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Dead Brain Cells (DBC) - Universe
Review: Universe defies expectations because it is not only two different albums, but two different bands. The story is thus: a Canadian thrash band in the three-letter tradition of Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI), Millions of Dead Cops (MDC) and Corrosion of Conformity (COC) is forced apparently by an unusually harsh winter into its practice space for an extended stay, and emerges with new instrumental prowess. To their credit, they do not deny this change in their lives, but first upgrade the technicality of their music and later mutate unsteadily into a technical metal band.
The brave leaps that this entailed alone should qualify this band for wider listening, but the unfortunate truth is that while musical concept met with clarity, the band were confused about aesthetics. On the technical metal (this album will inevitably be compared to middle-period Voivod mixed with Prong, but if one listens carefully more resembles a cross between Powermad and Cadaver) side the band have confused their jazzy drumming with a tendency to achieve a definitive-sounding, symmetrical rhythmic resolution, something they have in common with music from Sunday commercials and children's television.
The vocalist, probably unsure of his actual "singing," chooses to chant and periodically rasp in something halfway between Corrosion of Conformity (COC)'s vocals and those of Lemmy Kilmeister (Motorhead). Riffs are sometimes bouncy in the quiet display of musical acumen favored by speed metal bands like Nuclear Assault, but within these are the columnar phrasal speed-picked riffs that sound like the faster work from Slayer with a melodic touch; as a result they are not as raw and immediately grasped, but in contrast they produce an ambience which can become cumulatively manipulated over the course of the song -- DBC could look to expanding this, sensu Gorguts Obscura, for their next work if one arrives.
During the thrash portion of this album the vocals are more straightforward and the riffs explore fewer mid-paced areas, but the musical tendency here is amazing: these patterns show up repeatedly through all metal coming after this formative band. Offtime rhythmic shifts cycle through a series of riffs which gradually assemble themselves into an order which is summarized in a concluding riff; while choruses are 1980s-style bouncy and vibrantly self-confident with all the brainlessness of the inexperienced spouting what sound like profound opinions, these are sandwiched between gradual progressions which make heavy use of both lead picking and dissonant chord voicings, creating a lush sound from which fine architectures of melody emerge like the supports of a bridge or Eiffel Tower in the morning sunlight.
While the technical metal portion of this disk presages much of death metal to follow, and contributed a fundamental lexicon of the combination of technical offbeat drumming and the flowing phrasal riffs of early death metal, neither section is a slouch and both are creative; often, a pattern of an archetype so basic that it has been found many places in other forms of music is here bent to the cadence and dark harmony of metal music. Although much of this including the buoyant rhythms and prison-rant vocals may drive away more contemporary listeners, it is to their loss as the music contains many insights wrapped into a cynical backdrop that only a thrash band could produce, no matter how it later developed in other directions.