Oakland quartet, Funeral Chant, like their death metal raw, frenzied, and despicable. While most bands spruce up their production with digital wizardry, these Californians do the opposite – the tape trading scene of the 1980s is where they want to be. You could even fall for the ruse that Dawn of Annihilation is a demo from 1990 if somebody invented a story about a long defunct rehearsal room and an opening slot for Malevolent Creation back in the day. Apart from including a few morsels of black metal, Funeral Chant’s only concern is to bring back the darkness in an ever-expanding death metal scene that’s unrecognisable to the purists.
Those of you that like your death metal in the mould of early Morbid Angel will find much to enjoy here. Opener, ‘Terrorspawn’, is the type of fearless assault that cares nothing about the collateral damage it leaves behind. The mix is muddy – deliberately, so – yet the tempo is unrelenting enough to override your reservations. You don’t need eight-string guitars and chugging downstrokes to make heavy music. Funeral Chant might even be playing close to standard tuning judging by the nod to Celtic Frost’s ‘The Usurper’ on the intriguing ‘Pernicious Rites’. But the blast beats and chaotic shred guitars leave it in the old school death metal (OSDM) category where we now place the original Floridian artists.
Given their Bay Area heritage as natives of Oakland, you’d expect Funeral Chant to honour the legacy of thrash metal, but it’s the Teutonic thrash that underpins their sound – think Sodom and Kreator rather than Death Angel and Testament. Closing track, ‘Serpent Pact’, captures the glorious transgression of Death’s ‘Zombie Ritual’ in its grotesque chorus delivery, yet the nod to Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ in the outro riff reminds you that Funeral Chant are more than just a one-trick wonder. Listen to ‘Xenophonic Transmission’ a couple of times, and you’ll hear a flurry of Voivod chords among the dense layers of distortion. More of this would be welcome on the next record.
Like many artists that look back to the old school for a map of the future, Funeral Chant’s main flaw is their reluctance to expand their death metal horizons. At times it seems like they’re engaged in the speed race that Slayer started in 1986 and Napalm Death ended in 1987 with the invention of the blast beat. This narrow focus leads to a myopic concentration on relentless pummelling instead of exploring different ways to darken their sound. The likes of ‘Malefic Reign’ and ‘Lucifuge Domain’ are nothing more than a homage to the first wave of death metal. We’ve heard these songs a million times before, and few modern-day artists can match the intensity and thrill of the originals.
As a debut album, Dawn of Annihilation might end up as a strategic necessity for the future development of Funeral Chant’s career. It will keep the purists happy and will stand them in good stead if they go off track and into more experimental or progressive territory on their next record. For now, your ears will warm to their hostile dimensions, but you might need a gentle reminder to press the repeat button.
Release Date: 01/11/2021
Record Label: Carbonized Records
Standout tracks: Terrorspawn, Pernicious Rites, Dawn of Annihilation
Suggested Further Listening: Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (1989), Disabled – The Final Exhumation (2020), Death – Scream Bloody Gore (1987)