Just over a year ago, UK horror metallers The Dead XIII, without majorly startling ears made a potent introduction with their Creatures Of The Night EP. It certainly whetted the appetite and revealed the potential of the band forging out a distinctive presence in the British metal/rock scene. Now the Mancunian quintet unleashes their debut album Catacombs, an encounter which weaves all the promise of its predecessor into a hefty slab of skilled and thrilling enticement. Whether the band has quite found that unique voice can be argued, for us it is still something brewing, but there is no doubting that the album is a potent nudge to awaken national attention and push the band well away from the crowd.
The Dead XIII escaped their crypts in 2013 and was soon breeding an increasing number of loyal fans through a live presence which over time saw them sharing stages with the likes of The Fearless Vampire Killers, William Control, Dead, and Bad Pollyanna. Creatures Of The Night lured new blood to the band with its Wednesday 13 meets Misfits like sound in 2014, a base which The Dead XIII has torn and sculpted into a more mature, inventive, and predatory proposal. Fresh from the British Horror Story Tour with Ashestoangels and Farewell, My Love, vocalist Kurt Blackshard, lead guitarist Ste Mahoney, keyboardist/guitarist Symon Strange, bassist Paul Ryan, and drummer Spike Owen reveal the evolution that has coursed through their songwriting and sound over the past year with Catacombs, and provide a rather tasty offering at the same time.
The album opens with its lead single XIII; guitars instantly weaving a mesh of sonic bait before the song erupts into a cauldron of electronic and guitar driven causticity. The distinctive tones of Blackshard quickly enter the building drama oozing from every aspect of the song, his unpolished and ghoulish dark tones another magnetic lure to an already heftily enticing encounter. There is a whiff of Marilyn Mansion and White Zombie to the track, as well as The Defiled, hues which collude to create a contagious trespass of the senses and a mighty and irresistible start to the album. It is a potent first roar matched by Frostbite and its fiercely aggressive tenacity aligned with a wintery atmosphere cloaking keys and vocals. Whereas the songs on the previous EP rarely strayed from their core design, here as in its predecessor, the song is unafraid to twist further unpredictable and imagination bred flirtations of sound and ideation into its appealing intrusion.
Daemons shows its teeth straight away with thumping beats piecing carnivorous riffery. The keys almost as quickly spread their sinister gothic charm and melodic resourcefulness into the ravenous tempest of the song where again there is an energy and intensity which never relents from badgering, almost bullying the listener. It is a great union, warm inviting textures contrasting the imposing bellow of the song whilst rhythms and the growling vocals temper the provocative tapestry of the keys and melodies. It is fair to say that every track is aural theatre, and each song upon Catacombs a mouth-watering dark escapade perfectly epitomised by the third song on the album.
The album’s title track is its successor, another proposition which gets straight down to the virulent nitty-gritty of its devilish invention and uniting horror metal/punk resources. Once more the grizzled delivery of Blackshard is like the barker or crypt-keeper to dark deeds and deathly delights within the song, and whereas on the last EP his tones occasionally tested with their one dimensional presence, in song and album they reveal, as the music, that they have evolved and discovered their deep potency.
The pair of Be-Were and The Greatest Escape richly catch the imagination next, the first encroaching on ears with stalking riffs and jabbing beats around a demonic fusion of singular and mass anthemic vocals whilst the second, being arguably the most openly Misfits toned song on Catacombs, dances on ears with a voodoo-esque array of hooks and again mass vocal roaring. Both tracks captivate with its slithers of heavy metal seeded enterprise from Mahoney whilst the latter further grips though it’s entwining of intimidating rhythmic and metal textures with melodically searing flames erupting within the song’s smouldering heart.
Not quite living up to those before it, lacking the creative spark which ignites its companions, Haunter with its corrosive metal breeding still leaves appetite and satisfaction content next before making way for the outstanding and ravenous Lay Siege To Hell. The song is unbridled and bruising rock ‘n’ roll but equally bold with sidesteps into electronic/techno adventure and a host of ever changing hooks and scorching guitar imagination adding up to another boisterous rousing of body and psyche within Catacombs.
The closing stretch to the album begins with Can’t Escape The Grave, more highly agreeable rock ‘n’ roll to lose your inhibitions and soul to and ends with Apothesis, a death infused, ambience crafted encounter which is as much post-hardcore and blackened metal as it is horror metal, and quite enthralling. It too does not quite match earlier tracks yet it is the most inventive and increasingly fascinating offering on the album revealing the depth to The Dead XIII invention still brewing and to be explored ahead.
There is no doubting that Catacombs is a must explore treat for horror and gothic metal/punk fans. It is not the perfect offering with some tracks a little too similar in some areas and hues of other genre bands seeping into play, but one impressive leap forward for the band and undeniable impressive romp for ears. As things moved forward between EP and album, evolution will see the same ahead as The Dead XIII progresses and we for one cannot wait whilst continuing to devour Catacombs right now.
Catacombs is out now