Death metal isn’t rocket science. It can be full of technical wizardry, complex song structures, frequent tempo changes, and nuanced textural elements, but these are inevitably all grafted to a core conceit that is more AC/DC than Led Zeppelin, more KISS than Yes. There is historically no shortage of evidence of the capability for death metal to reach a full progressive effulgence and be some of the most musically and aurally challenging music offered, but these are elaborations on an idea that touches back beyond the roots even of heavy metal, to the dance music origins of rock ‘n’ roll itself. Death metal is inherently body music, meant to override the senses, beat you stupid, and leave you headbanging, drunk on beer, and drooling.
LIK understands this. Their songs have tempo changes and the production is a bit crisper than one might associate with more straightforward death metal like this: decent instrument separation, a slightly recessed and distant reverb-heavy production for the solos to make them a bit more atmospheric against the in-your-face riffs and rhythms, and vocals that are nasty but not illegible. But, ultimately, the aim of LIK is not something cerebral or ineffable; they want you to bang your fucking head to some riffs, and on this mark, they succeed.
Alex Webster, the legendary bassist of canonical death metal group Cannibal Corpse, has a thought about death metal: They are horror short stories, whether pulpy or cerebral, set to heavy as hell rock and roll. This mission statement underlines the genre in general quite well and also explains the success not just of LIK but also of their peers in groups like Gatecreeper, Under the Church and Necrot in producing old-school death metal that doesn’t feel one-note and lifeless. Demo/cassette-fetishist death metal fans and groups may crave an HM2 and riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a hardcore record, but LIK are aware that death metal has more dimensions than that. What matters here is not whether the riff is tremolo or straight down-picked, whether there are tomb-like atmospherics or bludgeoning mosh riffs, but whether the end result is psychic override, temporarily replacing your frontal lobe with pure lizard brain headbanging, be it of the slow-and-evil or whiplash sort.
LIK show an understanding of plenty of diverse takes on death metal on Carnage, from Dismember’s elaborate sub-prog death metal suites to Grave’s gross and disturbing D-beat carnage to Cannibal Corpse’s light application of technical riffs in an otherwise straightforward death metal tonality. There’s even some Immolation-style icy atmospherics and a touch of bluesiness to the solos that makes them feel more human and sincere than the robotic and hyper-precise sweep picking solos that seem to plague the worst of tech death. This competency is both their greatest gift and greatest curse, because while Gatecreeper feel like you discovered a golden age old-school death metal record that simply didn’t exist before and Necrot feel like you are legitimately watching a skeletal lich king tear apart trespassers in its evil tomb, consuming guts and bones all, LIK feel like they are playing the hits. When a supergroup like Bloodbath—made up of members of impeccable, unimpeachable lineage in the world of death metal—make a record like this, it’s charming as hell. When LIK do it, it’s frustrating.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who likes death metal not having fun with this record. And, when it comes to proving to outsiders that death metal is less toxic in its masculinity and stupidly aggressive and more steroid-enhanced AC/DC-style beer music, LIK does a great job. There will be a ton of fun parties thrown by metalheads scored to this record, no doubt. It’s just hard to not want a little bit more distinct personality, like their classmates Tomb Mold inject seemingly so effortlessly in their similar old-school compositions. Still, a solid death metal record is better than no death metal at all.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.