Grunting percussive deathgrind band Swine Overlord unleash their Parables of Umbral Transcendence on the world on August 19, 2014. The title might lead a listener to believe this album will be more jazz-lite “technical death metal,” but instead what you have here is gurgling blasting primitive and raw sound in the style of all bands inspired by Suffocation.
While much of metal has focused on hybridizing with known rock, jazz and blues genres, the deathgrind genre continues its development of its hybrid of primal death metal and raw explosive grindcore, continuing the gore and paranoid dystopic themes of its origin. Swine Overlord take a similar path with music and lyrics in the blasting mayhem and cadenced grooves of this work of utter depravity and abandonment of social trust.
Deathgrind took the guttural percussive sounds of Suffocation and took them to a place previously reserved for grindcore which was the ultra-primitive lower five frets of the guitar spelling out riff codes in a mathematic of recursion. Swine Overlord inherits this style and tries to give it as much life as possible despite a genre convention being simplistic repetitive vocal rhythms doubled by guitars.
The band keeps their focus on two predominant rhythms per song and works out several textural riff variations for each, then adds a series of pull-away riffs that serve as both break and transition. Ultimately songs remain in roughly the same cycle which they interrupt for effect. Vocals will take most of the focus of the average listener here and are executed in deep bass croaking expulsions that form the primary rhythmic instrument and through inflection cue mood. The problem with this approach is that it emphasizes very basic, almost-sing song rhythms. Vocals bear a passing resemblance to not only Cannibal Corpse but Infester in their tendency toward flared enunciation.
Guitars take a straightforward approach with occasional squeals and breaks but essentially non-stop blasting grindcore-style riffs or percussive speed metal-styled riffs that ride an E chord into a reductive cadence. The challenge to this band comes from the style itself: deathgrind has no rules but by its sonic conventions limits itself to a few general approaches and while Swine Overlord can make these interesting on first listen, Parables of Umbral Transcendence may not appeal to anyone but dedicated listeners of this sub-genre.
Grindcore as a genre started out incredibly strong but unfortunately has grown stale with copycat bands and hipsters. By remembering those who made the genre great, we may inspire the genre to create great works once more.
An early runner in the grindcore genre, Florida’s Assück were one of the first bands to fuse grindcore’s rhythmic intensity and youthful energy with elements of the phrasal and percussive riffing of death metal. The combination would later become “deathgrind.” Assück additionally was staffed by remarkably proficient musicians.
Blindspot was released in 1992, a year after their landmark debut, Anticapital. This short EP shows a continuation of Assück’s style from the album, but nevertheless maintains interest throughout, due in no small part to the enthralling percussion. Drumming displays a wide breadth of styles masterfully integrated into the framework of simple grindcore rhythms. Often, it will interact directly with the riffs, mirroring the attack of each chord with a percussive element. The riffing is a potent fusion of hardcore punk power chord bashing, harsh dissonance, and death metal inspired chunkiness. Vocals are a hardcoreinspired growl, similar in ways to Napalm Death or Blood’s vocals.
This entire release is over in about seven minutes, but that is all that is required. What many modern grind bands can learn from this EP is how complete the release sounds. Despite how short it is, if it had gone on a few minutes longer it would be tedious? had it been shorter there would have been development issues in the songwriting. This is the true essence of grindcore – composing not just short songs, but short songs that are coherent in their structure and intent. By striking a balance between grindcore’s chaotic extremity and death metal’s emphasis on coherent riff construction, Assück has continued to remain a fan favorite and influence. This EP only helps to cement their legacy.
Deeds of Flesh pioneered the West coast version of the percussive death metal innovated in New York by bands like Suffocation and Morpheus Descends, itself a derivative of the more textured muted-chord riffing of speed metal bands like Prong, Vio-lence, Exhorder and Exodus. With Portals to Canaan, Deeds of Flesh hope to expand their style into the future.
As a result, they’ve brought in some influences. Some come from expected quarters, like the Gorguts Obscura influence visible on many tracks, or the modern “tek-deth” borrowings. Others are more obscure: the use of background drones and electronic effects like Tangerine Dream, for example, or the repeated allusions to tracks from all of the first three Deicide albums. This tendency shows a band in touch with how stale both the old school bands currently and the entire concept of modern metal have become.
Portals to Canaan does one better, which is that it attempts to make these riffs work with another. This leads to a sort of game: how outlandish can we be and still pull it off? As a result, the guitar fireworks immediately dive into almost paranoid riffs that despite being primitive show a delicate sensibility of avoiding predictability. Deeds of Flesh love breakneck tempi, but even more, they love to break up patterns, transition through a series of barely related ideas, and then return to the original. Tempo changes explode, riffs invert themselves, and guitars chase each other oblivion and emerge in harmony.
