Given the multitude of new releases that, on a daily basis, traipse through the eel-infested waters of the Sleeping Village’s moat, only to hurtle themselves headlong into the unfathomable depths of the promo pit, my views on listening for enjoyment have changed significantly over the past few years. I used to meticulously hunt down albums that would, through mass repetition, become lifelong favorites. That was the ultimate goal: find music that neared perfection, in my narrow and subjective gaze. However, I am now quite content to spend time in the enjoyment of music that I know will satiate me for a few days before it is time, once more, to move on. If I happen to return to it later on? Great. If not? That’s fine too--sometimes music can be good without providing significant staying power.
While top-notch albums obviously still maintain attention, I discover a lot of new music with this new mindset in play. And this has all been a very long way of saying that Brain Stem’s latest EP, Symptoms of Annihilation - Stage 2 has been very good to me over the course of the past week, but in the grand scheme of death metal the year has yet to offer, I think it’s time to recommend it, put it aside, and dive back into the turbulent sea of promos. But first, it's only fair to talk it up a little. Shall we?
Four tracks ain’t a whole lot of time to make a compelling argument, but it’s certainly enough time to slam home a well-articulated point or two. In a world with frankly way too much death metal, Brain Stem have made a solid impression by benefit of unique songwriting and structure. Each twists morphs into something slightly outside the bounds of expectation, which makes for an intriguing (and repeatable!) listening experience.
The instrumentation itself is fairly straightforward--born of Floridian-style OSDM with a notably technical twist--albeit with a distinctly brutal tone. The guitars are spastic yet reasonable contained, churning out hard-hitting riffage without ever feeling stale or overwrought. The bass is particularly groovy and present, much to my delight. Meanwhile, the drums afford a classy level of complexity, skittering through tempo changes and unexpected arrangements at a moments notice. Lastly, the vocals, while not particularly mind-blowing from an experimental perspective, nonetheless demonstrate proficient delivery with a pleasingly extensive range. Alternations between raspy howls and deep gutturals are frequent and unexpected, which only adds to the dynamism that Brain Stem are clearly seeking out.
Critically, a track reordering might solidify the package as a whole, as the latter two tracks are of a significantly higher caliber than the front half. But the good tracks are pretty damn good, and the lesser-than tracks still pack a wallop, paling in comparison to Brain Stem’s own best work, rather than the work of their contemporaries. In any case, the standout performance here is “The Unspeakable Ire.” This track is, for lack of a better term, a wild wild ride, beginning with a fairly straightforward assault before launching into a series of false outros. The first time listening, I needed to keep checking to see whether or not the track had changed, due to these well-conceived mid-track interruptions. It’s a clever way to break up the track in general, and serves as the keystone for the EP as a whole--this is the moment that comes to mind when conjuring up the more memorable aspects of Symptoms of Annihilation. Refusing to end on any of these conclusionary mimicries, “The Unspeakable Ire” rolls into a vicious vocal tirade, easily the strongest and most versatile performance on the cut. If you somehow only have the time to check out a single track from this EP, have it be this one. Then clear your schedule and take it from the top. It’s 16 minutes total, dammit.
So, while Brain Stem aren’t knocking my current releases of the year off their podiums, or demanding further listening time with this release in the future, I’m very pleased with my time spent with Symptoms of Annihilation - Stage 2. Like unto a springtime fling, I had a good time, but I’m happy to move on. That said, should Stage 3 (or perhaps a full length?) roll around, I will most certainly be down to jump back into the fray.
Brain Stem - Symptoms of Annihilation - Stage 2 was released March 20th
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!