners of the black metal genre, they are far more reliant on old school thrash metal techniques, and while they may not be the fastest or most evil outfit on the scene today, their uncanny ability to write effective songs within the framework of their skills make them all the more powerful. Like the records preceding this one much attention has been given to atmosphere and “The Ancient Brethren” is no different. On this record you can also find monk chants, female vocals, sounds of war, howling winds, etc. The use of these effects is spare, but when they do appear they don’t miss their mark in the least. Less is always more, Decayed understand this principle to the fullest. Everything is there for a reason.

Like many of the earlier black metal formations Decayed is ultimately a ripping thrash metal band with an occult paintjob. The pedal is kept firmly to the metal, and like any good thrash or death metal band Decayed isn’t afraid to actually solo every once in a while. These solos aren’t especially showman-like or technically amazing, but they always fit in whatever song they appear in. They never outstay their welcome and when they actually arrive they add a new layer of excitement to the song in question. It also helps that bass guitar can be heard plucking and popping away. Most of the time the bassist is quite happy to just double the guitars, but it’s good that the bass guitar can be heard in the background. More extreme metal needs to be of that mindset, the bass guitar can be very interesting when used correctly. Not too many bands seem to grasp this apparently revolutionary concept that the bass adds to the general heaviness quota.

I suppose this is the part where I tell you about the production and how it compares to past offerings. In a lot of ways it isn’t very different from this band’s past recordings. In a lot of ways it is reminiscent of the newer albums by US death/thrash combo Sathanas, while in other parts (the drum production, bass presence) it is reminiscent of early Sepultura, circa “Schizophrenia” and “Beneath the Remains”. For one it is a naturally warm sounding production, retaining that organic crunch so often lost in today’s habitually flat and sterile sounding digital production jobs. I concede that this record sometimes sounds ugly and may be on the raw side, but that is exactly what sells this band. Decayed is loud, aggressive and ugly sounding, for they embody the underground spirit to the fullest without shortselling itself. They are filthy, but not underproduced. They are crunchy but not raw and unhinged. There’s no excess, only hunger and gusto.

If you, like me, are of the opinion that too much black – and death metal has descended in becoming a parody and caricature of itself, you’ll probably love this record a whole lot more. Decayed are the contemporary incarnation of legendary Swedish horde Bathory in the sense that all good black metal is just thrash – and death metal played from a different perspective, from a different creative angle, but with the same general mindset. The early black (and death) metal bands didn’t care about who wrote the most difficult song, who had the most strings on their guitar or who could blast the fastest. No. They just wrote incredible songs and had no other ulterior motive but that one objective. Unfortunately, Decayed are a lone beacon in a sea of mediocrity, hero-worship and bedroom projects gone horribly and incredibly wrong. Thanks Decayed for reminding me why I bother with underground metal in the first place. You make it worth it.