Danish death metal quintet, Shadowspawn, are a renowned name in their native underground. Now at album number three and a decade into their career, the Danes are a good fit for the vision and ethos of Emanzipation Productions, the former fanzine that remerged in 2020 as a record label. Unlike most of the other bands on the roster, their brand of metal sounds like it could have surfaced during the latter half of the 1990s rather than the glory days of the 1980s. Shadowspawn spice their sound with groove and leave out the gore, like Norwegian cotemporaries, Blood Red Throne.
Death metal has many sub-genres and counter movements, but it’s in a period of saturation right now. Many albums of today are as monotonous as a foghorn. Wading through a stack of LPs is like weeding a long-neglected garden – it must be done, but it’s not much fun. Shadowspawn are one of the exceptions. They remember to create memorable riffs. Their rhythm section plays as if it might be rewarded with an advance for an MTV video. You can hear the venomous hiss of the vocals and feel your nostrils curling up at every palm-muted fill. ‘Bonesong’ is a great example of their economy. Shadowspawn refuse to waste a single moment on this song. Sixteenth-note drum patterns obliterate you like laser-guided weapons. This is like post-goregrind Carcass at their best.
Vocalist, Bue Torin Jensen, projects his voice with the might of a swordsman and cherishes every word as if it might lead the listener towards the path of militant atheism. It won’t, but that’s because Shadowspawn are a metal band. The colossal riffs overshadow their disdain for organised religion. ‘Blasphemica’ is a glorious concoction of Polish metal fiends, Hate, and modern-day Paradise Lost. ‘Color Me Dead’ is the type of lethal death-thrash that made Memoriam’s latest record such an appealing listen. You’ll find no blast beats here, but the double-bass pedal goes into overdrive on most songs. ‘Desert Serpent’ is what Pestilence sound like in their current guise – muscular, confrontational, and willing to throw their weight around when needed. “Break down false ideas / Rise up, face your fears,” is the message of this album and the central line in the chorus to ‘Echoes of Human Debris’.
Innocuous moments seldom intrude on your listening experience. Perhaps only ‘Vanity of the Wicked’ will send you into an aimless daydream. The vocals dominate but the guitars leave little impact. Its successor, ‘Absolution in Flesh’, is much more effective. The axemen make inventive use of arpeggio shapes to delineate the outlines of their riffs. You can hear the blade of the bass strings underneath. Imagine mid-90s Morbid Angel with a sharper guitar tone and more room to breathe. Likewise, ‘Sacrament of Deceit’ is proof that you can embroider tremolo rhythms into the open spaces where modern bands often rely on splurges of eight-string guitars to do the work. Think of the huge hardware requirements for a data centre – it’s worth the logistical effort when the output is so vast. Build big but be smart in scale is the lesson here. Shadowspawn know that limiting their songs to six riffs will not reduce the force of their music. If only more death metal bands could understand this.
Blasphemica – Absolution Carved from Flesh deserves praise for its willingness to look forward rather than backwards, even if the formula for this type of metal originated in the 1990s. The Danes show that death metal can be enjoyable rather than exhausting. That alone is a triumph to tired ears.
Release Date: 27/10/2023
Record Label: Emanzipation Productions
Standout tracks: Bonesong, Blasphemica, Absolution in Flesh
Suggested Further Listening: Blood Red Throne – Fit to Kill (2019), Phobetor – Through Deepest Fears and Darkest Minds (2021), Blåådpalt – Caedite Eos EP (2023)