Album: The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Genre: Death Metal
Release Date: June 21st, 2019
We are nearing the end of Spring but Spring cleaning hasn’t slowed down in my residence. Any speck of dust is extremely noticeable in this light, and I feel like I clean my entire turntable before every spin lately. I’m feeling like a clean freak in my life lately and I think it has rubbed off on my music listening. I haven’t been reaching for the dirty disgusting death metal that usually tickles my fancy. Some of the recent releases have been so foul that even listening to them in the shower feels icky. Still, when I saw the debut LP from New Mexico’s Superstition in our review box I knew I needed to hop on it. Their demo from 2018, Surging Throng of Evil’s Might, made a ton of noise in the underground metal scene and for good reason. A little over a year later and we have The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation.
Being a 20 Buck Spin release and in the department of death metal I was expecting a bad ass album cover, and I was not disappointed. From what I can tell the Angel of Death is coming down from the skies and sending a hapless mortal down into the river of souls. The artwork is in gray scale and is just mesmerizing. The album also has a perfect length and (nearly) perfect pacing with run-time of around 34 minutes (just under 30 without the interludes and atmospheric sections.)
Despite my initial hype and excitement, this album did not immediately grab me. I want to blame my seasonal cleanliness, but honestly this production isn’t even that dirty. Every piece of instrumentation comes through fairly clearly and I don’t have to clean my ears of the gunk that comes through my headphones after every listen. The truth is, this album is not an easy listen. Each song feels like a twisted pathway that has to be leading somewhere dangerous and usually is. What made this album truly click for me was changing how I listened to it. Instead of looking for certain sections or landmarks in the songs, I instead treated it like being out on the ocean. Understanding and respecting the power of the beast in front of me and just enjoying the ride, because I am not in control.
Superstition has nearly mastered the art of making their music sound evil without getting into the cheesy territory. The three interludes; Unholy Transformation Pt. I, II, & II would suggest otherwise, but these are just momentum killing interludes that I think the album would benefit without. The twisting guitars will change riffs or speeds without warning and it can be hard to get comfortable in the song, especially if you’re trying to predict where you’re being taken. The guitar solos barge into the song without warning and expect no special treatment despite the technicality that is on display. Just like the great Barry Sanders, these guitar solos show up and do their jobs as well as anybody before disappearing as humbly as they arrived. The vocals are some of the most primal hominid noises I’ve ever heard. They sound chaotic and lost, but somehow still legible if you are listening closely enough to the record.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed even if you’re just skimming this review, I don’t enjoy the interludes or the atmospheric ending on this record. I think intro tracks are not only overrated but cliche at this point and I just don’t need them. The 80’s synth John Carpenter vibe is just as overdone in my book and I just have no patience for it. With the name of the record I do see why they went with a John Carpenter/The Thing vibe, but personally I just have no more space for that sound right now. The most frustrating and worst offender of the group comes at the finale of the record. Charnel Pleasures is a fantastic closing track that yet again aims to drive the listener into madness. At seven minutes long it’s the longest song on the LP, but here is where the sad news comes in. The last 2:50 of the song is just atmosphere if you can even call it that, it’s mostly just droning guitar feedback and we can just leave that to SUNN O))). Another thing that bothers me is how hard it is to find a standout moment or track. Every time the band is playing or the vocalist is frantically yelling it is awesome, but there are very few of those “fuck yes” moments for lack of a better term. Track 3 Spiritual Sunderance has the best one on the record, with a groovy stomping riff that takes you to the end of the song.
In 2019 I have been a lot more picky when it comes to death metal. The sound isn’t stagnant for me yet, but the bands need a certain je ne sais quoi (French for “I’m too stupid to put this in words.) On my first couple listens Superstition wasn’t scratching that itch for me. But once I embraced the madness and the urgency of the album I was swallowed by it, only to be hit a few interludes of indigestion in the process. Superstition have pushed their sound forward and made a very worthwhile debut LP, I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes on them going forward (and seeing them live in a few weeks!) Don’t let my personal bias get in the way of you checking this album out. I promise you’re going to see this album on a lot of year-end lists, so don’t miss it.
1. Unholy Transformation Pt. I
2. Highly Attuned Beasts of the Dark
3. Spiritual Sunderance
4. Unholy Transformation Pt. II
5. Passage of Nullification
6. Torn in the Outer Lands
7. Unreclaimed Blood (Phantom Swarm)
8. Unholy Transformation Pt. III
9. Charnel Pleasures
Total Playing Time: 34:13
I’m pretty great. Just ask me, I’ll tell ya.