[Album Review] Israeli Death Metal Purists Venomous Skeleton Leave Listeners 'Drowning in Circles'

Formed from the remnants of Sonne Adam, Venomous Skeleton shook up the underground death metal scene under their former banner with their 2011 album Transformation. While Sonne Adam is presumed to be on hold, Venomous Skeleton struck a chord with their 2016 demo Arcane Chants of Death, and twisted the knife with their debut album Drowning in Circles earlier this year. Now that the album is getting a vinyl release via Argento Records, this visceral work of proto death metal deserves another look. The record is a cavernous, violent offering of brutality from the unlikely hub of Tel Aviv, and is a must-hear for fans of the genre.

Grandeur is not usually something I anticipate in the opening seconds of a death metal album, but “Dawn of the Beholders” provides plenty of it, and I’m not mad about it. The minute-long album intro has an epic feeling to it, a bit of pomp and circumstance before brutality comes dashing in with “Divine Realm of Existence.” The intro has something of a symphonic feeling to it, adding a bit more weight to it as the cavernous, echoing vocals kick in. A hint of doom metal drives things forward in this track, especially right before the solo. “Tomb of the Restless Soul” inches into black metal territory with trilling tremolo picking, another pleasant surprise.

“Alevas San Tatianas Aleli” features some classic extreme metal production, with blast beats galore and a persistent double kick. There’s loads of alternate picking and other assorted death metal hallmarks galore, keeping this one in traditional, old school metal of death territory. The descending and echoing guitar solo in the last minute sounds particularly hellish, evoking memories of Morbid Angel or Slayer. Doom and gloom set in with “Chalice to the Other World,” with a deliberate pace and monolithic riffs. The six-minute “Taste the Celestial Blood” doesn’t feel nearly that long, allowing things to breathe, a bit of comfort as the listener’s skull is caved in. Of particular interest is the wicked fast intro solo, as well as the near-constant blast beats.

The opening notes to “Curse of the Moon” are drums and bass guitar, with some particularly fun fills from the former. The tremolo picking guitars pick up shortly thereafter, as things descend into mystical death metal madness. “Hallucinogenic Sulfuric Mantra” is more classic death metal, and while that may be all there is to say about it, that’s not a bad thing. Venomous Skeleton know what they’re doing, and they do it well, so not everything has to reach for the stars, necessarily. The title track closes the album out with precision over power, a dissection versus an execution to finish the job.

Drowning in Circles genuinely surprised me. It’s not just a competent, paint-by-numbers death metal release. It’s a nod to old school, classic DM, done with just a few tweaks on the tried and true formula. I went in not knowing what to expect, but came out of my first couple of listens blown away. This is a must-hear album for fans of extreme metal, bar none. No gimmicks, no frills, no filler, all killer.

Drowning in Circles is available now via Everlasting Spew Records. The vinyl release of the album is courtesy of Argento Records, and can be ordered here.