While it may go against convention at our humble Village, I think, in this case, it’s best to let the album artwork do all the talking. Those (techni)colors. That monstrous chain-whipping entity. The iron-clad horde. The font. Need I really break out the thesaurus to describe what Portland’s endlessly entertaining Soul Grinder sounds like? Methinks not. This is heavy metal at its most overt, and, thus, its most...fun. From the massive drums, to the riffs, to the wretch’d screams of April Dimmick (aka Prilzor), The Prophecy of Blight encompasses and exudes the slimy excess--sonic, visual, and thematic--that we fans of the genre crave. Secretly or no. But yet, through the jubilant viscerality, Soul Grinder treat their craft with an earnest and mature confidence.
Pull up a chair and put up your feet: I'm going to review this single by way of story. If you'd rather skip the drama, just stream the damn thing below. Either way: good choice.
Last night, in the midst of Sunday evening zeal, I was workin' out with some resistance bands whilst listening to Gatecreeper's latest single on repeat. Somewhere, somehow, said resistance band broke and catapulted into my face, which necessitated a very, very bloody journey to the ER. Bloody beard-trimming, three stitches, lots of unsightly bruising, and a chipped tooth later, I'm back at the scene of the crime...spinning "Anxiety" once more. If this isn't a clear indication of Gatecreeper's finesse in the injury-inducing department, I really don't know what is.
Alright, brevity seekers. Here's the rub. Embrace the Void, the debut(ish) album from multi-continental death metallers Gravefields, is a damn fine record. Thus, I'll employ a reversal of sorts: let's get the critical stuff out of the way quickly, and then proceed with the pummeling--err, of the good variety.
Firstly, the vocals could stand to rise a tad higher in the mix. And secondly, the runtime breaks the Sleeping Village Rule o' 44. With a sound so gloriously belligerent on the ears, the final few tracks leave less of an impact after Side A's goliathan entrance. Am I nitpicking? Yes. Am I finished nitpicking? Also yes.
Given the convoluted intros that have become a bit of a calling card ‘round these parts, we wizened scribes find ourselves in a bit of a situation here. Here's the rub: Entrenched is an outfit about which I know astonishingly little. No niceties regarding city of origin, or band members, or associated acts. In this sense, unless you’ve seen the gloriously indicative album artwork for their sophomore effort Endless Occupation, the music really must speak for itself.
And to be honest, it doesn't speak so much as roar vivaciously. Entrenched play, for all intents and purposes, a speed and thrash-oriented brand of death a la Demolition Hammer or Morbid Saint. They wear the visceral war-torn trappings of Sodom--take the track titles, which range from the obvious ("Meatshield"), to the goofy ("Goreamedic"), to the exclamatory ("Terrorize the Insurgency")--but yet conduct themselves with the juggernautian bombast of Malevolent Rapture-era Legion of the Damned. Imagine if Merciless or Invasion lost their more overtly frantic edges, and gained instead a Vader-esque sense of (moderate) composure. But yet, these comparisons are imperfect, and despite existing in a fairly well-occupied space, Entrenched are seemingly their own bloody beast, taking the bits that work, but never feeling derivative to a consequential degree. Needless to say, if you want thrashy riffs and endless bullet-belted aggression, Endless Occupation will scratches that itch with...well, take your pick of rusty implement. Rake. Machete. Lawnmower.
At 29 brief minutes, Entrenched present an idyllic neck-whipping package. Vocals bark and growl at a wondrously energetic pace, throwing themselves into the fray with a stoicism that arises from well-conceived confidence. Percussion operates exactly how you might hope: pounding, ceaseless, skull-crushingly relentless. Drummers all-too-oft get the short end of the stake--and particularly so in the case of a genre that is exceedingly riff reliant--but here, the percussion is just too damn integral to not receive a well-deserved spot in the limelight. Entrenched bring solid performances across the board, and that goes a long way to making sure that the more overtly gun-brandishing, bandana-wearing, and otherwise cigar-chomping moments aren’t without an appropriately solid foundation.
Highlight tracks are difficult to determine, as I believe, seemingly paradoxically, that Entrenched operate on their highest level when they slow things down. “Interrogation Chamber,” “Terrorize the Insurgency,” and “Assisted Suicide Enlistment” all demonstrate their keen ability to switch gears, and in a genre based so frequently in balls-to-the-wall wild abandon, this is a prime differentiator. Otherwise, give the title track a listen to see what they accomplish at their most visceral.
