Outer Heaven are capable of grabbing attention based solely on their associations. Guitarist Jon Kunz previously performed as a member of progressive death outfit Rivers of Nihil, one of the many bands who have made this a memorable year for saxophones in metal. Their debut album Realms of Eternal Decay was mixed and mastered by Arthur Rizk, whose credits include both Power Trip and Prurient. And the artwork for the album was designed by Matthew Stikker, who has also collaborated with Power Trip. And that’s OK—god knows I’m just as guilty as anyone at scanning press releases until I see a name that stands out. Yet there’s for more to the music of Outer Heaven than the sum of their network. On the Relapse-released Realms of Eternal Decay, released after a handful of EPs and a split with Gatecreeper, they’ve arrived as a force of intense, old-school death metal with riffs and fury to spare.
It’s not always easy to establish an identity within death metal, considering there’s literally thousands of bands, many of whom sound exactly the same. Yet Outer Heaven have ascended to a plane that many of the best contemporary death bands have, using an old-school aesthetic as a means of creating something that’s a bit sharper and more precise, heavier on groove and, in their best moments, actually sort of catchy. Doing all of these things over the course of one album often proves to be a challenge for a lot of bands who have internalized the death metal canon without offering their own innovation or creativity. (Not everyone can be Horrendous.) That’s not a problem for Outer Heaven, who offer up mesmerizingly labyrinthine riffs on “Vortex of Thought,” pummel their way to abandon in “What Lies Beneath,” and kick up a badass gallop on the ghoulishly fun “Multicellular Savagery.”
Realms of Eternal Decay is never anything less than entertaining throughout, and the entirety of the album is an impressive showcase for what five musicians can do when they’re given the opportunity to be in the same room, tearing shit up. And they waste precious little time in showing off—”Tortured Winds” is just barely over two minutes, yet it balances some lightning guitar harmonies, a Carcass-style blast-and-roll, and plenty of unholy bellows from vocalist Austin Hanes. And “Bloodspire,” ostensibly the first single insofar as death metal can be said to have such concepts, is at once melodic, spooky and muscular. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by death metal’s sheer volume, and underwhelmed by many of its offerings. But Outer Heaven is the kind of band that reminds us why we keep on searching for the next great one.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.