The primary downside of this album is that it borrows from both deathgrind and tek-deth, which both include tropes that are aesthetically annoying. Deathgrind has the chromatic chugging advance while the vocals chant in double time, and tek-deth has its video-game-sound sweeps and noodly squeal riffs. Deeds of Flesh try to minimize this whenever possible, but rely on it frequently enough that it is hard to overcome. What is great about this album however is that it is able to unite its wide variety with the riffs themselves, like an old school band, and not fall into the nu-death trap of being so divergent that the only unification can be found through return to very standard song forms after short deviations.
Culminating in the epic track “Orphans of Sickness,” Deeds of Flesh Portals to Canaan offers a credible attempt to find a new path through metal. I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence. In addition, the use of ambient sound and innovative song construction makes this release a good listen, even if as I do you wince at the core/grind parts.
Exhumer will release their second album Degraded by Sepsis on October 15, 2013 through Comatose Music. The Italian deathgrind band embarks on a full European tour with Psycroptic, Hour of Penance and Dyscarnate starting this Friday. Tour dates follow.
Degraded by Sepsis presents an efficient and well-executed take on standard deathgrind. Guttural blasting abounds, underscored with melody, emphasizing a buildup to a vocal and percussion tirade that brings the song to its peak. Song development is minimal and mostly verse-chorus.
While this may not win any points with those who demand innovation and profundity, Exhumer’s second work shows us material that is deliberate, with no extraneous parts hanging around like at a poorly-cleaned morgue, and tasteful in that all pieces fit together and the song experience as a whole is enjoyable.
Psycroptic, Hour of Penance, Dyscarnate and Exhumer European Tour 2013
This intensely rhythmic music is strong in its level of energy and ability to make songs that trap and redirect that energy, creating the “oh wow” effect of complex riffs interactions that expand context with subsequent changes, causing a sensation like discovering new passageways in an ancient building.
The Next is like a roller coaster in that while you whisk through it, and while there are many fast twists and turns, the territory is ultimately very similar. Serocs understand how to link riffs together in a powerful way and differentiate these songs by riff-grouping and unique themes and motifs to each. However, the underlying mechanics are similar.
This accusation could be leveled at the deathgrind genre as a whole because the techniques used to make it and the speeds at which it executes itself require such fast fingerwork that chromatic charges and string-skipping are necessary conveniences. Serocs avoid the worst of this tendency by forcing each song to have its own format, tempo changes and some degree of melody.
High-speed blasting marks each track and like the roller coaster of our metaphor, lifts up the listener so that a rhythm drop or melodic hook can send them falling downward. These intense dynamics drive a need to combine riffs and make them emerge in some other direction so the roller coaster can begin its ascent again.
Deep guttural vocals propel The Next to a posture of enjoyment among fans of deathgrind and extreme death metal. Modernizing influences have been kept to a minimum, which gives this album the full-bore coherence it needs to channel its intensity. While the tenets of the genre may drive most away, Serocs acquits itself well and will join the secondary echelon of bands like Scythe and Disgorge.
Creating within the style of old school percussive death metal, Necrotic Disgorgement add in the catchier rhythms of deathgrind and know when to break songs for melodic detours that add hook to these relentlessly rhythmic songs.
Documentaries of Dementia builds in the style of later Suffocation, with frequent tempo changes, and frenetic drum buildups followed by proto-breakdowns, layered in choppy riffs made from intricate textures. They tend toward a higher-energy version with near-constant blasts in many songs, but know when to drop out of linear blast and vary things up a bit.
Unlike Suffocation, Necrotic Disgorgement has another decade of deathgrind to draw from and elicits some of the extremities from that influence. Among those are slightly more friendly lead guitar that sometimes even gets bluesy, absurdist riffs thrown in amongst the blast, and a tendency to be relentless where Suffocation would have brought the song to a peak and mellowed. The problem with any kind of uniformity is that it norms quickly and loses its intensity.
Necrotic Disgorgement keep this release raging with diligent riffcraft and the ability to cut the stream of riffs into songs, and then crest it with elements of other metal genres. This provides a complete package that, if you can stand the incessant blast and percussive riff medleys, provides a deathgrind experience of greater power than the norm for this genre.
Bearing one of the more enjoyable band names of recent note, Parasitic Ejaculation bring a focused, percussive take on death metal while simultaneously grotesquely offending any person with mainstream sensibilities.
The band chooses to play death metal in its purest form, with a focus on the morbid and postmortem. Riffs naturally lead from one into the next, without ever letting the listener get complacent with verse-chorus simplicity. Instead, the songwriters focus on the underlying structure and how modifying its form can produce creative results.
Rationing the Sacred Remains utilizes competent instrumentalism in which all instruments are well-played and eject an exciting contribution to the whole. Steady low-pitched belches provide a framework that pushes the songs forward. In its best moments, the band plays in a highly evocative manner, in which melting chords and pinch-harmonics simulate the death throes of the prey of a violent predator.
However, at times the band seems to dip into parody, such as allowing harmonics to become the driving element of a song rather than as ornaments, in addition to incorporation of rhythms that become self-referential rather than contributive to the overall design. In such instances, the “spell” is broken and the listener is given the impression that the song is merely something to mosh to, rather than the art it has the potential of being.