Although artistic evolution is likely just as common amongst metal outfits as it is amongst acts of any genre, it seems to be metal fans who are often the least receptive to significant stylistic changes amongst their favourite artists. Indeed, the dreaded “their early stuff was better” mantra is probably applied more to metal bands than their counterparts of any other genre. Dissecting the reasons as to why this is can prove a rather thorny topic, however. The fact that purism is a much more commonly-held stance amongst metalheads undoubtedly contributes to this, but to paint all metal enthusiasts as stuck in the past and completely unaccepting of change is unmistakably unfair. As such, one might look to metal acts that have grown significantly over the years, many of whom could be said to have attempted to conform to trends that simply didn’t suit their style, or makes alterations to their sound where no change was necessary. Powerhouse of Polish death metal Decapitated are one such group whose earlier material is often held in a much higher regard than their more recent work by fans, following an abrupt revision of their sound, albeit one that came as a surprise to the band themselves just as much as it did to their followers. Whilst on tour in Russia in 2007, Decapitated’s tour bus was involved in an accident, leaving then-vocalist Adrian “Covan” Kowanek in a coma and founding member, drummer and younger brother of guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka, Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka — who had been with the band since the age of 12 — dead, aged only 23. With Vitek having passed away and with Covan unable to rejoin the group due to a slow but sure recovery, Vogg officially disbanded Decapitated, and it wouldn’t be for over another three years until a new incarnation of Decapitated was formed and entered the studio to record their comeback album, Carnival Is Forever, now signed to Nuclear Blast. With this personnel change came a defined adjustment to the band’s stylings, with their earlier, more guttural death metal sound having mutated into a more groove-infused manifestation, whilst the technical side to their stylings, including their signature, polyrhythmic complexity, was played up perhaps more than ever before. That’s not to say, however, that Decapitated had secured an untouchable album by any means, rather most would agree that, whilst a compelling return to the limelight, Carnival Is Forever demonstrated that Vogg and his new gang of tech-death misfits still had some creases to iron out with regards to their cohesion as a band. Their next studio outing, 2014’s Blood Mantra, dealt with such concerns considerably, whilst also proving the group capable of further artistic growth, with the edge of heightened experimentation that has always existed between albums being evident once again. Now, with another three years past, Decapitated’s new release, Anticult, conveys the band at perhaps their most familiar in quite some time, but to good effect. To say that the album has shown the group to have hit a brick wall in terms of artistic evolution would be misleading, although Anticult certainly sees Decapitated explore previously charted territory. Instead, perhaps the salient strength of the latest record from these death metal veterans is the extent to which it emphasises the best aspects of much of their previous output, with their ear for airtight technicalities coming together impressively seamlessly with their knack for gut-punching grooves and riotous riffage. There is, however, something to be said for the amount of variety brought to the table over the course of the tracklisting, but, for the most part, Anticult is another arresting addition to Decapitated’s ever-expanding legacy.
It would seem that much of Anticult lies at an intersection between defining characteristics from various points throughout Decapitated’s career, but by no means does this entail a stale rehashing of old ideas. Rather, at the best of times, the album manages to refine these principles to have previously been incorporated into the band’s brand of groovy, thrashing tech-death in a nevertheless constructive fashion, trimming away some of the excess fat at points. This was even established prior to the unveiling of the entire record, with the lead single from Anticult, Never, encompassing a great deal of the stylistic sentiments that can be found throughout the tracklisting. The distant, echoed guitar melody that introduces the song represents a more recent habit to have been picked up by Decapitated — one that can also be found on the opening track, Impulse — wherein the group will establish an ethereal, but no less ominous, tone through some atmospheric guitar work, as to maximise the impact of the inevitable rush of tech-death riffage. Within the context of an entire album, this technique can feel somewhat bloated, especially given the rather brief eight-track runtime of Anticult, but as a single, the opening to Never is unequivocally effective in building tension for fans of the band, especially as the slow, introductory guitar lick is joined by a crescendoing blast beat that pushes the listener head-first into the upsurge of thrashing riffs. As an oddly uplifting guitar line leads into the first verse, Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski’s brutal bellows pack one hell of a punch, which is only bolstered by how well the production manages to capture a surprisingly clean and clear sound, whilst nevertheless preserving the earthy edge to Rasta’s meaty voice. With instrumental breaks that see rapid, palm-muted riffs support soaring, spacey guitar leads, Decapitated foster some striking pairings of principles that have been integrated into their material in the past.
