Signed to Relapse Records to release your debut full-length is a pretty great opportunity; underground metal bands pour their hearts into music for tens of years for a mere chance at such a dream. Either way, while Outer Heaven may have proven themselves to their label, they still have to prove their worth to those listening. Let’s see if Realms of Eternal Decay plays up to these massive aspirations.
Being one of the largest and most profitable metal record labels, Relapse Records suffers at the hand of their target fanbase for these exact reasons. Metalheads tend to strive to emulate the inverse of popular culture, which has varying polar effects. On one hand, fans of the genre adore supporting the little guy; the small distributor in Sweden, your favourite underground death metal label, or the guy in the Ukraine who makes quality patches (shoutout to UKR Patcher he does great work). There are so many underground creators, labels, and distros that stay afloat because of the generous open hearts of those who enjoy listening to music about people getting murdered. However, this underground support has led to a fairly negative side effect, that being a tumour of elitism that plagues the fanbase. Especially considering that metal fans tend to pride themselves for living off the beaten path, there tends to be an underserved amount of hate flogged at bands, labels, and their fans for choosing more mainstream paths.
I was reading some Reddit comments on a recent post about a company named Believe who just bought a majority stake in Nuclear Blast, one of Relapse Records’ biggest contemporary competitors. From the nine-or-so comments, most leaned negatively towards the label and completely ignored the news at hand, taking the opportunity to write sarcastic commentary regarding the label’s demise as a result (openly insinuating that the label has been somehow unfavourable all along). While a fair share of these comments seemed warranted and backed by critical citations, I can’t help but think that even most of the educated discussion was somehow biased because of the label’s popularity. My claim is somewhat proven due to the fact that one of the comment threads boiled down into one user calling out another’s music taste because he listened to Sabaton. Nuclear Blast undoubtedly has some greedy capitalistic tendencies (releasing expensive boxsets riding the wave of past accomplishments rather than focusing on the genre’s future, choosing to press a wide away of costly coloured vinyl for the sake of pure profit, etc…), but most of the shade thrown at them lies being the discussion outlined above and is somewhat unwarranted.
Where am I going with this? I can’t remember. Are you still here?
Oh yeah, Outer Heaven’s newest release, titled Realms of Eternal Decay. Quick backstory about what’s relevant to the upcoming discussion… Outer Heaven is a death metal band from Pennsylvania which formed somewhere around 2013. They’ve released a demo and an EP, but their most notable work prior to the full-length in question is a four-track split they did with Gatecreeper, Scorched, and Homewrecker back in 2016. Outer Heaven thus signed to Relapse Records earlier this year with a coupled announcement regarding their debut full-length which came out this Friday.
This major label signing is certainly a little odd, especially if you follow the career paths of contemporary underground bands. I believe that Outer Heaven’s music has suffered as a result of their acquisition. I’m not all too familiar with the group’s earlier outputs, but from listening to their contribution to the aforementioned split from 2016, their music style has shifted for the worse since their humble beginnings. The group has always played in the caveman-like “stomp your fists” realm, but there is a hint of complexity within their earlier music that is absent from their newest full-length.
Realms of Eternal Decay is essentially entry-level music porn. The release is simple, satisfying, and worthless following consumption. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two tracks of the album, “Vortex of Thought” and “What Lies Beneath”, as they were immediately catchy. This inherent accessibility is an emblem for the album, as most songs lean this way. The old-school death metal flair that Outer Heaven has fits this style fairly well, especially when coupled with the retro-esque album art featuring zombies attacking each other on some foreign planet.
However, this catchiness gets old pretty quick. From a passing observance of the album’s tracklist, every song falls between that sweetspot of two to five minutes long, with most lying within the median. Furthermore, while there are a gross amount of sing-able guitar riffs which make up each track (“Echoes from Beyond” and “Tortured Winds” are my favourites in this regard), the paired vocals contribute to the general feeling of tediousness. The lead singer confines himself to the exact same vocal tone song after song, without even an introduction of a timely growl or scream anywhere to offer any form of variety. These three citations, the similar song lengths, simple guitar riffs, and flat vocals, all contribute to this album failing in the replay-ability category.
The album’s one redeemable quality lies behind the tinge of experimentation and uniqueness found within some of the record’s guitar solos. Namely “Multicellular Savagery” and “Sacrificial Evolution”, these two tracks offer these weird and fun guitar solos which inject a much-needed flair of uniqueness into the record. “Sacrificial Evolution” features this super creative guitar solo which arises from a point in the song which halts, only to deliver this beautiful creation played over a mind-numbing bass riff. The whole section sounds kind of like a spaceship powering down, if that makes any sense. These sections simply highlight how familiar this album gets. It has a great old-school death metal flair, which can be a dangerous stylistic choice as Outer Heaven proves. A lot of old-school death metal bands these days stick to the roots of those who pioneered the genre eons ago, but they make sure to contribute to the style by opting in for some creative song structures and such. However, Realms of Eternal Decay just isn’t doing it for me, at least from a death metal perspective.
There are a number of reasons that could be cited when discussing this lack of creativity. Firstly, Relapse Records could have thought that their more mainstream audience would grasp onto Outer Heaven’s caveman-like style. The band’s simple riffs and one-tone vocals might seem accessible in comparison to the stoner/doom and experimental music they’ve been putting out as of recent. Secondly, Outer Heaven could have attempted to maximise their drastic jump towards fame by releasing a highly accessible (its still death metal, but you know what I mean) and thus profitable release to garner towards the widest possible audience, either through their own inhibitions or via the orders of the label themselves. Keep in mind, the label’s store is offering CDs, vinyl, short and long sleeve shirts, and are emphasizing bundles (shirt + vinyl or CD for a cool $45 USD); and this is all for the band’s first ever full-length release. They didn’t want this to flop. There might be a tinge of nepotism (if you could even call it that), as both the band and label call Pennsylvania home, so perhaps that’s why they got a free ticket as well.
To reiterate, opting for a major release and incentivising fans by selling a wide array of merchandise isn’t inherently wrong, as long as your music’s good. However, if the quality of your tunes suffers as a result, that’s where I’ll draw criticism. With that being said, Realms of Eternal Decay isn’t a bad release. I think it caters towards the exact audience that Relapse Records holds in their grasp. This is simple entry level death metal for the inexperienced and the curious. Furthermore, it plays well into the current Spotify single culture, as I’m sure one or two of Outer Heaven’s new songs will be added to some mainstream metal playlists. Although, aside from a pair of singles and some catchy riffs, I’d be surprised if anyone derives any further enjoyment from playing this record more than a handful of times.