Endless Occupation is indeed, as I stated a long while ago, a “wild fuckin’ ride.” This album has occupied my listening rotation...well, endlessly, since it first came to my attention. In a world with a near-endless supply of gore, good riffs, and a delightfully kinetic atmosphere, that's saying something. Highly recommended!
The news-report strains of ‘“From the Graves We March” rise, with staticky dial-up gravitas, above the groans. Without further ado it's officially on: Apocalypse by way of Zombie, the viscerally apropos downfall of humanity as we know it. Is there really any better fodder for a death metal album? I think not, and, evidently, neither does the international two-piece Reign of Terror. Comprised of Jereth Fewings on the instrumentation and Oscar Diaz handling vocal duties, these guys brandish their influences on their sleeves with a forthright pride, citing and recalling their heroes--be it Death, Deicide, or Dethklok, among a host of others--with the glee that one simply can not fake. I mean, just look at the logo. These guys love death metal, and their debut album is a well-conceived expression of said passion.
Decimation of Mankind is defined in many ways by the toilet-gurgle vocal stylings, which will either suck you in or reject you violently, depending entirely on your tolerance for the regurgatorial approach of, say, Aborted, Deicide, or Dying Fetus. In our track premiere for “Sacrificial Slaughter," the expulsive vocal tendencies of Vomitory were brought into play, and that descriptor continues to hold well here. Mr. Diaz displays a balance between gurgles and screams mightily, layering a certain raspy scream that, at it's best, inject a little hardcore ‘tude into the melting pot. While, as a whole, the vocals are improved upon in Reign of Terror’s sophomore release, they are still energetic and remarkably dynamic on Decimation.
Given the prior stage-setting, I hesitate to use the term "clean” in reference to Decimation of Mankind, but no bones about it: this is good clean death metal. Nothing flashy. Nothing heady. Just good ol’ brain-pummeling. As it should be. That said, the majority of the tracks herein are strangely hypnotic--recalling, oddly enough, a darkwave-esque sonic quality. Dance With the Dead comes to mind, in terms of the lurching riffs that ebb and flow, typically muffled and subdued by the sheer force of the vocals, but occasionally forthright in a show of primal ferocity.
This album is stuffed to the brim with fun moments. Take the simple yet invigorating buildup on “Thy Savior is Thy End,” which never fails to elicit an ill-advised neck whipping. The eventual tempo changes on this track do wonders to avoid stagnation, as do the electronic leanings on “The Plague”--one of the albums more intriguing moments. “Machine of Vengeance” is an absolute goddamn barnburner, rivaled only by its immediate follow-up in terms of violent zeal. “Creation Breeds Decimation” is a stellar track, grinding and driving with assertive abandon. Here, the Reign of Terror formula operates at its best, as the vocals, guitar, and percussion mesh together in a relentlessly satisfying sense. Tracks such as this demonstrate that at their best, Reign of Terror are genuinely following--and filling--the footprints of brutal death's giants. Tying things up with an intestinal bow, the album ends off with the purely atmospheric church bell ringing of “...And to the Graves We Return.” While outros are largely unnecessary, it works in Reign in Terror's benefit to bring the overall narrative to a satisfying close.
From a needs-improvement standpoint, there are several aspects of note. The first--as is often the case when this particular villager turns a critical eye--is song length. This particular brand of death benefits from punchy runtimes, and with multiple songs stretching across the 6 and 7 minute marks, a trimmed refrain here or there would serve each track's individual impact. As a result, the album’s back half--home to some of the shorter tracks on display--is the more impressive. The vocal cadence is another sticking point, as a similar chanting rhythm appears enough times across the album to become overly familiar. That said, in both cases Reign of Terror's sophomore effort is a giant step in the right direction. Self correction in practice.
Bottom line? These guys aren't revolutionaries of the death metal scene by any means...but this is death metal, after all, and the vast majority of the time all we're looking for is a neck-snapping good time. To this end, Reign in Terror deliver in spades. And if you’re a fan Decimation, fear not: they release new music on a ridiculously impressive timeline, and, as mentioned, their follow-up, entitled Revolution Through Violence, is already out. Listen to "Thy Savior is Thy End" below: