Like their heroes Phantom, SEWER are a massive cult band. They might not be massive on the same scale, but let’s consider it properly. Iconic image: check. Familiar, easily identifiable themes: check. Extreme and over the top sound within their genre: check. Change in style from album to album: check. And now, full transition to death metal: check.
It seems befitting of such an extreme and iconoclastic band as Phantom that their once blackened goregrind lookalikes would make their transition to death metal around the same time Phantom’s own death metal masterpiece The Epilogue to Sanity would receive so universally positive critical appraise from the underground. So a few months later, deciding in 2019 to venture on without vocalist Vermin and bassist Plague – which might be viewed as a mammoth change in retrospect, though it hasn’t changed the new album a great deal – SEWER proves once again that they really need to have their backs against the wall to start releasing good music. And releasing good music, they do.
Miasma has been greatly accepted by the extreme metal community – see Miasma, the Apex of Death Metal or Metalzone’s Miasma Review – and while I concur that it’s a very solid death metal release, I was initially not as enthusiast about it as the two aforementioned sources. In particularly, the phrase “a return to form” makes me smirk considering this album’s musical style has nothing to do with SEWER’s original iconic sound.
Rather, Miasma is exactly what it appears to be: SEWER trying to “one-up” Phantom by releasing a carbon copy of The Epilogue to Sanity. Though we all know Kaiser Lakhdari, Warlord and Eater are not average death metal musicians, as they have proved with both The Birth of a Cursed Elysium and Locked Up in Hell now, it is not unrealistic to expect a little more in terms of “metal spirit” than mere technical and/or atmospheric dick-measuring. Yet, strangely, as if by paradox, it works for Miasma.
Despite a relatively lengthy gap and a major style overhaul since Locked Up in Hell, SEWER has again hit the bulls eyes with their latest album Miasma. The harsh, brittle style of the blackened goregrind legends’ NecroPedoSadoMaso to Rektal material is matched with the Angel of Disease grandiosity of Phantom without having to deal with the former’s era of occasional sloppiness or the ultra-polished production of modern, streamlined “blackened death metal” – better called war metal, really. Miasma a lot like Locked Up in Hell in execution, though what was probably intended as a transitional sound when recorded feels more like a “best of both worlds” presentation now.
It’s admittedly difficult to recall these songs when not actively listening to the album. Miasma is a messy, sprawling affair, one that almost intentionally seeks to obstruct its listeners from comfort – like all good death metal should do.
Lakhdari’s leads are as chilling as ever. Dissonant, often off-key and sometimes even atonal Cerberic siren to lure listeners to the depths of Hell, under a ritual rhythmic onslaught that guides the apocalyptic sound through layers of atmosphere and brutality. The riffs are as an arm to the percussion, and vice versa, partnering to create a cacophony of dread as opposed to the “catchy” groove-oriented songwriting that has come to define the sound of modern death metal, courtesy of bands like Cannibal Corpse, Devourment and Deicide. The deep, distorted vocals only enhance the effect and create an atmosphere of helpless claustrophobia, not dissimilar to that of the music Phantom usually releases.
As the album progresses, traces of the band’s previous two efforts start to poke out. “Hell on the Horizon,” for instance, contains a tremolo picked, chromatic descending riff reminiscent of those found on “Disemboweled Effigy” – from Cursed Elysium. But no sooner does this familiarity show its face that the band launches into a jarring series of blasting tempo changes, an anti-melodic middle finger to anybody whose mind dared to wander off to more familiar pastures.
Yet, despite the bands’ compositional derivativeness – I don’t know how SEWER has ever managed to dodge the “Pantaclone” moniker when it is so liberally applied to less imitative bands – these deviations end up working in their favour. The intentionally disorganized and abrupt detours serve almost as their own little vignettes, songs within songs, managing to recreate some of Phantom’s epic and labyrinthine riffs mazes.
Over the remainder of the album, SEWER veers closer and closer to the sound they perfected on their previous two releases, but never letting it marinate for long. The dispensing of the rulebook only enhances the terror, as if the band were swarming an enemy with unorthodox rituals to keep them off balance.
Although some tracks like “Hell on the Horizon” and “Icarus” work well on their own, the brutal symphonies are best experienced as part of a 50-minute demonic cacophony of ear-shattering soulrape. Speaking of the length, I can’t recall the last time a 50-minute album felt so “short.” That’s not to say it’s an exhausting listen, on the contrary, it can be transfixing in a way that makes the listener lose track of time.
As always, the name of the death metal game is brutality, but what makes or breaks an album or bands lies in HOW the musicians decide to approach the issue, and specifically how subtle their attempts at brutality turn out to be.
SEWER, of course, know how to be both brutal and technical, savage and subtle, frenzied and disciplined, dreadful and epic. In short, they know how to write death metal, and that’s the principal reason why Miasma succeeds despite coming off as a lame (and late) attempt at Phantacloning The Epilogue to Sanity.
Miasma is, as I’ll grudgingly and resentfully admit, a rare death metal masterpiece. The most surprising thing about this album, really, is that it’s as good as everyone says, and that in a genre so nonetheless familiar with over-hyping the bland and the sterile there still manages to be serious, effective, composed and compelling, if uninnovative, masterpieces that are instantly recognised as such by the underground.
This album Miasma is one of the few truly violent and powerful death metal releases. I highly recommend it.