Death metal supergroup Umbra Vitae blend catharsis and fun on Shadow of LifeJamie Ludwigon May 1, 2020 at 8:41 pm

The beauty of musical collaboration is that you can never totally anticipate what will happen, even when the people coming together have established aesthetics of their own. Some groups devise a concept and never stray from it, while others incorporate unexpected twists and turns–and Boston postmetal project Wear Your Wounds (started by Converge front man Jacob Bannon) has spawned a whole new band. As the story goes, Bannon and Wear Your Wounds guitarists Sean Martin (formerly of Hatebreed) and Mike McKenzie (the Red Chord) would start rehearsals with gnarly death-metal riffs that didn’t fit the group’s melodic, mournful template. They had so much fun with it that they started Umbra Vitae as an outlet for that material, recruiting Red Chord bassist Greg Weeks and Job for a Cowboy drummer Jon Rice. The ferocious death metal on their debut album, the Kurt Ballou-produced Shadow of Life, mixes 90s and modern influences with hardcore energy and plenty of grit, anxiety, and rage. The urgent, seething “Mantra of Madness,” with its weighty grooves and hair-raising riffs, indicts a system that offers only meaningless “thoughts and prayers” as nihilistic assailants force crime victims to plead for their lives. Few songwriters in heavy music can write about the heart-crushing agony of human relationships as poetically as Bannon, and the bleak atmospheres and bleaker refrain of “Blood Blossom” (it repeats the phrase “Do not resuscitate”) make cutting ties feel as pleasant as ripping off a Band-Aid that’s been upgraded to industrial-grade adhesive. The music may be fun and games–at least if you consider death metal fun–but the title track, which closes Shadow of Life, tackles some of the album’s heaviest subjects as it spins into a powerful, chaotic rumination on our inner conflicts and struggles. v

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