Exhumed, the band that combined up-beat Swedish death like later Fleshcrawl with the crepitant grind of Carcass but gave it the bounce of more punk-oriented grindcore bands, has returned from the dead and unleashed Necrocracy, an infectiously catchy but hard-hitting slab of recreational grind that should keep listeners in motion.
Following an early career of more grind-influenced music, the band began to see the possibilities in more energetic and listenable ventures, and so began to mix enthusiastic heavy metal into the grind and then blur the grindcore technique with a fair amount of death metal. Like many revival movements, this aims to put a modern superstructure into the aesthetics of the past.
Necrocracy represents the kind of thrill that came with later Ministry albums. Speed, excess and unflagging energy combined to make a record that could both motivate you to drive 120 mph down a lonely road, or socialize with friends while shouting lyrics about masticating corpses. The band kicks off a US tour this October.
From the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.
To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.
Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.
Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.
Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.
While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.
Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.
Founded by a group of career metalheads, Exhumed started with a simple mission: make grind, but make it entertaining and participatory like the better heavy metal of the past few generations. While they were initially known as a Carcass clone, that comparison involves the vocals, while the guitar music is itself quite different.
Necrocracy continues the tradition with some very professional songwriting. The technique is pure death metal, grindcore and smatterings of punk and speed metal; under that surface, what lurks is old school heavy metal combined with Swedish-style melodic songwriting (which interestingly was also discernible on the debut).
As part of that professionalism, Exhumed fit each song into a series of gratifications: a good introduction, pounding verses, surging choruses, fireworks for solos and then a transition through a minor key melody into a triumphant return to the verse, plus an optional outro. This formula — adopted in part from glam ballads — propelled speed metal and heavy metal bands to the stratosphere. It’s doing something similar for Exhumed.
What makes Necrocracy hold together is that each song is composed of only necessary parts toward achieving this goal, which could be roughly described as half wanting to be a fun grindcore band, and half wanting to be a professional metal band with MTV-ready songs. Much like Amebix recently saw the utility of this format for reaching the slumbering masses, Exhumed use it to inject some death metal into the melange of hard rock, punk, speed metal, grind/death and heavy metal that makes up their songs.
It is probably not wise for old school death metal fans to rush to this album. It has more in common with grindcore and album-oriented stadium heavy metal, since it relies on the verse-chorus and derives much of its effect from application of known songwriting technique instead of straying into odd structures, bizarre twists, and experimental riffs. Its choruses are hooky, its verses catchy and chanty, and the heavy production and technique hides a band that could go toe-to-toe with the big heavy metal bands of the 1980s through 2000s. Their audience is its audience, updated a bit.
Carrying on the tradition of making metal music that pushes past what is socially acceptable, Exhumed return with an onslaught of cynicism about humanity that takes joy in its own dire predictions. Energetic and necrotically enthusiastic, Necrocracy pumps out the energy and the engaging heavy metal tropes in a voice that is all its own, and will serve as a great introduction for many to these genres.
Necrocracy will be released on August 6, 2013 via Relapse Records and can be pre-ordered here. Catch Exhumed on tour:
EXHUMED European Takeover 2013 [remaining dates]:
7/17/2013 Vlamrock – As, Belgium
7/23/2013 Metal Days – Tolmin, Slovenia
7/24/2013 Garage – Munich, Germany
7/25/2013 Eisenwahn – Obersinn, Germany
EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus, Devourment, Waking The Cadaver
(10/4 – 10/19), Abiotic,Rivers Of Nihil (10/26 – 11/2):
Carcass started as a grindcore band with one crucial difference: they sang about gore, disease, decay and torture instead of political topics. It was a sort of metapolitics, a way of viewing the world that reduced humans to meat and hopefully induced compassion.
After a few years of doing this, and playing live many nights in a row, they improved at playing their instruments and began wanting the acclaim that other bands got. So their style drifted, first to death metal (Tools of the Trade), then to speed metal (Heartwork) and later to hard rock (Swansong). Then the band disbanded, and only returned this year.
“Captive Bolt Pistol,” which is the first song to leak from Surgical Steel, roughly resembles Tools of the Trade crossed with Swansong. It uses death metal tempos and inflections, but hard rock riffs, and lots of bluesy rock-style leads. If this is their new direction, it seems a reasonable assumption if they hope the rock audience will cross over to like a band named Carcass.
The first new Carcass album in 17 years, Surgical Steel was created by a lineup of original members Jeff Walker (lead vocals, bass), Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and new drummer Daniel Wilding (ABORTED, HEAVEN SHALL BURN), with guest vocals from original drummer Ken Owen.
