The Z-List: Philosopher, Kosmodemonic, PlagueLord & Gravecarver

Written by Kep

Welcome for another entry in your new favorite series that celebrates the unsigned, underexposed underground of extreme metal. Celebrated below are four badass bands whose music is released independently, without the assistance of a label. These are the kind of groups that keep the scene we love alive, who give all of their blood, sweat, and tears to create phenomenal works that deserve more recognition than they’ve yet gotten. It’s my hope today to bring some of you readers your newest obsession, that album that you can’t help but want to share with your friends—an album that you might not have discovered without an introduction. Bring your appetite for riffs that wallop, and let’s get into it. 

PhilosopherPhilosopher

Death/thrash metal from California, USA

Released April 6th, 2021

How awesome is it to stumble across an absolute gem of a band right in your local area? That’s what happened to me when I discovered Inland Empire-based death/thrash outfit Philosopher by chance on Bandcamp last month. And what a damn stroke of luck, because every time I listen to this self-titled EP I find new things to love. It’s been growing on me with every single spin, no exceptions. 

Philosopher’s brand of gritty old school death metal mixed generously with the energy and aggression of traditional thrash is one that feels pretty timeless; drop this EP into a mix of jams from the 80s and it’ll fit in every bit as well as it fits in the modern metal scene. The riffs are reminiscent of OG death/thrash acts like Possessed or Ripping Corpse, but they don’t feel overdone or tired. Quite the contrary, actually, because the influences of more modern school of OSDM give the riff structures a high-energy boost. Andrew Castillo, the one-man show behind the band, cranks out some excellent solos and a few malevolent melodic guitar lines when he’s not carrying the songs with his meaty leads. I was floored by how mature and seamless the songwriting is as the tracks flow from riff to riff—even more so once I realized that Castillo is doing all of this at age 20!

The guitar tone has a raw, buzzed edge that really bites, and the master allows plenty of room for the instruments to breathe without nerfing them. The drums are produced perfectly for this style; they’ve got real density but don’t weigh down the group, and they’re visceral while maintaining clarity. The bass is well-mixed, filling out the bottom end without being in the way, and when it has a few notes where it’s meant to stand out the tone really pops. Seriously, click play on opener “Sadist” right now and try not to be impressed by that thick, dirty atmosphere and that chunky, filth-laden intro riff. It’s tasty, tasty grime that immediately brings images of crumbling monuments in a nuclear sunset to mind. 

Castillo, who wrote and performed the entirety of the EP himself, takes a thoughtful yet aggressive approach to his songwriting, with the violent nature of the human race and related politics standing as Philosopher’s most dominant lyrical themes. His vocal delivery reinforces those ideas with palpable spite and anger. Check out “Peace Never Lasts” for the full experience, as he ranges from imposing death growls to full-throated roars all the way through to hoarse thrash shouts. 

Philosopher is out now, and anybody who enjoys death or thrash should make some time to check it out. I’m damn sure you won’t be disappointed.

KosmodemonicLiminal Light

Sludge/doom metal from New York, USA

Releasing May 7th, 2021

Time for a dramatic change of sonic worlds. We’re leaving the violent, postapocalyptic wasteland of death/thrash and crossing into a wilderness populated with towering doomy monoliths and filthy rivers of sludge. This is Kosmodemonic’s home country. Be warned, all ye who enter here: these riffs will flatten you. 

Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Kosmodemonic is a four-piece that you might not have heard yet, but you absolutely should. They play a brand of doom metal that doesn’t stick within any comfortable set of boundaries; there’s mirey sludge, mesmerizing psychedelia, and touches of sinister blackened influences in their sound. It all meshes together into one surprisingly unified package that’s driven by monster riffs and powerful, incensed vocals. Their upcoming second full-length Liminal Light is one that hooked me in after hearing a single song.

My first listen of this album left me on the floor, struggling to crawl out of a me-shaped indentation. Opener “Drown in Drone” sets the tone for the record in no uncertain terms, dropping right into a thick, meaty stomping riff replete with little trippy grace notes. It’s heavy as hell and just off-kilter enough to make the ears perk right up. This is the name of the game for Kosmodemonic: no beating around the bush, no atmospheric funny business, just straight into the meat. “With Majesty” dives in with a black-influenced headlong flight, “Lover of Leaving” flattens with traditional doom tempo and massive weight, “MOIRAI” gets sludgy with a crushing riff, mostly in 7, and eventually thumps back into a dense 4—there’s no filler here, only loads of Extremely Heavy Shit™ in a variety of approaches. Every song is chock full of killer grooves that will make you bang your head, and those grooves are only enhanced by an audible authenticity to each of the instruments’ tones. If over-produced, super-compressed metal is your enemy, Kosmodemonic will win your heart with their commitment to making sounds that hit you like a sledgehammer to the chest, no trickery. 

I can’t talk about these guys without drawing attention to the element of their sound that is perhaps the most unique: frontman David Bozzler’s voice. His timbre is like some unholy amalgamation of Mike Williams (Eyehategod), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and Dave Peters (Throwdown), with tiny touch of David Wayne (Metal Church) and a smidge of Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) just for kicks. It’s looks like an odd combo, but Bozz produces extremely powerful sounds and his voice will absolutely grab your ears and refuse to let go. He snarls like a maniac and throws every ounce of his lungs into his delivery. It’s captivating stuff.

Liminal Light is due out on May 7 via self-release, and you tapeheads will be happy to know that they’re releasing a limited run of cassettes via Transylvanian Tapes. Give Kosmodemonic your ears and prepare to be crushed.

