Convulse is back with their first studio record in a quarter-century. Feel old yet?
In case you need a refresher in heavy metal history, their 1991 album World Without God is as KVLT as it gets. But be wary, old-school, Finnish death metal maniacs of the world—Deathstar is a different beast.
Frankly, it’s one of the most mellow albums from a death metal band I’ve listened to in recent memory. But Deathstar is an enjoyable journey through the psychedelic cosmos if one has the right amount of patience and palette. Deathstar pays no mind to recreate the caveman riffs and buzzsaw guitar tone of yesteryear. In fact, this record has little death metal influence at all, aside from the ever growling vocals presence.
The opening “Extreme Dark Light” swirls to life with an ethereal string of clean guitar tones, the kind of spacey introduction more akin to Pink Floyd. It then launches into an undeniably Black Sabbath swagger and remains chug-chug-chugging along in the pocket with a shuffle beat similar to “Children Of The Grave” through the conclusion of the song.
These Finns flex their songwriting muscles with a more metered approach. Their weird musicality is on full display throughout Deathstar. The drums never seem to take a break. Blast beats and rumbling double bass are nowhere to be found, but drummer Rolle Markos rattles off an endless barrage of jazz fills and snare rolls.
This album is dense with sinewy guitar melodies as well. Songs like “Whirlwind” sound a bit like Opeth, Tool, or King Crimson. “The Summoning” blasts the listener to deep space with spooky synthesizers. Sometimes blowing one’s mind open with the unexpected is totally brutal in its own right.
The Sabbath worship is revisited in their track “We Sold Our Souls To Rock N Roll,” a deathrock homage to the masters of reality. This is easily one of the most fun tracks on the record. It rages on with a rollicking seventies-rock groove, as an electrifying keyboard solo wails at the centerpiece, like something straight from Jon Lord’s fingertips on Deep Purple’s Machinehead.
“Chernobyl” stands out as one of the most memorable tracks. It features a surf-rock guitar tone and a folksy Baltic harmony to capture the essence of its namesake. Meanwhile, the title track “Deathstar” slaps with a down-tuned nü-metal groove. I pinched myself to check that I wasn’t mistakenly listening to Roots by Sepultura.
Convulse is known as a death metal band for their history. Deathstar might be marketed as a death metal album, but this is much more like a prog-rock album that just happens to have growly vocals.
This leads to the one incongruity that sticks out enough to be considered a flaw—the vocals. Convulse‘s music has evolved beyond the confines of death metal in every way, except Rami Jämsä’s vocal delivery. The gruff voice would be perfect for a newer band like Cerebral Rot, but the pairing of these extreme vocals with such progressive-minded classic rock left me craving for more depth, rather than death, from the musical narrator. Deathstar is crammed with genre-blending variety, after all. I would have been amenable to passages of clean vocals, high pitched screams, hell, even slam poetry. Clearly, Convulse is not afraid to take risks and venture into new territory with Deathstar, even if it turns off a big chunk of their knuckle-dragging fan base.
This album improves with subsequent listens as well. Approach it with an open mind and see where it takes you.