Danish death metallers Sulphurous have recently unveiled their debut LP. While the album is very much a passion of the present, Dolorous Death Knell has been in the making for a while now, with a number of relative demos being released since 2012. Let’s dissect the full-length.
Hailing from Denmark, Sulphurous have a lot of local talent to sample from, and thus quite the competition, which might actually work in their favour. Some of my favourite death metal bands reside within the area, with Taphos, Undergang, Hyperdontia, and now Sulphurous all brewing within the depths of Copenhagen. Taphos released a splendid album last year and are set for success if they can hold on to that demonstrated quality, Hyperdontia also came out with an equally solid piece, and Undergang are simply a gem within the underground who can do no wrong. While Taphos plays a cleaner, more drawn-out flavour of the style and Undergang and Hyperdontia lean toward the grimier side, the three could be categorized within the same niche. Let’s see how Sulphurous compares within this scene.
University level research skills have informed me that a lot of the aforementioned bands share a handful of members, although I won’t dwell too much on this factor as my sources aren’t exactly credible. Apparently Sulphurous’ guitarist is also in Hyperdontia and Taphos, and the band’s drummer is also in Hyperdontia. These could just be members included for live performances, but I doubt it. Who cares, here’s to the music, who’s similarity is now more understandable.
I’m going to make comparisons to other Danish bands for the sake of description, which may be negligible due to the groups’ incestuous natures, but this will raise a further discussion in the closing segment. Sulphurous sound a fair bit similar to Hyperdontia, albeit with a further infusion of doom and melody.
There’s this swirling guitar vibe that Hyperdontia incorporates within their music that seems to have bled into Sulphurous’ project. I feel like an analyzation of the two’s most recent album covers offers a fair explanation of their relative desired direction. Hyperdontia’s Nexus of Teeth featured an image of a swirling mass of gore, or what seemed to be the inside of some sort of biological cavity, which in turn hosted eyes and teeth and other body parts all the way down into the abyss. This “swirling” term that I keep using is very much birthed out of this album art, as the listener metaphorically swirls uncontrollably through this cavity mass to the tunes of distortion and unintelligible screaming.
In turn, Sulphurous’ Dolorous Death Knell is hosted by an image of a landscape, which seems to be home to a group of marching silhouettes, but its hard to pinpoint due to the lack of clarity. The red haze covering the already gloomy scene hints that this record will introduce some sort of darker flair, which it does. While the swirling portions are still present, but they are supplemented with varying inclusions of blatant melody, such as the somber lead guitar solo in “Black Death Awaits” and the 40 second interlude track, “Incoherent.” When thinking of contemporaries like Undergang and Hyperdontia, these more intricate and emotional inclusions would feel out of place on such morbid ceremonies, but somehow fit within Sulphurous’ homemade blend of death metal.
Dolorous Death Knell succeeds in two realms, from what I can decipher.
Firstly, we’ll dissect the realm of intricate simplicity. The oxymoron refers to various specific portions, as well as the album’s coating in general, which is musically built with technicality in mind, but is absorbed by the ear easily. The first minute-or-so of “The Flickering” exemplifies this perfectly. The aforementioned swirling-style riff is equally offset by brief tempo changes, whereby a thumping drumbeat is introduced. Following a few repetitions (which have allowed for the listener to settle into this off-tempo yet digestible format), a frantic lead guitar solo juts into the mix, adding another layer of complexity. This segment is so well crafted, however, that all of this underlying musicality goes unnoticed; yet the listener is nonetheless bobbing their head.
The second succeeding trend falls within the band’s ability to manufacture the presence of heaviness through tempo control. The subject falls prey to discussion around these parts quite frequently, as a lot of bands miss the mark due to this reason. Constant, perpetual blasting does not translate to an equally heavy atmosphere. You might be playing the drums a million miles an hour, and your picking speed might average at a triple digit BPM, but these seemingly indestructible factors don’t equal crushing destruction. The human mind is a creature that adapts to its surroundings, and thus interprets incessant blast beats as the norm after a minute or so, thus diminishing your output due to its stagnancy.
Tempo variation and proper song composition will get your music to heavy status, as Sulphurous have proven. I mentioned the inclusion of melodic guitar solos and interludes earlier in the review. I must stress that these tinges of melody, which can get borderline emotional at times, are placed throughout the record. However, when melody is introduced, hard-hitting sections certainly follow, resulting in a delightful juxtaposition of odds. “Aura of Decay” does this really well, by accenting tasteful guitar solos with heavy guitar chugs, equalizing into polar emotions felt by the listener.
Furthermore, “The Flickering” (which is my favourite track on the record by the way, can’t you tell?) features an interesting melodic interlude, which is crushed by the breakneck guitars and percussion that enter during its conclusion.
In terms of aspects not as pleasant, there aren’t too many. The 40 second melodic interlude “Incoherent” is interesting, but I don’t feel like it fits on the record, especially since the melody doesn’t fully develop due to the song’s short length. I feel like a little more time could have been dedicated to this one. Also, the inclusion of a short melodic interlude song before the final track is cliché by now; Pestilence has done it, Demolition Hammer has done it, Skeletal Remains has done it because Demolition Hammer did it, and so on. I’d forgive the inclusion if a little more thought went into the number, but this feels like it was tacked on at the end because it’s the thing to do.
I really like this debut. I believe the band only has two members, so I think this project will stay in the studio for the time being, and of course they have other bands to attend to, so we probably won’t see another Sulphurous release for a while. Nonetheless, Dolorous Death Knell checks off a lot of my boxes. Solid death metal, the replayability factor is there, and the contributors are clearly masters of their craft. Another great Danish output.