Formed in 2014, New Hampshire-based metal band Unflesh have been bubbling around the extreme metal fringes since their inception. Releasing an EP in 2016, and then their full-length debut in 2018, entitled ‘Savior’, it is now that the time feels right for an attack on the next rung to success. In fact, based on the quality of the content on this, their sophomore record, ‘Inhumation’, the attack might see them ascending even higher than that.
With a literal definition of ‘the action or practice of burying the dead’, ‘Inhumation’ is a dark album that tackles the subject of desensitisation and losing one’s soul or humanity. It is a topic well suited to the music too, as Unflesh deliver their own take on blackened melodic death metal. Or, you could easily refer to the music as technical death metal or blackened death metal if you prefer. It doesn’t really matter because each descriptor has an element of truth about it; ‘Inhumation’ is one of those albums that will appeal to a wide demographic because the music is just about melodic enough to appease the melodeath crowd, it demonstrates enough technical ability to satisfy those that like to be challenged and wowed by complexity, and it has the coldness and the atmosphere that will appeal to those with a dark heart. Me, I like to think that I encompass all three, so Unflesh are definitely an interesting proposition from my point of view.
For this album, it is all change in the line-up too. Vocalist, guitarist, mastermind and principal songwriter Ryan Beevers is joined by bassist Orin Hubbard (ex-Excrecor) and drummer Jeff Saltzman (Aversed, Allegaeon (live), Continuum (live), ex-Solium Fatalis). Having recently reviewed the debut from Aversed, I am well aware of the talents of Saltzman behind the kit. But happily, the remaining duo within the Unflesh trio are equally adept musicians.
Beevers’ guitar work is of an incredibly high standard whatever role he is undertaking. The riffs are sharp, often venomous, and full of arpeggios that provide the music with an energetic, restless quality. Then there are the leads and solos that litter the record liberally; silky smooth, or dark and abrasive, it doesn’t matter because they are always executed with skill and passion, adding something of value to an already vibrant palette. Orin Hubbard meanwhile dances around the fretboard of his bass with style, musicality, and a certain playfulness also.
Compositionally, there’s a lot going on within each of the eight songs so it takes some dedicated listening to get to a point where you feel you’ve fully got to grips with the bulk of the material. From the opening strummed chords and foreboding atmosphere of ‘Behold Nightfall’ to the equally menacing last few notes of closer ‘Dehumanized Legion’, it is clear also that this isn’t your more ‘friendly’ brand of melodic death metal. Beevers has gone on record to say that he wanted to create an album with a ‘lingering dark atmosphere’, something that I’d agree he has succeeded with here.
After the intro, ‘Vast Forest Of Impaled Cadavers’ literally explodes into existence, in a flurry of aggression and brutality, led by a fast rhythm battery, and lively riffing. The track does settle down a touch but not a great deal. But what does emerge, is a subtle amount of melody, almost hidden from view initially, as well as frequent changes of pace, and a little well-placed groove to break up the technicality of the instrumentation. Beevers’ vocals are the standard kind of growled rasp you’d expect and are arguably the least remarkable of anything on this record.
‘To Renounce Flesh And Blood’ begins in a more discordant fashion, with more of a tech death approach initially. The riffs are still very flexible, but there’s a death metal beefiness to them that comes through a little more strongly. The progressive abilities also loom large as the track develops, with the bass a particular stand-out contributor. The melodies, when they arrive, are the kind that you almost miss to begin with such is the ferocity of the instrumentation that accompanies them. However, with yet more lead guitar gymnastics towards the end, it grows into a great composition.
My favourite song on ‘Inhumation’ has to be ‘Amongst Horrors Must I Dwell’. Sacrificing none of their aggression in the process, this has to be the most overtly melodic track on offer, as the trio channel more of their inner Dissection. It opens with an acoustic guitar but from there, the song properly begins and the slower-paced groove and stomp, laced with memorable melody is irresistible. Then in come the frosty, fast-picked guitar riffs to dial up the black metal quota significantly, before clean guitar notes are cleverly inserted into the middle of proceedings. The drumming is relentless blast after relentless blast, but next to the icy cold riffing, it sounds great; the perfect blend of extremity and catchiness to these ears.
Mind you, the shorter, punchier ‘Holocaust Of Stars’ begins to push it’s predecessor close thanks to yet more technical extremity and progressive flair blended artfully with melodic interplay that only properly reveals itself when it wants to. Then there’s the epic ‘choruses’ if they can be referred to as such, within ‘The Sepulchral Depths’, that bring the song further alive with a vibrancy and atmosphere to counteract the blitz of aggressive instrumentation that largely dominates the track.
Having spent a great deal of time with ‘Inhumation’, I have nothing but positive things to say about it. The technical prowess of the musicians is of the highest order, the blend of styles works well, the compositions are strong, and the album, whilst not pushing boundaries too far, pays homage to the past whilst looking purposefully into the future. On the strength of ‘Inhumation’, I am expecting one of the big labels to snap up Unflesh ahead of album number three because, if they can keep this core line-up together, these guys have got what it takes to go far.