Within the ears of many, Death and Doom Metal legends ASPHYX can simply do no wrong. Formed all the way back in 1987, a time when I was just five-years-old and things like He-Man and Garbage Pail Kids held precedence, these flying Dutchmen set in motion an entity that, in spite of an array of ensuing deaths and resurrections, prove quite resilient. ASPHYX’s eighth full-length album, “Deathhammer,” grins knowingly at Father Time, and then proceeds to curb stomp his skull into a pulpy pink slush.
The title is unbearably apt – there is little about “Deathhammer that doesn’t evoke visions of sheer plodding obliteration. The opener “Into the Timewastes” leads the listener into a formidable landscape; surrounded perhaps by toxic fumes or exploding artillery, there’s a grim and dangerous element that never detaches itself. Similar to “Timewastes,” other tracks like the album-titled “Deathhammer,” “Reign of the Brute,” and “Vespa Crabro” are gruelingly belligerent Death Metal numbers; covered in grime and dust and blood, and intent on pummeling their adversaries to battered knees, they represent four of the quicker songs on the album. And while the lot of them are indeed enjoyable head bangers, “Deathhammer” is never as oppressive nor as massive as it is when the band hits the brakes and rolls demonic Doom war machine.
Being absolutely new to the ASPHYX catalogue, my first few listens were a bit hyped. The Metal hordes steamed from out of the woodwork, frothing and erect for a chance to bathe in the “Deathhammer” ‘true Metal’ moonshine. And who can blame them? I was certainly caught off guard, especially by the enormous production. It was insanely heavy and Martin van Drunen’s vocals never sounded so grisly. And while the album remains heavy and van Drunen’s vocals are still some of the best I’ve heard this year, you really can’t fault someone for mistaking “Deathhammer” as the latest HAIL OF BULLETS masterpiece.
Perhaps this is due to van Drunen’s unmistakable vocals? or maybe it’s the band’s thundering Death-Doom style? Hell, maybe it’s the band’s militaristic themes? See what I’m getting at? It’s really one in the same. There’s enormous atmosphere on hand; definitively intense and genuine, playing this during a viewing of Cross of Iron or Paths of Glory might not give the album its visceral due. The album highlight, “Minefield,” is quintessential Death-Doom Metal. Marching, mud-soaked music that varies between agonizing lurches and mid-tempo battering, this is straight warring profusion, wrapped in barbed wire, riddled with bullets; composing a song that sounded more like a field stoked with hidden explosives is a now fruitless endeavor.
While the synonymy to van Drunen and guitarist Paul Baayens’ other band is undeniable, a dilemma of the slightest of degrees, the album’s simplistic songwriting might also be a problem for Metal fans more interested in blinding technicality, odd time changes, and a million different notes. This just isn’t how ASPHYX do things. Theirs is a singular measure. A grinding groove that slows, accelerates, and then, slows again. Little changes over the course of “Deathhammer,” and while this can sap the replay value, there is a commanding and deliberate intent at its forefront. While many bands struggle with identity, with how fast or heavy they should play, or how much they should cater to certain demographics, ASPHYX churn ahead with mindless disregard. This is how it is. This is how the argument ends.
As far as Death and Doom-fused Metal is concerned, ASPHYX are certainly idling near the top. It’s not changing the game any, but of course, this was not the aim. The objective was a collection of bone-cracking songs with names like “Of Days When Blades Turned Blunt” and “As the Magma Mammoth Rises.” It was a reminder how less can be so much fucking more. Crushing, raw, and crusted over with the tones of yesteryear, “Deathhammer” is never short on hostility.
(Online March 30, 2012)