Location: Eugene, Oregon
Genre: Death metal
Demo: To Make Rotten
Format: Cassette (limited to 70 copies)
Release date: 1991
Re-released by La Caverna Records on CD, digital and streaming format July 2, 2019
I love metal. I eat, sleep, and breathe it. I’d live and die for it. It is the greatest genre in all of existence, because there’s always something more to it, always something yet to be discovered that mysteriously brings the community together in ways no other genre can. Of course that discovery leads us to a band like Sepsis, a death metal band out of Eugene, Oregon formed in 1988. The band itself consisted of Mike Brown (vocals/guitar), David Camarda (lead guitar), Jason McCamon (vocals/bass), and Karl Fowler (drums). They were once signed to independent Colombian label La Caverna Records and recorded their demo To Make Rotten under that label in 1991. This would be Sepsis’s first and unfortunately last release as a band, but La Caverna Records recently graced us with a re-release from deep within the vault just last month. How does it hold up after almost two decades of its release?
Our examination begins with the first track, “Spewing Innards”. Starting off with an intense drum fill followed by a wicked sounding chord progression, it promises to bring hard-pounding and violent riffs with demonic vocals. Needless to say, it delivers. The rhythm changes are very tasteful and don’t feel at all forced, as though they wanted to make it sound different just for the sake of it. It is a rollercoaster of emotions through the guitar and drum work, like a battle of the competing aggression. And just like that, in the middle of the skank beat, it just ends abruptly, with an echo on Mike’s voice, a euphoric end as you wonder, “what the hell did I just listen to, and can I get more?”
Indeed you may! Up next is their track “Necro Introvert Pesticide Injector” (yes, quite the mouthful). Despite the speed sections done beautifully by the drums, the stars of the show in this song are the riffs and vocals. There are sections where the buildup does impact one faster section, and it absolutely added a new dimension to that in particular and carried the rest of the song throughout. The rhythm of the vocals syncs perfectly with the guitars, and vocalist Mike Brown’s range from guttural deep speech to screeching screams are on full display. Speaking of the guitars, the guitar solo mixes beautifully with the chaos of it all. It never felt overdone or unnecessary, and the dissonance of the notes just really brought the end of the song to peak intensity. And in glorious Sepsis fashion, a sudden silence cuts through the song, as we move towards the next track.
Now “Fistula Bleeds”, the third track of the demo, is a very gore-filled gut-wrenching tale of someone’s bloody body violently falling apart, and the whole track reflects that with efficiency. It starts off varied from the previous two tracks, as there is a quieter intro to this song before it erupts into a full-on triplet rhythm, and I admittedly have always been a sucker for triplet beats in metal. This vocal-less section carries on for 1 minute and 40 seconds, before the verse section rolls in with the vocalist’s rapid fire delivery of the lyrics. Rhythm changes that occur within this track, going from very pound heavy groove sections to sonic speed death metal, are very well-placed and executed, and the vocals serve to supplement them even more. This track in my humble opinion is the mosh pit anthem of this demo, as its energy seems unhinged in every single facet of this song in the best possible way.
“Foetal Embolism” and “Winter of Despair” are the shortest tracks in the demo, clocking in at 1:29 and 1:49 respectively, but that does not take away at all from the quality. As such, “Foetal Embolism” wastes no time and dives right in head-first into the high-tempo debauchery. I also have to give huge props to James McCamon for that creeping overdrive bass interlude that delivered the rest of the song into its powerful climax. And in a similar fashion, “Winter of Despair” doesn’t beat around the bush either, going from an intro with crash and kick hits matching the guitar chords to kicking it into overdrive once again. The rhythm change here is welcome as usual, breaking up the monotony of the chaotic speed metal driven parts, and even drives to an epically intense crash-filled section that absolutely melts your ears. Though the songs are much shorter than the others, the quality doesn’t suffer from it. In fact, it’s as though the quick timing of these songs made them realize they absolutely had to give it their all in under 2 minutes, and that’s the kind of musicianship I relish seeing.
Moving on to our sixth track “It’s Too Late”, this one also starts off a little bit slower in the beginning to build towards the inevitable faster passages. McCamon gets to shine again with another bass interlude (he really does well to bring the tension), and even the guitar takes on a similar duty in this song. McCamon & Brown’s vocals put together bring a new definition of depth and power that varies from its predecessors, and towards the end of the journey, one final 1000-yard dash caps off what is overall a very pleasing vocal-centric track. Immediately, this leads us into “Pain Hotel”, which to my surprise starts off with a drum rhythm rather reminiscent of hardcore punk, before once again shifting rhythms on the rollercoaster of drum beats. This track in particular showcases that they are more than speed. Even though there are indeed some fast-paced sections here or there, there also seem to be more dragged out and foreboding areas as well, made even more sinister by the evil-sounding inverted (?) power chords and, of course, by the vocals. Though I appreciate the more frequent slower parts in this song, it only makes me wonder how riveting and disgusting it would sound if they fully committed to a more doom metal-esque sound for this one, but nonetheless “Pain Hotel” does its job and does it well.
Interestingly enough, the follow-up track “Nustage” actually does start off with what a taste of that slight doom metal influence would sound like, not necessarily in its speed, but in its chord progression. It’s haunting, borderline terrifying, and instantly jumps back into the classic death metal tempo we all know and love. The vocals here once again shine, as it brings about a very hoarse sounding choking sound to bring the lyrics of someone choking on defecation alive. The triplet beat returns for a bit, as does a rather groovy rhythm guitar through some of it, and even in the bolting outro the riff matches well with the climax and eventual resolution of the track. “Nustage” is yet another winner, and a damn good one to place before the final song: “Fear of What Is”.
“Fear of What Is” does what “Nustage” and “It’s Too Late” did well by building up with a slow melody first, this time also carried out with suspenseful vocals, and then travels its way into the main beat of the song, which is not quite as fast as most of the others, but once again serves purpose in not having the three sound similar to each other. In fact, this is probably the most unique sounding out of the rest of the tracks. They stay consistent with the slightly less erratic drums, they allow the bass and vocals to shine together with a creeping verse thrown in, the solo before that was absolutely monstrous, and most importantly, that triplet rhythm returns with yet another solo to close it all out. On this one, versatility is key, and it’s the perfect way to end what is essentially the epitome of old school death metal.
Sepsis struck gold. There’s no other way I can really say this. To Make Rotten is by all means very raw, intense, unapologetic death metal at its absolute finest. And even though it can grow monotonous in some areas, the norm is occasionally broken up with other ideas incorporated in, so it’s not just relentless hitting you over the head with speed. Overall, this is what death metal should be, and it makes me wish Sepsis actually stayed together rather than breaking up right after this demo’s release. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say this demo is for the faint of heart or anyone that already isn’t at the very least intrigued by this subgenre in general, La Caverna Records did the entire death metal community a favor by excavating this gem, a gem that I am very proud to recommend to anyone that misses the old school insanity that death metal used to offer near the dawn of its creation. To Make Rotten is indeed a very solid and a very easy 9/10! -Ash Grayson
Jason McCammon: Vocals, bass
Mike Brown: Guitars, vocals
David Camarda: Lead guitar
Karl Fowler: Drums
1. Spewing Innards
2. Necro Introvert Pesticide Injector
3. Fistula Bleeds
4. Foetal Embolism
5. Winter of Despair
6. It's Too Late
7. Pain Hotel
9. Fear of What Is