Over the last couple of years Queens, New York death metal act Hypoxia has been carving out a respectable niche for itself. Even though they hail from the Big Apple Hypoxia has always been a Florida death metal band at heart. Cannibal Corpse and their “Vile” seem to be the key influence. “Abhorrent Disease” is never overly fast or excessively technical. It primarily rides on pit-friendly grooves, thrashy bursts, and fiery soloing. As much as we enjoyed their debut “Despondent Death” in 2015 it failed to leave much of an impression in the years that followed. It didn’t receive much coverage in the specialized press and it looked to be lost in the shuffle. Now, four years later, Hypoxia returns with “Abhorrent Disease” on Selfmadegod Records which should at least help them in terms of visibility. There was never any doubt that Hypoxia would return, but it was more of a question whether or not they would be able to fulfill the potential of their meat-and-patatoes death metal.
Hypoxia is one of those increasingly rare bands that plays death metal, pretty much without any of the conventional prefixes. They play death metal without resorting to the retro or old school qualifiers. It's a welcome return to those bygone days when bands could be easily classified and sub-subgenres weren't as clearly etched out and delineated as they are today. Hypoxia joins European underground acts as Anasarca, Ekpyrosis, and Ferum that proudly fly the banner for traditional death metal. "Despondent Death” was good enough for what it was but didn’t leave much of an impression otherwise. “Abhorrent Disease” seeks to remedy that and is chunky, thrashy, and groovy without having any big hooks to speak of. Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation clearly served as inspirations but it never gets quite as muscular in its riffing nor as primal in its savagery. Helping in no small part is dyed-in-the-wool veteran Mike Hrubovcak, one of the most expressive frontmen on the American death metal scene.
In the intervening four years since their debut a few things have changed in the Hypoxia camp. The driving force is still drummer Carolina Perez and guitarists Carlos Arboleda and Nadher Tabash with Monstrosity and Divine Rapture frontman Mike Hrubovcak remaining in their respective slots. After the 2015 release of “Despondent Death” bass guitarist Mikaela Åkesson moved back her native Sweden where she now resides with Kolsva-based black metal band Gast. On loan from Monstrosity (at least for the recording sessions) is Michael Poggione. Perhaps it was a bit ambitious to expect Perez’ sometime Castrator colleague Robin Mazen (who’s busy enough touring around the world with her main band Gruesome, no doubt) to make herself available for the sessions. While Hypoxia stays within well-trodden paths it’s evident that everybody greatly enjoys playing the music that they do. What Hypoxia lacks in innovation, it makes up in sheer enthusiasm and gusto for the material. They never pretend to reinvent the wheel but this easily trumps any recent Cannibal Corpse or Deicide record.
What kills “Abhorrent Disease” for the most part is how the album is structured, often to the detriment of the overall pace. ‘Dark Desires’ is a weak opener that is redeemed only by the fact that it’s followed by lead single ‘Condemned to the Abyss’. Then it’s another two songs or about 8 minutes before the next choice cuts arrive. ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, ‘Despise’, and ‘Perverse Instinct’ are chunky death metal tracks heavy on “The Bleeding” influence as all four are compact, catchy and have a good hook or solo. Had the album opened with a song as ‘Despise’ or ‘Perverse Instinct’ its impact would have been significantly greater than it is now. In its current form “Abhorrent Disease” isn’t exactly frontloaded with tracks that immediately captivate the listener. To get to the quadruple kill salvo that are tracks 5 to 8 you’ll have to wade through a mostly uneventful opening four tracks. There are far too few tracks as ‘Enslaving Cage’, ‘The Awakening’, and ‘Withered’. ‘Failures Of the Festering Flesh’ would probably have functioned better as a mid-album breather, which doesn’t remove from its atmospheric qualities. We have a sneaking suspicion that “Tomb Of the Mutilated”, “The Inexorable”, and “Retribution” were in regular rotation or part of the line-up’s regular musical diet although “Abhorrent Disease” at no point attains the incendiary level of raging intensity of either.
Where Hypoxia falters most damningly this time around is on the production end. It’s an improvement over the last time but we’re not quite sure what is rubs us the wrong way. Perhaps they were aiming for that Sunlight sound as pioneered by Tomas Skogsberg and Joe Cincotta wasn’t up for the task? The crunchy guitar tone and clanking drum production certainly betray the Stockholm influence. The bass guitar on the other hand is produced like any modern death metal record in that it’s airy, rubbery and clean sounding but without much of a body or any weight behind it. It’s not that Poggione isn’t heard, he most certainly (and thankfully) is, but unlike, say, Demilich, Resumed, or Gorefest, does his bass playing hardly contribute to the overall low-end heaviness. Perez’ kickdrums are also strangely bereft of weight, clicking gently away in reckless abandon. It makes you pine for the warm toned organic productions on Embodied Torment’s “Liturgy Of Ritual Execution” or Deeds Of Flesh’s seminal works “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” or “Path Of the Weakening”. What is great this time around is the artwork. Whereas the artwork for “Despondent Death” look kind of video gamey and thus goofy; “Abhorrent Disease” looks like a horror scene inspired in equal amounts by Deceased’s “Surreal Overdose” and Malignancy’s “Inhuman Grotesqueries” with Carnivorous Voracity’s “The Impious Doctrine” for that extra horror oomph. Andriy Tkalenko from Daemorph Evil Art Dominion outdid himself. If only Hypoxia was produced by somebody like Ron Vento, Zach Ohren, Erik Rutan, Jason Suecof, or Pete Rutcho.
The biggest issue that Hypoxia faces, at least in our humble estimation, is that it’s neither here nor there. “Abhorrent Disease” is never as cutthroat and hellish as vintage Angelcorpse or Sadistic Intent, as traditionally influenced as Deceased or “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” Dissection, nor as charmingly primitive as long-suffering Brits Benediction or more typically thuggish NYDM institutions as early Pyrexia and Internal Bleeding. It’s as if Hypoxia is intentionally holding back for whatever reason. Castrator, Carolina’s sometime side-project with Mallika Sundaramurthy from Abnormality, is ten, no, a hundred times more bloodcurdling in its intensity than Hypoxia is here. Either something was lost in translation from the rehearsal space to the recording studio or Hypoxia has lost what little fire was in its belly when “Despondent Death” was received to the sound of crickets in 2015. Either way Hypoxia is in dire need of an adrenaline injection or they need to overhaul their songwriting as these cuts wobble around with no clear direction. Whatever the case, Hypoxia is better than this. “Abhorrent Disease” is a step in the right direction but this won’t be remembered as one of the must-hear NYDM records of 2019.