With 2017 seeing vast swathes of the world going to hell in a handbasket, it can seem like nothing good will come of this tumultuous year. Happily that’s entirely not true, as Northern Ireland has seen some sterling music coming from its local scene, with album releases from acts as varied as The Crawling, Selene, Fireland and Rabid Bitch of the North. Equally happily, it shows no signs of slowing down, with releases from the likes of Stormzone and Shrouded still to come.
With great pleasure, we can also add a new album from death metallers Overoth to that ever-growing list. The Forgotten Tome, to be released on September 22nd on Hostile Media, is the band’s first album since 2010’s Kingdom of Shadows – but don’t be fooled into thinking they have been unproductive in that time: having won 2015’s Belfast heat of Metal to the Masses, they played both Bloodstock and Metal Days festivals soon after, all the while honing their craft and acting on their desire to create their own sound within the genre, something that is immediately apparent upon listening to this superb album.
The rather beautiful instrumental ‘Opus Obscura’ opens up proceedings, sounding like a combination of the theme to ‘The Omen’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. Then it’s on to long time live favourite ‘Sigil of the Empty Throne’, a song heavy with darkly fantastical lyrics and punctuated by front man Andy Ennis’ menacing growl. It’s death metal alright, but the added orchestration lends the music a rich, full sound, as well as demonstrating that clear evidence of growth from the band. The ominous ‘Winter of Iniquity’ follows; it’s a mid-paced number but no less electrifying for it, with drummer Jay Rogers no doubt working up a hell of a sweat. Again, the song features traditional death metal subjects – this time winter, death and frozen corpses – but it’s done imaginatively well.
Lead single ‘The Keeper’ is next: it’s unquestionably one of the highlights of the album, with a sense of claustrophobic fear woven into the lyrics (“How have I become trapped in this place?…I’m in hell!”), a deep, groove-heavy riff, an explosive pace change and long, anguished outro. ‘God of Delusion’ sees a change of pace, with its snarling, machine gun-like vocals and drums and furious, disdainful anti-religion sentiments (“remove the shackles, the ones placed upon you by your mother church”) resulting in a rather Behemoth-like feel.
Then it’s another live favourite, ‘The Forgotten Tome’, which has been given a smart update and new lease of life in its recorded form. A blasting pace and blistering solo, as well as nifty use of an almost thrashy guitar riff and tale of an obscure grimoire, combine to create a colossal number that’s as easy to get lost in as the protagonist gets lost in the ‘tome’ of the title (spoiler alert!).
A short instrumental track later (the eerily beautiful ‘Leviathan Swallowed the Sun’), it’s time for ‘Mar the Gates’, which features a surprisingly groovy riff (in a deep, tooth-loosening way of course) and rather Tolkien-esque lyrics about a battle before a tower which builds to a hell of a crescendo, followed by the furious power and frantic lyrics of ‘Harbinger of the End Times’. And then it’s ‘the epic one’…seven minute long ‘Shadows In a Thousand Shades of Black’ wraps up the album in truly brutal fashion, with frantic, crushing drums, vocals which drip with horror and rage – and yet there are unexpected moments of delicacy and sadness, such as the piano-led orchestral instrumental and desolate ending. It’s a fascinating and richly textured song that truly shows just how far this band has come.
If you think you know death metal, or think it has nothing new to offer, then do listen to The Forgotten Tome. Not only is it outstanding in its production – and special mention must go to guitarist Dan Dampster, who provides the orchestral touches – it shows a band willing to take traditional, “no frills death metal” (as they originally described themselves) – and create something new, and interesting, and expansive, and really quite remarkable. See? 2017 really is shaping up to be a great year, after all.