Desolate Endscape is the debut album from Danish death metal four piece Phrenelith out on the always reliable Dark Descent records. They’re firmly rooted in sound of caverncore legends Incantation, with the chunky riffs of Funebrarum and the penchant for atonal technicality in the moments of Immolation-esque grandeur. So while Desolate Endscape might not be the most original death metal album, they’ve got this abyssal death metal style down fantastically and Phrenelith sound like a band that’s more accomplished than expected for a debut effort.
After the toll of a bell the album rips forth on Conquering Divinity with a fast barbed-wire edged melodic tremolo picking riff, churning bass and hammering drums, all downtuned and produced to sound like a caustic migraine of death metal barbarity. The growls are so low and incomprehensible, as well as low in the mix under the guitars that on the drawn out sections they almost sound like they’re creaking out of the singer’s mouth involuntarily as a result of some sadistic torture practice, some of the faster vocal lines melding in with the weaponized sound of the instruments to become another low pitched texture in this barbaric assault. Moving through tempos of slower filthy mid paced parts, faster chugged parts with a rhythmic groove and constantly changing riffs it’s a short but sweet introduction to the album. So far so Incantation.
The album becomes more varied with the next track Deluge of Ashes opening with more of an Immolation style somewhat atonal riffing style, before moving into some all out speedy parts similar to Pissgrave, that are absolutely savage after the mostly mid paced opener. The title track is an instrumental opening with just the guitar, some dissonant higher pitched chords setting the scene for some martial drums, marching chugs and rumbling bass in a mid paced assault, the tempo taken up and down throughout a well written instrumental, the slower riffs in particular so filthy you’ll be twisting your face into one of contorted death metal glee. Some acoustics at the end give you one of the few breaks from the brutality to be found on the album that remains tonally the same for much of it’s length. The album ends with it’s longest track Channeling a Seismic Eruption, and could it possibly be better named? That slow start with the first few minutes occupied by doomy riffs that evoke the end of days before more Immolation-esque atonal leads and riffs flesh out the sound as it evolves over seven glorious minutes of creative caverncore.
It might only be thirty five minutes long, but Desolate Endscape feels a lot longer. And this isn’t a criticism, it’s just they do such a lot with this time and it’s so oppressive that it really feels like a perfect length. That and some of the songs here go through so many different riffs and tempos that the album takes more than a few listens before any of the songs or riffs really stick in the mind. This may put off some at first, it’s by no means an easy album to listen to, and certainly not a straight forward headbanger. But for them to have such an array in their arsenal of great ideas in a subgenre with so many bands focused on tone over substance is again impressive for such a new band and if you stick with it for a few listens it’s bound to win over fans of Dead Congregation, Funebrarum, Immolation, Incantation and Encoffination. Nothing new under the sun the saying goes, but in the caves there are still horrors waiting to be seen.