This trend carries over onto many of the album cuts, and typically garners some arrestingly dynamic, vivid and generally well-rounded songs as a result. The briefly aforementioned Impulse is one such example, and exhibits many through-lines between itself and Never, with both tracks utilising foreboding, atmospheric guitar melodies for their introductions, whilst also marrying oppressive, thrashy riffs with lofty and rather minimal leads. Impulse, for instance, following its brief opening, brandishes an airy, echoey guitar line that ascends above the outbreak of pummelling, off-kilter riffage below, whose rhythmic syncopation and punctuation points to Decapitated’s ever-present influence from the progressive and experimental metal stylings of Meshuggah perhaps even more than on any of their past output. However, with much of the rest of Impulse blistering through propulsive grooves packed to the brim with breakneck riffs, the flare for bruising blast beat passages and straight-up mosh-friendly jams boasted on much of Decapitated’s most celebrated material is as bright as ever here. With cuts like Kill The Cult and Earth Scar flaunting driving drumming and melodic riffs that hark back to the sounds of groove metal bellwethers like Pantera and Machine Head, and with the second track, Deathvaluation, featuring a riff that, with the right guitar tone and rhythm section supporting it, could make for a killer blues rock riff, it comes across as if Decapitated are especially keen on stressing the groove-focussed quality to their branch of death metal across the course of Anticult. Yet, when these rhythmic leanings are counterbalanced by Vogg’s willingness to incorporate smoother, more legato guitar leads into the mix, as opposed to the tangling, technical fretwork found more commonly on earlier Decapitated albums, the band crafts an electrifying contrast in tone. These two beautifully conflicting sides to Decapitated’s stylings across Anticult arguably arrive at a fully actualised antithesis on the song One-Eyed Nation, wherein surges of brisk, punctuated chugging bubble under the cascades of swooping, ethereal guitar lines. With this being said, though, the fact that Decapitated leave the compositional formula utilised across Anticult largely unchanged from track-to-track makes for a rather one-dimensional release. Of course, given how great the results are, this can be largely forgiven, and even more so when considering that Anticult is a relatively short release, with 37 minutes’ worth of material being spread across eight tracks. On the other hand, given that the band touches on so many motifs from throughout their back-catalogue, this approach would likely be far more rewarding were these stylistically dense songs matched with a degree of diversity and compositional risk-taking that made for a more varied release overall. Outside of this, however, the dexterity with which Decapitated handle this meeting of the many different stylings to have been featured throughout their discography yields an exceptionally vigorous and well-balanced album in Anticult.
With Decapitated opting to bolster the groove-based angle of their more recent work, whilst nevertheless retaining the pure death metal intensity of their original material and pushing forward with some more collected, tasteful and atmospheric contributions from Vogg’s guitar work, the band strikes a stunning balance when it comes to accentuating the most effective and workable elements of each of these styles. Even in spite of the heightened progressive hue to Anticult, the band, as a unit, remains impressively tight throughout, even as they pull out all the stops when it comes to their nimble ability to whip up a whirlwind of polyrhythms. Even if much of the record reads rather similar, Decapitated’s appetite for actualising the accumulation of their artistic advancement thus far in their career makes for an album that feels, to an extent, like a rather personal undertaking for the group, which, for many fans, will make it all the more endearing. Undoubtedly, with so many of the best elements associated with the revered Decapitated name coming together across the tracklisting, Anticult is an album that boasts both artistic retrospection and growth.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10