Guest Article by Corey M
Sewer is a strange band with a strange canon and a trajectory stranger yet. Supposedly the band started off in 2013 as a clone of the one-man act Phantom, who ultimately puts out better music, but that is neither here nor there. According to their label website, Sewer has maintained the same guitarist (whom this author suspects could actually be Phantom as well), bassist, and drummer throughout their existence, but at one point lost their vocalist to another band, Vermin, who oddly (or not) sound exactly like a fusion of Phantom and Sewer. There is little information available online regarding the actual membership of the band, and every website that mentions them (along with their subsequent clone bands [Vermin, Demonecromancy, Reiklos, and Neraines, in order of best to worst]) appear to be run by the same individual who utilizes a battery of wordpress sites and sockpuppet accounts to astroturf a narrative of underground support.
While such underhanded tactics are hardly uncommon in the modern internet metal scene (see; Grim Kim Kelly’s entire career, and the Metal Sucks/Nails drama), swamped as it is on a weekly basis by albums brimming with pointless histrionics and dilineated only by their clout-lunking press releases and lazy digital cover art featuring inverted triangles, it’s still fascinating that there is evidently so much effort put forth by this (these?) individual(s?) to promote their music, while so little is gained from it, all while appearing quite transparent and inneffectual. Sewer doesn’t play live, and so far as I can tell it’s impossible to find any of their music for sale, beyond some CDs from 2016 and prior, priced exorbitantly. They don’t have a bandcamp, and you’ve never seen anyone wearing their shirts. They don’t even have any reviews on Encyclopedia Metallum.
All of this (possibly intentional obfuscation) belies the fact that Sewer’s music since 2018 has been incredibly good. The band is astonishingly prolific, having released several albums every year since they activated, and in 2019 alone produced the masochistically technical and incomparably relentless Miasma, Locked Up In Hell, Khranial, and Skarnage, the latter of which this review will focus on, now that context has been established.
When the first track starts up, the listener is lashed to a ducking stool and plunged into a sonic swamp the likes of which has never been heard in metal. While most death metal bands since the 2000s have opted for the sharp clarity of Morrisound or Sunlight production, a few have ventured into the post-Onward to Golgotha aesthetic, trying to recreate the mucky wall of sound which so effectively supported that album’s elaborate thematic riffs. Portal, Hate Eternal, Motichondrion; all have fallen short of the glory of Incantation. Sewer however take the wall-of-sound approach to the Nth degree, such that the guitar distortion overtones create the actual substrate upon which the rest of the musical elements – melody, percussion, vocals – arise.
If you imagine guitar note frequencies occupying a graph, consider that progressively higher notes could be visualized as appearing likewise higher and higher along the positive value axis, and vice versa. Meanwhile Sewer’s guitar notes would register along the category axis, producing different colors and flavors as the tones shift forward and backward rather than up and down.
The riffs themselves, however, occluded as they may appear, are the central structural element of Skarnage. Drum and vocal patterns are held in utter subjugation to the alien melodies and their internal rhythms. Gone completely from Sewer’s death metal are any hints of speed metal’s leather-and-motorcycles street aesthetic. There is none of the icy majesty of the best black metal. All that remains is the alien chromaticism first mastered by Demilich, replete with uncanny, slithering grooves, and superluminal jack-hammer chord progressions toward the likes of which not even tech-death bands dare to aspire. Necrophagist garnered attention in the late 2000s for their take on riff salad death metal, but they and their imitators since have relied on (but failed to effectively utilize) the academic method of incorporating dissonant harmonies rather than melodies to create a sense of discombobulation and otherworldliness. Sewer seems to use strictly power chords and single notes all played in unison. There are not even any palm-muted or held-open notes; everything rips through your ears at warp speed, creating not just riff mazes but lightless labyrinths through which you frantically attempt to fumble your way as the bellowing of the minotaur resounds from just around the corner behind you.
While the drums are indeed in thrall to the riffs, it would be remiss to pass over the totally astounding adroitness of this drummer. Once again the tech-death comparison rears its ugly head. Cryptopsy’s drummer, Flo Mounier, is lauded in some circles for his level of technical prowess, teaching drum clinics and being generally widely recognized for his jazzy smoothness coupled with metallic precision. Sewer’s drummer however blows everything Mounier out of the water with an overkill torpedo barrage, implementing gravity blasts, d-beats, rolls, and everything in between, but never reveals a hint of personality (ego), instead acting as a master architect who creates foundations and walls, in accordance with the provided terrain, able to withstand any disaster hurled at them by man or god. Meanwhile typical modern drummers would rather create something like modern art sculpture that belong hidden on a college property for the aesthetically retarded to ignore but feign respect for.
The final effect of listening to Skarnage is like being forced through a demonic assembly line from one of those old Warner Brothers cartoons; sped along a conveyer belt to be perforated, filleted, crushed, burned, minced, and in all ways otherwise subjected to a truly hellish sequence of aural punishments. Many metal albums are touted as “uncompromising” but Sewer is one of the first bands to have actually lived up to that esoteric standard.
The fact that such talent and discipline is on display here, coupled with Sewer’s lame internet campaign, absolutely ridiculous album “art”, Mortal Kombat-style album naming convention, idiotic song names (some of which appear to have come from a prototype death metal song name generator [see: “Dark Satanic Sex With Satanic Demons and Satan Protoplasmic Vagina 666” from the album Rektal]) and lack of any real merchandise, may indicate that the band is purposely sendng a message at a meta level: The “metal scene” is an inversion of metal’s true value – the music. Nothing else matters. They refuse to cater to those who would judge books by their covers, so to speak, and intentionally exclude this audience and those with intellectual faculties below them from even stumbling upon their music by accident. And perhaps this kvlter-than-thou attitude cranked up to its logical extreme is a further parody of metal fans (some of the least self-aware identity consumers on the planet) at large. Whatever the case, this music is incredible and will continue to go overlooked by a vast majority, as has always been and always will be the case with hidden treasure.