As you listen to the German brutal death metal and death core act’s Stillbirth’s new album Homo Deus²⁰²³ released on April 7th, you may get an impression you’re dealing with one of those young highly skilled ensembles at most on their 3rd installment, stylistically somewhere between All Shall Perish, Cattle Decapitation, Skinless and Psycroptic whose sound is also informed by Death-ly and Testament-ian deathrash among other things, but you might be surprised to learn that the band’s history spans for over two decades of a shaky existence. Firstly, there is no record of any other founder (in 1999) than guitarist and vocalist Lukas Swiaczny prior to the 2000 lineup which independently recorded their debut full length Happy Stillbirthday Party²⁰⁰³ before disbanding a year later. Secondly, a completely new reunion lineup, including Dominik “Pumpa” König (2006-bass, backing vocals-2021), someone essential to the definition of Stillbirth’s sound, recorded the mess of a sophomore album Plakative Aggression²⁰⁰⁹ on Rotten Roll Rex. Thirdly, a different lineup proceeded through the, again, independently released Endgame Is Near²⁰¹² including a brief change of the vocalist (to Scholle), the linup which, again, changed for the Rising Nemesis Records release Global Error²⁰¹⁵, including, again, a brief change of the vocalist (to Matthias “Schollek” Scholz) as Swiaczny switched to vocals only while, along with Pumpa, debuting guttural vocals. Fourthly, as Stillbirth signed to Unique Leader Records, they released their first acclaimed record, Annihilation Of Mankind²⁰¹⁸, again, under a different lineup, and then, the apparent, if failed, attempt to keep the succesful lineup from dissolving, a compilation of old and new songs was recorded, given a name Back To The Stone Age²⁰¹⁹ and independently released. Finally, as if all of the above wasn’t enough, following the recording of the 6th full length (fifth if you don’t count Back), Revive The Throne²⁰²⁰, their second acclaimed album, again on Unique Leader Records, a tragedy struck as Pumpa comitted suicide (2021). Homo Deus, Stillbirth’s de facto 7th album, was thus recorded by Lukas Swiaczny (vocals), Martin Grupe (2019-drums), Lukas Kaminski (2019-bass), Leonard Willi (2021-lead guitars) and Szymon Skiba (2022-guitars) a lineup working so well together that it gives off that impression I mentioned in the opening paragraph. In truth, Homo Deus is a sound of a band who, battle tested and scarred, came out stronger than ever.

I have begun this review pointing out the overall similarities of Stillbirth to modern genre acts, similarities emphasized by a typical technical death metal or deathcore cover sporting zombies, murderers as leaders and some such. However, there is much that differentiates the Germans from their peers. For example, the exemplary catchy closer “Get Out” is surprisingly prefaced by a George Walker Bush-like voice pronouncement I occasionally think how quickly our differences would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world coming at you just 3 tracks after a computer processed robotic female voice asserts that your entire life has been a mathematical error, a mathematical error she’s about to correct which itself follows the opening emergency broadcasting alert from the department of defense to stay home and barricade yourself as you hear increasing beastly roars in the background assuring you that this would not be a good day for civil disobedience. Between these 3 points of reference, points which vary in tone and urgency, there dwells an 11 track, just over 43 minute behemoth, pun very much intended as you will soon find out.

The aforementioned varying degrees of urgency are also expressed in the music: at first listen a brutal one-dimensional affair but only because it really is brutal and you came in slightly unprepared. Indeed, the first two tracks (the second one, “Disgraced” less so) seemingly exist solely to test your hearing and tenacity while the excellent, selective, slightly muddy yet clear production allows you to test your speakers or earbuds or headphones, whichever you happen to be using. However, already the third track, the favorite “Proclaim The Anarchy” nails down your attention with a Pantera-ic riff smoked on recent Skinless (although too bad it’s never repeated) which gives away to some latter Death (that is, post-Human) guitarwork, as Stillbirth switches from deathcore to quite technical death metal. The next couple of tracks may not be as engaging but they do introduce you to the four core elements of the band’s sound on this record, at least that’s how many I counted: 1. the grandiosity and the massive tonnage of slow devastation patented by Behemoth (remember the pun?), 2. the technical prowess bordering on virtuosity while as catchy almost to the point of melodic death metal popularized by Psycroptic or actually crossing into melodeath All Shall Perish style, 3. the brutal and frequent BOOM! slam characteristic of Devourement or Pathology and finally 4. the familiar Testament-ian guitar wail known from Low or The Gathering. Another standout, “Rising From the Ashes” even has a surprising acoustic intro reminiscent of Testament ballads or instrumentals as well as a mid track transitory acoustic riff recalling Megadeth’s “High Speed Dirt”, as “brie, brie” pig squeals and gutturals alternate for screams and often seem layered like on an Aborted record. Finally, the last three tracks each outdo one another in weirdness and originality: “Descending” the closest to melodeath without sacrificing the brutality, the wildly bluessy southern thrash sometimes death metal of “Tribunal Of Penance”, arguably the most interesting and unique track which starts like a jamming session in a Chicago bluess club only to be brutally interrupted by slow groovy deathrash a’la those moments of The Gathering Lamb Of God is most famous for and complete with the ending Clint Eastwood-like voice it’s a good day to die, bitch!, which would probably make a better conclusion of the album then the, nevertheless, very good, again, very melodeathly already aforementioned closer “Get Out”.

For the accolades, fun and near virtuous guitarwork, Homo Deus still comes off as uneven in terms of songwriting and variety and, as two out of the worst offenders, the opening “The Hunt” and “Seed Of Judgement” (which, nevertheless, sports one of the best riffs) are comparatively quite short, the problem might as well be in length. Most importantly, there is not a single track I could call excellent, to say nothing of perfection. It doesn’t mean that Homo Deus cannot serve as a blueprint for something later that could be as groundbreaking as, say, The Price Of Existence, (Ob)servant or The Harvest Floor provided that these inarguably fantastic musicians let those riffs and melodies breathe more (instead too often burying them in the wall of meaningless sound) while forming cohegent and addictive anthems All Shall Perish, Psycroptic or Cattle Decapitation, respectively, are consistently and seemingly effortlessly known for.

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