2016 has not been a spectacular year for metal. There have been a handful of terrific albums but the general standard of new releases has been a tad underwhelming compared to the stellar shred-fest that was 2015. I’ve been holding out for some killer late year releases to avoid writing the year off completely, and Eternal Deformity’s No Way Out fits the bill nicely.
RELEASE DATE: 18 November 2016 LABEL: Temple of Torturous Records
This Polish group have been around since 1993, dipping their collective toes into the dark, icy waters of various forms of extreme metal. On No Way Out they offer up a fierce blend of genres spanning black, doom, death and prog, adorned with dark symphonic flourishes and a gothic sense of atmosphere. It’s an intense, heavy and aggressive album that nevertheless retains a sense of frosty beauty and elegance, nailing a near-perfect balance between cerebral and visceral. An album of haunted, pitch-black atmospheres and oppressive walls of guitar riffing, No Way Out is the kind of delightfully bleak album that’s best enjoyed while trapped in a deadly blizzard, or while sat alone in an abandoned log cabin silently reflecting on your own mortality.
Like every metal album ever written, No Way Out starts with a short and fairly pointless “mood-setting” instrumental. Once that’s out of the way the “Esoteric Manifesto” takes over and vocalist Przemyslaw Kajnat enters with a spine chilling scream and clean vocal combo, howling like the winter winds over a savage, lumbering doom riff. In the first of many subtle gear shifts the song then dives headlong into Insomnium inspired melodic death territory as the riffs twist and turn underneath eerie symphonic strings. The lead guitar lines are spectacularly evocative and combined with the unsettling symphonic elements and Kajnat’s mournful vocals create a unique and captivatingly dark atmosphere. Throw in a couple of awe-inspiring solos towards the back end and you’ve got a seriously impressive song on your hands.
Luckily, it’s just one of many on No Way Out. “Sweet Isolation” features a stronger black metal influence, but retains the progressive song structures and theatrical melodies of modern black metal acts like Winterhorde and Windfaerer. The progressive side of Eternal Deformity really shines on album centrepiece and standout “Reinvented”, a ten minute opus to rival anything released this year. This awe-inspiring mammoth of a song showcases Eternal Deformity’s ability to take a song in totally unexpected directions while losing none of the momentum and mood. Beginning with a murky guitar refrain, “Reinvented” explodes into a breakneck Edge of Sanity death metal gallop that morphs into Arcturus style twisted black metal before catching you totally off guard with a sudden piano interlude that’s just as tense and gripping as the cacophony that came before it. There are plenty more surprises to be found, from a gorgeous dual guitar solo that calls to mind early Dark Tranquility to a spine tingling section of wordless vocals over a slow building stop-start riff that suggests these guys have been listening to Leprous’ last couple of albums.
Despite the chaotic, ferocious nature of the attack, No Way Out is a remarkably restrained and structured album. Eternal Deformity takes you right to the limits of heaviness and complexity but they always pull you back from the precipice before things get too much. Every section fits together perfectly and the shifts in style and dynamics always serve the purpose of the song, creating a consistent mood throughout the album. There are some flashy solos and plenty of technical playing but nothing that overstays it’s welcome. Eternal Deformity clearly have their eye on making metal that’s cohesive and satisfying as well as being brutal and harsh, and it really shows. This may be metal as art, but it still rocks dementedly and features enough pit-ready riffs and memorable melodies to give it an instant and wide-ranging appeal.
For fans of extreme metal in any of its flavours, No Way Out will satisfy on pretty much every level. This is metal that’s heavy, moody and progressive in all the right ways. The only missteps are a couple of moments where the “theatrical” vocal approach gets a bit much. Some questionable spoken word passages appear a couple of times, which call to mind the kind of hammy voice acting you’d find in bad cartoon villains. Then there’s a bout of evil cackling in epic closer “Glacier” that’s a tad distracting in an otherwise brilliant final track. While we’re complaining about the vocals, I could have done with a bit more clean singing since Kajnat’s highly evocative voice is rather front-loaded and the latter songs feel the absence rather badly.
Despite some minor vocal issues, No Way Out is unquestionably a standout album in 2016 and “Reinvent” is one of the strongest songs I’ve heard all year. Perfectly paced and balanced, with polished songwriting, top notch playing and brimming with raw, seething energy, this is an album not to be missed.