Written by Kep
Descent – Order of Chaos
Death metal from Queensland, Australia
Releasing January 14 via Brilliant Emperor Records
Look, it’s no secret to anyone that reads my reviews or follows me on Twitter that I love everything Brendan Auld does. I raved about the debut EP from Feculent last March. Snorlax put out the most underrated death metal release of 2020 in II. Resin Tomb fucks hard, and so does the Consumed EP from back in 2018. He’s also worked on some of the best-sounding extreme music in the last few years via his studio Black Blood Audio, handling the engineering side of a bunch of excellent releases including Bone Marrow’s Geminus 21, Disasphyxiate’s demo, Pustilence’s 2020 EP, and all the material from Feculent, Snorlax, Siberian Hell Sounds, and others including the subject of this review, Descent.
In case it’s not clear, I expected to like Order of Chaos, the upcoming sophomore effort from Descent, if for no other reason than Auld’s presence on guitar and production, and no surprise, I totallly do. But don’t let my fanboying distract you from how much great shit is going on in Order of Chaos, because there are so many things about the album that make it an extremely mighty little package. This thing packs a damn punch.
The theme of these eight tracks of hardcore-tinged death metal is in-your-face, full-throated ferocity. The riffs alternate between breakneck gallops that snatch your breath away and bludgeoning chugs that mercilessly beat the air right out of you. It’s not the kind of record with lots of melodic material a la Swedish death; rather, this is all about the violence of percussion and filthy headbang-worthy brutality. It’s ugly and nihilistic, an embodiment of its title: every track is an adrenaline-charged whirlwind of outright bedlam, with just the right amount of songwriting prowess to keep it on the near side of the “chaos” line. The mixing by Kurt Ballou and mastering by Brad Boatright (both extreme music veterans and prolific in this department) show that they understood the assignment, too, because the mix and master are likewise aggressive and boisterous.
Auld’s audio engineering is once again spot on for Descent’s style here; his and Josh Kane’s guitars have a flesh-burning abrasiveness to them, like fully revved chainsaws spinning inches away from your face, which suits the brashness of their harsh, lacerating riffs. And those riffs fucking rip, of course; they’re not doing things you’ve never heard before, but Auld and Kane’s knack for writing lines like the threateningly descending one in the first half of “Fester”—the kind that sound simultaneously destructive and menacingly evil—is a special one. There are only a few solos, but they fit well in the places they’re inserted, like in short ripper “Safe”, and are out-and-out scorchers.
The rhythm section is similarly produced and written, with battering brutality and full-throated vehemence at the forefront. Kingsley Sugden’s work on the kit hammers and thrashes, unforgiving in both its tempos and its harsh aggression. It’s brazen and powerful playing, and Sugden manages to be unapologetically brutal while also remaining extremely clean and tight. Between the guitars and drums, you might be concerned that the bass would get lost within the maelstrom, but Jim Dandy’s playing actually stands as the hero of this record. It’s some of the most muscular, powerful playing you’ll hear in death metal, and it noticeably fills out their sound rather than just coasting inside of it. Meaty tone, hefty clobbering lines, and two delicious and memorable solo moments (in “Tempest“ and “Despotic”) make for a hell of a performance.
You’ll find elements of blackening here and there, most remarkably in tremolo-picked lines against ruthless blast beats like in opener “Tempest” or standout sixth track “Filth”, and notably in the opening of stellar closing song “Despotic”, but the most obvious black metal influence lies in the vocals of Anthony Oliver, who spends as much time shrieking his larynx to pieces with hoarse high screams as he does conjuring devils with growling mids. He’s a force, to be sure, because he’s able to measure up to the sheer intensity and hostility of the rest of the band; a lesser vocalist might’ve been overshadowed by the instruments here, but Oliver isn’t ever in danger of that.
I think it’s worth going out of my way to mention that Descent understands one of the most important things in death metal: the balance between brevity and substance. There’s not a single song that outstays its welcome, but none of them feel short, either, and that includes the sub-2:00 “Safe”. It’s rare to find an outfit that seems to have a crystal clear picture of exactly how to maximize the impact of their riffs, but these guys get it. Every pounding chug, every swiftly tumbling guitar lick, every barrage of hateful screams is effective; I never found myself going “Oh, here’s *that* again.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Order of Chaos is yet another strong record from the metal scene down under, a nasty little package of beastly brashness that is equal parts intelligently written and unwaveringly brash. Descent will take your fucking head off within the first thirty seconds and spend the remainder of the album’s 29 minute runtime brutalizing what’s left of you. This is an outstanding example of a record with all its shit together: riffs, vocals, production, and vision all working as one cruel, unfeeling machine.