When deathcore became a prominent genre in the middle of the decade, it ignited one of the fiercest debates ever among metal fans. But just as quickly as it rose to popularity, the much-maligned subgenre seems to be dying with similar expediency. Most bands are transitioning into the brutal technical death metal style pioneered by Suffocation and Immolation in the early ‘90s. The copious breakdowns and “pig squeal” vocals have been replaced with simpler tempo shifts and basement-level grunts and growls. It is a change that most metal fans are more than happy to witness.
However, the majority of deathcore bands choosing to make this change are not doing a good job of implementing it. Many cannot seem to get the song structures correct, either retaining many elements of their old sound or else writing in tempo and tone shifts that are clunky and unnecessary. Others resort to using traits of black metal and death metal as gimmicks to attract more fans. Thankfully, though, there are some bands that have made the change without hitting either of these two stumbling blocks. Arizona’s Knights of the Abyss is among this group, sounding like a completely new and vastly improved band on their third album, The Culling of Wolves.
The most significant aspect of this album is the use of melodic riffs with rich tonality. Unlike most brutal death metal bands that use atonal riffs with only one or two different chords, Knights of the Abyss goes up and down the scale creating harmonies and layered structures that greatly enliven the atmosphere of the album. Similarly, instead of restricting himself to only one vocal style, vocalist Logan Kavanaugh (who goes by the stage name Harley Magnum) alternates between a straightforward screaming vocal and a deep growl, both of which are very strong and completely devoid of the telltale signs of refinement via audio production. It’s very clear that it is his voice and not a computer-enhanced version, which deserves plenty of respect in this age of auto-tuning and other studio cheats.
Admittedly, The Culling of Wolves does have its drawbacks. While the songs do vary in speed and chord arrangement, many use the same tuning and overall structure, which occasionally makes it hard to differentiate one song from another. Thankfully, though, there are well-placed guitar solos in “Slave Nation” and “Swine of the Holy Order”, as well as the instrumental “Cremation of Care” at the album’s halfway point, that prevent the whole album from becoming monotonous. There is also one song, “Council of Wolves”, which regresses back to the band’s old deathcore sound with its exhaustive double bass drum and guitar harmonics.
Apart from these things, though, The Culling of Wolves is by far the best album so far this year from a band leaving deathcore behind in favor of a better sound. Knights of the Abyss has accomplished what Carnifex, Whitechapel, Annotations of an Autopsy, and so many of their other peers could not, reinventing themselves and their sound while holding true to the principles of their lyrics and their origins. The few remaining bands still playing deathcore should use this album as a model if they also decide to switch styles in the future.