Listening to Sisyphean, the new album by Charleston deathcore band Down Under, it's difficult to believe that this is their full-length debut. After you get through the churning mix of cycling guitars and horror-movie sound effects in "Prologue," the remaining eight tracks are absolutely merciless, full of churning riffs (courtesy of guitarists Will Manigault and Eli Blalock) and machine gun drums (from James Davenport), topped off by David Lopez's demonic growl. The band moves as one entity, executing spine-snapping tempo changes and serpentine song structures like a fine-tuned rollercoaster.
From the thrust of the title track to the closing barrage of "To Ashes We Burn," this is a full metal assault. Manigault and Blalock (who doubles on bass) rain down tightly synchronized riffs and solos, Davenport beats the life out of his drums and Lopez sounds like Lucifer unleashed as he growls lyrics. "I've grown to feel nothing/ except pain and misery/ the hope I had left/ stripped away the day we said goodbye," he roars.
It is without question a dark and brutal affair, and it's hard to believe that any band could pull off songs this tight and complex on their debut. But, Down Under had five years of experience leading up to Sisyphean, and plenty of time to hone their craft.
"We started in 2015," Manigault said, "And over time, we've just been cycling through members and experimenting with our sound and playing a lot of shows. We put out one EP and a bunch of singles over the years, but it's just been a process of trying to refine our sound and figuring out exactly what we want to do."
What they wanted to do was take the complexity of vintage prog. rock and apply it to snarling deathcore metal.
"We have a very diverse range of musical influences," Manigault said. "Although we're a death metal band, we're really into progressive rock and progressive metal, stuff like Rush and Yes and Genesis and Dream Theater. And we're also really big into black metal like Behemoth and Mayhem."
It's a tricky mix to pull off, but Down Under had no problem with taking their time to get it right.
"We were really patient in deciding to make a full-length album," Manigault said. "We finally got a lineup that really works for us and a sound that we've really honed in to and a batch of songs that we'd been working on for about two years, and it just felt like the right time to finally put out a debut album and try to focus on really making a future for the band."
Manigault added that everyone in the band has been involved in other projects where they learned what not to do, as well.
"We learned from our mistakes of trying to do things too fast," he said. "So with this project, we really just wanted to make sure that we were doing the right thing and make sure that we had something that we felt like we can really take into the future. On top of that, we all have full-time jobs, so it's been much easier in that respect for us to take our time while we focus on our actual lives as well."
One of the most interesting aspects of the album is that it's peppered with a wide array of vocal samples. Snippets of Dave Chappelle, Alex Jones and lines from the 2019 horror movie The Lighthouse are utilized on the album. These bits of dialogue serve as segues or moments of respite from the album's relentless assault. "That's actually something that deathcore bands used to do about 10 years ago," Manigault said, referencing the samples. "We just wanted to bring that back as a way of throwing our personality into the music."
You'd also be hard pressed to find a moment on Sisyphean where Manigault and Eli Blalock aren't linking up in some fashion.
"We love harmonizing, which is something you don't really think about in death metal a lot," Manigault said. "A lot of the faster riffs I play are harmonized versions of what Eli is playing. There are solos, but the guitars are used more to add texture and layers to the music."
As for the band's next step, don't expect the next album to take five years to make. Manigault said that Sisyphean is just the beginning.
"We're making a statement saying we're ready to carry on, and we're ready to try to look for a label and look for a touring agent," he said. "We wanted to make sure that we hit the ground running here and that we hit hard. We're ready to take over the world."