Five years after tantalizing the death metal world with their MMXIII demo and three years removed from another promising EP, Below the Hengiform, Ireland’s quasi-supergroup Malthusian has finally delivered a full-length that lives up to their monstrous potential. Members of the quartet have roots in Altar of Plagues, Mourning Beloveth, and Wreck of the Hesperus, among other acts. Malthusian’s musical mission, as their moniker suggests, is to spread a prophetic warning of overpopulation: the idea that human growth is unsustainable and will lead to a global catastrophe as our resource usage exceeds the availability of resources. There are debates on the validity of this concern; on the one hand, we are now about a month past Earth Overshoot Day, an annual marker of when we have “used up” a year’s worth of resources, which fell on August 1 in 2018. On the other hand, there is the idea that there are plenty of resources available, we just do a poor job of distributing them (and perhaps our prevailing economic system is the cause of that, and perhaps this is by design). And then there’s the question of how much blame is to be laid on individual resource consumption, considering the unfettered wasteful excess of corporations, as, for example, Nestlé buys up rights to water in drought-ridden California.
Across Deaths is the perfect score to soundtrack these discussions. Dissonant blackened death is the name of the game, similar to acts like Imperial Triumphant and Grave Upheaval, albeit with a thicker mix and sludgier atmosphere. The album is asphyxiating from the opening notes, with “Remnant Fauna” wringing the life out of listeners, leaving them desperate for a drop of water they can’t have because their local aquifer is owned by a company that bottles it to sell for profit halfway around the world. Malthusian dare to ramp up their track lengths after this opening salvo, with the second and third songs topping seven minutes before the album’s masterpiece: “Primal Attunement – The Gloom Epoch”, a thirteen-minute obelisk of dread that climaxes with nearly-funeral-doom pacing accented by jagged violin and cello punctuations. The strings are used here not as a melodic element, but in a rather textural fashion, as though providing the soundtrack to Earth’s slow journey down the river Styx into its barren, post-apocalyptic Hades. This ending is so powerful and evocative that I think I would have ended the album with it. Instead, Malthusian offer one more blast of their heaviest and fastest vigour with “Telluric Tongues”.
Few albums that stew this long end up truly worth the wait, but, fortunately, Across Deaths does not fall victim to its own hype. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Imperial Triumphant’s Vile Luxury in the subgenre of “capitalism sucks and humans are ruining the planet” death metal.