In the span of 30 years, death metal has gone from being a very specific sound and subculture of metal to one that requires a little more description to fully convey what a band that plays it actually is. In 1989, if you were attuned to the guttural sounds from beneath, it’d be fairly clear what someone meant when they mentioned “death metal”—it was the (then) gore-obsessed mayhem of Death, the ominous darkness of Morbid Angel, the guttural roar of Bolt Thrower. In 2019, it could mean just about anything, from hyper-technical and complex to conceptual and psychedelic. It can be ugly and old-school, it can be polished and progressive. Death metal is merely the foundation for a much broader palette of sounds and techniques on which to build and/or destroy.
Superstition, in the scheme of things, is about as pure to the spirit of old-school death metal as a band can get in 2019. Devoid of some of the more progressive sci-fi elements of contemporaries such as Horrendous or Blood Incantation though definitely not the textures, the New Mexico-based band is clearly attuned to a similar desert-death frequency as a band like Gatecreeper. The nine tracks on debut album The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation (three of which are interstitial instrumentals) are raw and visceral, yet still the kind of death metal dirges that prominently feature intricate rhythms and dizzying riff structures. But more than a particular technical approach, these songs are marked by a particular sound—a gnarly, crunchy, haunted-house-up-in-flames kind of menacing, and Superstition pull this off stupendously.
From a distance, The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation is exactly the kind of album that sounds great in a sweaty, dark room where a bunch of dudes are slamming into each other with reckless abandon. But on closer examination it transcends the rawness and ugliness that it projects simply because each track is an Ironman challenge of maintaining a melodic motif while running a musically technical gauntlet. “Highly Attuned Beasts of the Dark” is the most primal kind of thrill, its power-chord crunch and pinch harmonics speaking a sublingual communication that’s Pavlovian for a certain kind of hesher. There’s a speed and immediacy to “Spiritual Sunderance” that ups the intensity while maintaining a similar textural character, while closing track “Charnel Pleasures” sounds like spiraling down a bottomless pit in the best, kitchiest way. All of these songs are highlights and none of them are, each one a continuing showcase of Superstition’s musical strengths and aesthetic consistency. It’s a very good addition to what’s been an overwhelmingly strong few years for death metal. There’s something kind of neat about The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation, however: if someone were to simply call it “death metal,” you’d know exactly what they meant.
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.