Hitting upon the fortunate idea to mix early death metal and the early years of Carcass, then kick up the tempo and work in some melody in the style the Swedes pioneered, Exhumed found a language through which they could make what they really wanted to create, which as Motorhead-style roadhouse tunes.
Having returned from a lengthy sabbatical, Exhumed gets ready to unleash Necrocracy, which can be pre-ordered here. Commented Matt Harvey, vocalist and gutslinger, “We’re super pumped that 2013 will see the release of Necrocracy. We think it’s our heaviest record to date and we can’t wait to start playing the new tunes on the road. The album is a bit hookier and meatier than All Guts… and we hope all you maniacs enjoy it.”
Necrocracy “stinks like the rotting flesh of a nation waiting for revolution,” says the press release on this album, which pretty much describes the mood in America at this point. If it’s anything like the past releases from this band, it will be workmanlike and surprisingly internally similar but not so that you’d notice, since like Motorhead tunes, songs rotate around a simple melody and rhythm and are remarkably convincing at that.
With over 70 bands playing four stages in total, Maryland Deathfest has become one of the biggest meetings of metalheads in the US, and it will only get bigger from here on, as the organizers possibly look to cash in on years of service. One only hopes they don’t sacrifice quality in the choice of bands to achieve it, though this year is touch and go. Giving relative unknowns a chance is one thing, promoting mega-bands past their prime or not worth your time is another, though overall it’s a worthwhile four day fest for those who enjoy metal and musicality.
Thursday May 23
The almighty Bolt Thrower was the only reason why the first day of the festival was sold out months in advance. This reviewer also caught sight of Abigail, who one astute festival-goer described as a sideshow Venom/Bathory rip off, though they’re more honest than Cobalt, who play an uncomfortable mix of styles from metalcore to prog-metal to post-metal while attempting to borrow a black metal feel and atmosphere.
Bolt Thrower rarely disappoints, in your CD player or in concert, hence the hivemind excitement and anticipation generated for what to worn eyes must be just another routine appearance in the United States. What is standard is the playlist offered, which is a mix favoring their more ear/crowd pleasing but less inspired later albums. The intent for passion in live performance is still there, only unrelenting socioeconomic pressures get in the way of conveying a totality in epic experience. What we get instead is war metal presented as a theme, with half of the set songs embodying the essence of war more forcefully than the rest. Bolt Thrower up to For Victory… is a progressive evolution from classic grindcore to a peak in the unique and balanced style that stands as testament to the band’s contribution to metal. This is the half that works, and works well, especially in the enclosed “metal tent” setting preferred by these UK legends. After that album they went wayward into non-threatening, passthe-time music, so while it helps to have party music for a live show, the experience is diluted, i.e. not “pure,” but still invigorating and appreciated.
Friday May 24
Credit the organizers for knowing their grindcore and knowing their customers, giving them on day two a mini grind feast that gets the blood pumping and ready for infusion with gore and horror.
A comedian vocalist and groupies on stage were employed to keep us entertained between songs as Repulsion, a pair of “fucking old” dudes and a drummer from Criton, ripped through a set of the original™ grindcore that helped define the genre. In truth, this band set the tone and standard for the festival, showing the usual pretenders and prospectives the meaning of grind and the spirit of metal. What is not mentioned often enough in metal is that it is a smashing of ego, which includes all posturing, to see the details of reality for what they are, gory as they may be. This for me is what Repulsion’s seminal 1986 offering Horrified represents and exemplifies, and what this performance more or less achieves, peering at an extra layer of detail that even thrash couldn’t stomach, exploring it in closer to death metal riff form. As an expressive effect of the songs themselves, the physicality of performance (while in a manner appearing more punk-hardcore than grindcore) is a burst of energy that is age defiant while maintaining that nonchalant approach to technicality (though technically sound). To boot, this trio appear as clean-cut, overgrown miscreant types and of note is the popularity of this band, pulling almost as big a crowd as Carcass later this evening. Also played was a cover of Schizo from all time veteran purveyors of satanic imagery Venom.
Right out the starting blocks these fellows made a huge noise appropriate to stir up chaos in the pit, playing a boil of randomness that has its moments but is overall a mess, veering more to deathcore or newer Cryptopsy than early Brutal Truth. Adding depth of timbre to the metalcore vocals won’t hurt.
