Umbra Vitae
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Chaotic metalcore / death metal supergroup UMBRA VITAE streaming debut masterpiece in full; receive tons of great reviews

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Shadow of Life” is the ten song debut album from UMBRA VITAE (Jacob Bannon of Converge, Wear Your Wounds, Mike McKenzie of The Red Chord, Wear Your Wounds, Sean Martin of Twitching Tongues, Wear Your Wounds, ex-Hatebreed, Jon Rice of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, ex-Job for a Cowboy, and Greg Weeks (The Red Chord)), recorded and mixed by Kurt Ballou at God City Studios. Guitars and bass were recorded by Mike McKenzie at The Black Coast. The album was mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege and is now available for streaming below!

Intro “Decadence Dissolves” is a Schuldiner-esque calm before the storm. “Ethereal Emptiness” and “Atheist Aesthetic” soon rip everything apart, methodically downshifting from blackened to brutal in tone.

“Mantra of Madness” then emerges as a monster of a song, driven by inhuman drumming and traditional death metal riffing.

It takes a special band to mercilessly beat and cerebrally torment in equal measure. Umbra Vitae certainly packs as much intensity as possible into under 30 minutes, but Shadow of Life looks beyond blunt force trauma. For every grimacing mosh riff, there’s a reprieve of emotional relevance. Every blitz-speed blast section maintains a moody undercurrent. These guys use their experience and chemistry to elevate an aural stampede into a deeply gratifying experience. /

This pattern of intensity continues in “Fear is a Fossil”, “Polluted Paradise”, and “Intimate Inferno”. All are motion sickness inducing numbers that violently lurch in aural agony. It’s here one realizes that this album never lets up. “Return to Zero” takes it to another level, viciously grinding as the lines “Return to zero, bite down on the chain, bow down to no one” repeat as mantra. This leads to “Blood Blossom” an amalgamation of metal ferocity and hardcore spirit that could very well be the heaviest track of them all. Infectious closer “Shadow of Life” then screams in terror as it tells the tale of the internal battle of the dark and light within us all.

“Sickness and perversion creep through the gates/In black gowns. And the beds bear/The tossing and the moans of much wasting/They run with the buckling of death.” That eerie imagery highlights Harper’s Magazine’s English translation of “Umbra Vitae,” the 1912 poem from German Expressionist Georg Heym. For Jacob Bannon — frontman of hardcore stalwarts Converge and founder of taste-making heavy-music label Deathwish Inc. — the mood of that piece lingered for years, helping inspire a new band with a similarly intoxicating darkness.

Shadow of Life, the debut LP from death-metal quintet Umbra Vitae, updates that poem’s “semi-dystopian vision” for the Trump era, meditating on how backward-looking customs and a blanketing void of compassion restrict human beings from reaching a higher plane of potential. And its messages arrive at a chilling time. In March, before the album’s release, Bannon reflects on these lyrical themes — and the poem that lit their fuse — as the world grapples with a coronavirus pandemic that’s infected thousands, killed a small percentage of patients and altered the daily habits of almost everyone. He’s concerned by the dangers of “serious mania” accompanying the spread, along with the apathetic response he sees from those unwilling to employ reasonable preventive measures. /

UMRA VITAE is: Jacob Bannon: Vocals, Lyrics; Mike McKenzie: Guitars, Vocals; Sean Martin: Guitars, Vocals; Greg Weeks: Bass; Jon Rice: Drums

Shadow of Life has a rather short runtime which greatly complements the abrasive and unrelenting heaviness that consumes the entirety of the album. In the same likeness, Umbra Vitae draws influence from each member’s previous band, coalescing into a product of mass composition that doesn’t shy away from the songwriting vein of its predecessors. Lastly, the record puts the pedal to the metal from its introduction and shows no signs of restraint through the entirety of its tracklist. /

Umbra Vitae’s fantastic debut is a pure barnburner of a death metal record. Skeptical as I may be of this type of band configuration, Shadow of Life has added another deep and bloody notch to the all-too-bare wall of fame for metal supergroups that actually work. I will be spinning this record for many months to come, as will most death metal fans willing to give it a fair shake. Shadow of Life is well worth your time, and a record that I will continue to highly recommend to anyone looking for yet another death metal shock to the system in an already banner year for the genre. /

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. /

Is Umbra Vitae greater than the sum of its parts? Probably not. But any fan of death metal will find something to love about Shadow of Life, which hopefully will give this supergroup more staying power than most. /

This rapid pace defines the first half of the album, though the last few songs allow the band to open up the slightest bit of melody with strong lead guitar work. With a running time around 25 minutes, Shadow Of Life barrels through its ten songs with a snarling attitude intact. This is not merely an example of a group cobbled together, but experienced, confident musicians showcasing their love of death metal. /

Umbra Vitae make hardcore-inclined death metal of such hunger and ferocity that it belies the age of the men behind it. Rather than being comparable to bands like Converge or Job for a Cowboy, the quintet’s first full-length has more in common with the volatile drive of Venom Prison and Cult Leader. While most supergroups strive to retread their genre’s past glories, Umbra Vitae appear capable of keeping up with the current generation of sonic extremists. /

Karol Kamiński

DIY rock music enthusiast and web-zine publisher from Warsaw, Poland. Supporting DIY ethics, local artists and promoting hardcore punk, rock, post rock and alternative music of all kinds via IDIOTEQ online channels.
Contact via [email protected]

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