Album Review: Purtenance - The Rot Within Us
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Purtenance might just be one of the most underrated acts in all of extreme metal. Hailing from Pirkanmaa, Finland, Purtenance formed way back in 1989, originally under the name of Purtenance Avulsion, the band altered their name in 1991 to how we know them now, and are often cited amongst Finland’s premier extreme metal bands when fans hearken back to the nation’s infant years amongst extreme metal. Releasing the iconic Member Of Immortal Damnation in 1992, the band shot to renown throughout the burgeoning underground of Finnish metal however they broke up before anything considerable could follow suit. Yet, reforming in 2012, the band returned with 2013’s aptly titled Awaken From Slumber, their first full length work in over twenty years. Another two albums followed suit which brings us neatly over to 2023’s The Rot Within Us, the band’s fifth full length work, primed for a mid-July release and through Xtreem Music no less. Any new Purtenance release grabs my attention, and this was no different.
One aspect that struck me right out of the gate was how in your face the band’s performance is. There’s no semblance of a balanced and refined aesthetic that greets us from the opening song onwards; the band’s death/doom is thrust in our faces and it doesn’t end until the last song has had its way with us. The band may play death/doom as made famed through their earliest records but we mustn’t think the band are relying on atmosphere alone to drive home the strength of their performance. There are numerous instances where their sound ramps up through intensity and the instrumentation assumes a much bolder and bigger presence, thereby elevating what is initially a raw soundscape into something much more crushing and suffocating. Wisely, the band do not bind their hands round our throats all the time enabling us to breathe yet, it helps to counterbalance an album that is otherwise unconcerned with providing a comfortable listening experience. Purtenance, through this record, sought to establish an experience whereby their audience is kept on their toes and I’d say they certainly achieved that.
In many ways, through the band’s take on this album, the guitar work assumes a more realised live aesthetic that other works of death/doom haven’t quite reached this year. The Rot With Us feels like an album that was written, produced and mixed with the intention of mimicking that feeling of watching the band there on stage. “Transitory Soul Of The Righteous” champions this as the riffs and Tom-Tom strikes are right up our senses, for the distance needed to travel between a played note or drum strike is absolutely minimal needed to reach us. The band place is right at their feet, before the barrier at their show, as they play the new album in full. Gone are any pretentious towards refining their instrumental performance nor are there visible attempts to clean up their aesthetic and render their death/doom with copious layers of bass or atmosphere. The band are unapologetic in their onslaught and choose not to stick around or explain themselves as per their choices for this record. It is death/doom given a truly raw finish.
The record may harness an especially raw and to the point style of death/doom but that doesn’t mean their songwriting is totally void of anything worth bouncing along to. Purtenance have managed to craft a great flow to their sound and, if anything, the searing absence of polished production has resulted in music that isn’t being covered or needlessly cleaned up, thereby allowing the band to strike through the mire and play exactly the kind of music they wish without it getting bogged down within anything unnecessary. Should they wish to implement more melody into their songwriting they can do that; if they want to utilise more atmosphere into their craft they can do that. It may result in a blunt performance, but Purtenance have a lot more room to work with in terms of songwriting freedom.
If there’s anything that might make people unsure regarding this record, it’s down to the vocals. Rather, it’s how the vocals have been mixed into the record on the whole. While frontman Aabeg Gautam is proven to be a stellar vocalist for what Purtenance require, and through his deliveries through their last album, 2020’s Buried Incarnation, his vocals throughout this album come off not merely in your face but somewhat disconnected from the rest of the record, and the band’s performance. It can sometimes feel like the two forces are performing separately from one another, only coming together from time to time. On the other hand, I did find that this uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the vocals I felt was at the start of the record, and as I resumed through the album it only became all the more natural to hear and feel these vocals alongside the aesthetically raw and stripped back songwriting and production. Ultimately, I feel the vocals are going to received greatly through subjective lenses for people will receive in greatly varying ways.
In conclusion, The Rot Within Us is a death/doom record that absolutely refuses to apologise or compromise for what fans old and new alike will discover inside. From beginning to end, Purtenance proudly purport this album as the raw, straightforward force that it is and provide nothing that could suggest otherwise. I do feel like the mix could have used a marginal tweaking here and there, at the very least to give those vocals a more refined space amongst the rest of the band’s performance, but other than that I can’t complain. It’s honestly refreshing to encounter a death/doom record that hasn’t been dressed up and polished with great swathes of bass or atmosphere in some attempt to smother its audience in dread; with this perspective one can appreciate Purtenance for what they’ve provided herein. Far from seeking something revolutionary, Purtenance seek to craft something they’re happy with and owing by their performance, especially the stellar concluding track provided here, I’d say they’re satisfied with what they’ve created, and it rips too.