Mitch Harris from Napalm Death is the standout performer for this quartet who are equal parts speed and grind. His trademark scrowl is matched by intensity in characterization, facial figures of torment and black eyes serving as portals to the abyss. A thoroughly enjoyable set from one of those late 80s/early 90s bands that showed promise but then lost momentum and faded.
When a band comes out of retirement, there should be a community of independently like-minded individuals who question their motivations, forcing the band members themselves to introspect honestly, instead of only appearing to do so. Not many people will admit that after Symphonies of Sickness this band’s career took a drastic trip south in quality in terms of existential seriousness, in fact becoming a milquetoast series of affairs. The mixing engineer did these veterans no favours, but they were doomed from the start to show a huge audience a good time with what turned out to be a performance bereft of soul and even shaky technique as Jeff Walker struggles through his more demanding vocal sections. Personally, this reviewer enjoys on a musical level a great deal of this cheesy porridge, but evidence of this showing is that the forthcoming release will not be worth the time for anyone looking for engagement with any offering containing artistic integrity.
“Suck a new dick.” -Scott Carlson, Repulsion
Regrettably missed: Benediction, Convulse
Saturday May 25
As if wary of burn out, Antaeus temper the reckless excess of past live appearances while still managing to engender a metonymy of Satanic Khaos. The serpent, headed by venomous MkM, terminated by the tail-whip of ceremonial percussion, disseminating hateful sermons of sin and sacrifice unto the gathered black mass of devotees who subsume it gladly into bodily rite like wicked creatures unsatisfied with humble supplication. An incarnation of the underworld serving as liminal barrier to the state of silence left when furious life expires. Impressive as ever, frontman MkM refuses to allow stage presence to slip into merely sufficient professionalism, augmenting the latter with evocations of genuine misanthropic disdain. The next hope for this band is that they take this approach to the studio and make something with the same attitude that gave us their 2000 full-length debut.
Regrettably missed: Anhedonist, Aosoth
MkM with Aosoth
Sunday May 26
One of the few post-2005 black death metal bands who know how to build mood intensity while maintaining a firm grasp on structure, what I love about this band is that like the best metal of the 80s and 90s songs sound like the subject matter described in the lyrics, and these point to a will to higher forms of life.
These guys kick off the heavy metal fare for the final day of the fest with probably the most musically aware performance in comparison to the “sludgers” and “stoners” on show like Sleep. This is probably power metal at its best, though it could also be Iron Maiden/Angel Witch rip-off with touches of early speed metal.
If you’re looking for doom metal you’ll have more luck with Saint Vitus or Black Sabbath, while the stage antics from decrepit scarecrow Bobby Liebling are entertaining all the same. I must be wrong as this heavy metal crew are widely credited as forerunners to the style, but their contribution above Sabbath seems to be more focus on playing lower in the register while chord/note progression is still “safe”. It just ain’t that heavy in an existential sense, songs are about doom but don’t sound like doom, relegating this band to historical/academic interest.
Autopsy played a new song named “Arch Cadaver” during their set opening for Bolt Thrower at the Oakland Metro in Oakland CA on May 26,2013. Contrary to record company/band hype, no new ground is retread and laurels are rested on to some extent, namely the formula adopted on Acts of the Unspeakable, albeit this new song has much less grindcore/Nuclear Death influence.
In other words, Autopsy is treading into Exhumed territory with simple songs that use somewhat predictable structures but focus on writing killer riffs and having intensely catchy, gory choruses. The result is like a fusion of early German speed metal with gore-drenched grindcore in the Carcass and Repulsion style, making a high-energy form of music that is pure pop at the same time it is pure pus-ridden disease-laden metal for the sake of sounding extreme and creating that old school feel of being totally alienated from the sociable world.
Following a dooming intro reminiscent of “Meat” from Acts of the Unspeakable, the band go into the dark 2-beat hardcore/death metal previously explored on songs like “Dark Crusade.” It’s doubtful the band intended to reinvent the wheel with this release, and if this song is any indication, The Headless Ritual will be the “crowd pleasing” Mental Funeral and Acts of the Unspeakable admixture fans were hoping for.
Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert opined in a recent interview, “Expect nothing less than the monstrous brutality that Autopsy has been known to offer. Laurels will not be rested upon, trends will not be followed and mercy will not be shown. Mark your calendars for June and pick out a coffin to lie down and die in. Darkness and death await…”
Autopsy have begun selling the album and related merchandise through their label, Peaceville. Click below for the live song on YouTube video, or the stream of the studio version of the same song.