GravecarverSpectral Carnage

Death metal from Arizona, USA

Released March 4

Speaking of bands that came out of nowhere and blew me away, here’s Tucson’s Gravecarver, an outfit that plays great fucking traditional death metal infused with a modern touch. Their debut record Spectral Carnage dropped with no pre-hype and little fanfare back at the beginning of March, which is a travesty because THIS SHIT BANGS. 

Gravecarver is a four-man project that features two members of underrated melodic deathcore outfit Wyrmhaven (whose music you should also give a spin!). Ryan Daily (guitars) and Nick Cowan (bass) are joined by the talented Brian Miller on drums and the tremendous Luis Ferre on vocals, making up group that has nothing even close to a weak link. Their individual efforts on Spectral Carnage are impressive top to bottom, and the result is a remarkably strong product from the first note all the way through the last. 

The band worked with legendary Swedish metal producer Dan Swanö on the record, and his mixing and mastering expertise (his list of album credits is massive and includes groups like Bloodbath, Gorement, and Ribspreader) is absolutely on display. Ferre’s vocal delivery is throaty and powerful and has that primeval, authentic tone that tells you that he’s not using post-production to achieve it. He’s pretty damn intelligible too, which is always a plus. Cowan and Miller’s rhythm section is straight-up earthshaking, with a massive, girthy bottom end and hefty, substantial drum hits. Daily’s guitarwork is unmistakably a high point of the album; he isn’t stuck into any one specific type of riff structure the way that some death metal guitarists sometimes are, instead packing the entire 37 with a mix of mid-tempo grooves, technical leads, and periodic chugtastic devastation. And the solos! His ear for solo writing is my favorite part of the record because every time the music arrives at one I can’t help but drop everything else and just key in and listen close. They’re menacing, they’re patently virtuosic, and each is remarkably melodic. I feel like I can see the man’s star rising as we speak.

Spectral Carnage hits the sweet spot for an album of this style in length, landing between 35-40 minutes across 10 tracks. It’s hard to even pick a favorite track because the songwriting is so consistently stellar throughout. The main riff of the second track “Tomb Master” is an immense slab of headbang-bait, and which makes it all the more fun when the track begins to mix in passages of contrasting blast beat bedlam. The solo is also one of my favorites, escalating from a melancholy yet acrobatic melodic line to faster, more urgent movement, and then culminating in a brilliant set of dual-guitar harmonies. “Aftermath” is a bit more groove-oriented, riding a driving double bass in the drums and a tremolo-picked main riff that transitions seamlessly into stomps and bouncing technical flashes. Let me be clear: these are two that stand out to me, but there’s truly not a bad song to be found on the album.

Fans of excellent death metal, head right over to Gravecarver’s Bandcamp and check Spectral Carnage out. It’s out now and it will impress you, no question.

PlagueLordThe Silent King

Death metal from Perth, Australia

Released March 1st, 2021

Let’s keep it death metal to finish up today, but let’s head to the opposite side of the world to do it. While Gravecarver is all about a modern approach to OSDM, PlagueLord are crushing worlds in a slower, filthier way. Do you like that catchy sort of Bolt Thrower riffage, with memorable warlike hammering? PlagueLord has that in spades, plus some impactful melodic work that pulls from European influences. The Silent King is their debut EP, coming two years after their first and only demo in 2019, and if you’re into mean mid-tempo OSDM, you’re going to want to drop a little coin on it.

There’s more than just badass music going on in The Silent King’s five tracks and 30 minutes, though. Alistair Maxwell (guitars, vocals, programming) and Paul Rayner (guitars, programming) choose to begin the EP with a sample from a prudent source for the current state of the world: Nineteen Eighty-Four, the movie version of George Orwell’s famous book. “Do you know why you’re here?…To cure you. To make you sane,” says the alarmingly calm voice of O’Brien, the agent of Big Brother’s brainwashing initiative. Only after this does the menacing opening riff of “The Lost and the Damned” begin, and the brutally delivered lyrics continue the theme of dystopian society and violence throughout. 

PlagueLord’s coarse, cutting guitar tone fills the speakers up to the brim, grinding and chugging as the perfect delivery vehicle for their vision of a ravaged world. Each song is built on a few excellently structured main riffs; the idea here is quality, not quantity. There’s a lot of repetition in the composition of the tracks here, but it’s not the kind that gets old. Rather, riffs like the measured stepwise passage that carries the opening of “Gathering of the Tyrants” take something that works really damn well and give you a healthy dose of it, then work in a few little changes to keep it interesting before transitioning into a new section. It’s refreshing to hear a band have such confidence in the reliability of their instrumental writing.

Maxwell’s guttural vocals are abysmal and embody the sort of grit and rasping evil that the lyrical content requires. Check out this passage from “Hell Forge”: “Sell and barter unholy inventions / Towards the highest price paid / To warlord, prince, demagog, or demon”. He growls like a gurgling demon himself, his tone sitting in just enough reverb to feel cavernous without feeling artificial. Perhaps the best thing PlagueLord does is stay true to creating an atmosphere of sinister filth, and the rough-around-the-edges vocal recording style plays a hefty part in that.

Make sure you take the time to give The Silent King a spin (it’s out now!), and you just might find yourself hooked. You’ll probably come away feeling like you’ve just been dragged slowly over merciless concrete by the uniformed soldier of an evil regime, but that’s what we all want out of our death metal, right?

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