One of the first bands to combine high-energy grindcore like Terrorizer with simplified death metal like second album Entombed, Exhumed created an audience for their unique and gore-splattered approach. After years apart, they have returned and are embarking on a European Takeover to support their latest release, a song called “The Beginning After the End” on the Patlapse Tribute Compilation, a tribute to Relapse staffer Pat Egan.
Vocalist Matt Harvey said, “We’re psyched to be back in the olde world for the Summer, exploring every available nook and cranny of Europe and subsequently filling them with empty beer cans, barf, and a hellish racket. We’re here to spread the word about our upcoming record that’s coming out in August, play some killer underground festivals, and enjoy some more flavorful beer for a change. It’s also killer to finally be in Europe with our ever-present staff physician, Dr. Philthy, which will allow us to do our full stage show in Europe for the first time, so it should be a good time for all in attendance. We’re here for quite a while, so we may even accidentally acquire a little class and culture. But probably not. See you all in the front!”
Exhumed will release a follow-up to 2011’s All Guts, No Glory as a full-length set for release via Relapse Records later this summer. The album was recorded at Arcane Digital Recording in Chandler, Arizona with Ryan Butler (Misery Index, Landmine Marathon, Phobia). All drums were tracked at Trench Studios in Corona, California with John Haddad (Hirax, Abysmal Dawn, Intronaut). Commented Harvey: “‘The Beginning After The End’ is something we did during the latest recording sessions, so it will give folks some idea of the sound and vibe of the new record.
EXHUMED European Takeover 2013
5/08/2013 The Exchange – Bristol, United Kingdom
5/09/2013 Star And Garter – Manchester, United Kingdom
5/10/2013 Franceed Zepplins – Cork, Ireland
5/11/2013 The Pint – Dublin, Ireland
5/12/2013 Voodoo – Belgiumfast, United Kingdom
5/13/2013 Audio – Glasgow, United Kingdom
5/14/2013 Trillians – Newcastle, United Kingdom
5/15/2013 The Hairy Dog – Derby, United Kingdom
5/16/2013 The Garage Upstairs – London, United Kingdom
5/17/2013 May Day Mosh Day – Stockholm, Sweden
5/23/2013 Dna – Brussels, Belgium
5/24/2013 K19 – Kassel, Germany
5/25/2013 Extreme Fest – Hünxe, Germany
6/01/2013 Kulturfabrik – Lyss, Switzerland
6/02/2013 Korigan – Luynes, France
6/03/2013 Le Saint Des Seins – Toulouse, France
6/04/2013 Estraperlo Club – Badalona, Spain
6/05/2013 Tba – Zaragoza, Spain
6/06/2013 Sala Barracudas – Madrid, Spain
6/07/2013 Tba – Valencia, Spain
6/08/2013 Sala La Trinchera – Malaga, Spain
6/09/2013 Open Air Areeiro – Areeiro, Portugal
6/10/2013 Tba – Ponferrada, Spain
6/11/2013 The Class – Gijon, Spain
6/12/2013 Tba – Donosti, Spain
6/14/2013 Tba – Paris, France
6/15/2013 Tavernu Du Theatre – La Louvière, Belgium
Although for the last decade mainstream society has accepted the more radio-friendly metalcore and post-metal variants of metal, there are signs that civilization is finally facing the importance of underground metal and grindcore, albeit in baby steps.
First, a study that will make you question your individuality pointed out how people in mosh pits behave like the molecules of excited gasses. The ensuing articles got moshing and moshpit terminology into the minds of the average citizen and seemed to capture the imagination of many.
Then, numerous newspapers reported on a plan to use Napalm Death as a sonic disruptor for an art piece. “The collaboration was designed to be a comment on poverty, with Mr Harrison making sculptures of tower blocks from the band’s home city of Birmingham which would explode as they played, reflecting the breaking down of inequalities.”
Continuing the theme, mainstream media have formally recognized the death metal genre as not only existing, but as having been in existence these past 25 years. A brief overview of Tampa death metal made it onto the wires, complete with incredulity and band names. No one mentioned the Death album found under the murdered guy, but they did capture some of the appeal. “It’s dark, evil, ugly music, and not many communities want to acknowledge that an Obituary record might mean just as much to a lonely teenager as any Tori Amos or Nirvana album.”
While we in the underground have come to expect little from the mainstream — they like love/sex songs with pretty vocals and simple rotating structure — it’s gratifying to see the genres of death metal and grindcore being officially admitted as having endured enough years that they’re not going away, and civilization might as well sigh and make its peace with them.