Sometimes in between quests for the perfect transcendent meal, you wind up in the drive-thru. There’s nothing wrong with that- not every action in life has to be one of self-discovery or grandiose vision- sometimes you just want to destroy yourself as a brief respite from analytical or introspective journeys, which actually provides a contrast that truly showcases the merit in the pursuit of depth but also gives an objective worth to consumables that are designed with much less substance in mind. There is a place for what is now known as “slam” in the death metal pantheon, and as with any subgenre of course the progenitors are the best examples of it, as prior to its neanderthalic fall from grace it started as marriage of the percussive elements of Suffocation with the over-the-top imagery of gore-focused grind bands while limiting the use of humanistic elements like melody and cyclical structure. This is a more than valid metal style as it does actually transcend a known formula through divorcing it from song archetypes and instead celebrates an ignorance that is mirrored perfectly in masochistic savagery. Given that is is more rhythmically focused than previous death metal styles is it natural that it would meet its downfall by travelling down an insultingly urban path that betrays the savagery it had once wielded, but it is still worth revisiting a few choice releases to analyze what may unfortunately be the last true movement in a dying genre at the turn of the century.
Disgorge (USA) – Cranial Impalement (1999)
Perhaps one of the first bands to introduce “brutal” as a death metal lexicon, the first Disgorge release took the aforementioned percussive elements of Suffocation and stripped away a majority of the identifiable elements that made them in any way relatable to the human experience while doubling down on tempo shifts and linear arrangements. While Suffocation presented material that was musically and lyrically psychological, Disgorge presents the blunt reality of meat-and-bone murder in a much more nihilistic way, anchored by an indiscernible vocal style that treads below Demilich levels of belch and spew. Lineup changes after this release would result in a failure to grasp what was achieved here, as there was still enough melodic sensibility and respect for structure that gave each song importance, but even as the band travels down the path of anti-riff in future releases they never betrayed the sinewy goal of homicidal worship shown here despite increasingly substance-shedding efforts.
Mortal Decay – Forensic (2002)
As musically tongue-in-cheek as Carcass were lyrically, Mortal Decay seeks to create music that would be heard inside the mind of a psychopath, and succeeds most on second full-length Forensic. Each song progresses through elaboration on musical themes through peaks and valleys while maintaining a maniacal sense of melody truly unique to the band. A multitude of passages in each song manage to teeter on the brink of riff-saladry but everything is anchored by a melodic guideline for each song that manages to musically develop what is being vocally expressed. A true benchmark for the genre, Mortal Decay wields both linear and cyclical arrangement prowess and in doing so takes the listener through an understanding of frayed mental logic that few bands could achieve.
Exuviate – Exuviate (2000)
While Mortal Decay often utilized cartoonish melodies to develop themes of insanity, Exuviate develops psychological horror through a focus on abrasive tritones and short musical phrases bookended by tangential rhythmic aberrations and erratic tempo shifts. They return to these short phrases enough to ground each song while developing the surroundings enough to truly plummet the listener down the descent into insanity in a sense that modern bands like Portal could only hope to understand. A track like “Shadow of the Dwell” does more for psychologically horrifying death metal than all of the abstract contemporary bands polluting the airwaves, but as with Disgorge, lineup shifts and an eventual name change rendered the band unable to recapture the essence of this first release.
Cenotaph (Turkey) – Puked Genital Purulency (1999)
Riff-salad to the core, Cenotaph abuses the Suffocation technique of interrupting the momentum of each song with a single guitar line that introduces each new theme, but given that we are not discussing transcendent death metal here and are getting our fast food fix, this release gets a pass due to the strength of each riff and the spellbinding arrangements that echo a more grind-focused Atheist. While it doesn’t resemble the jazz/grind of a band like Virulence in that its progressive elements are more integrated into their musical formula, there is an obvious kineticism to the music that attempts a duality in taking bare-bones savagery out of the sewers to an elevated state, and this almost achieves a sublimity if not for the seemingly randomized structures. Future lineup changes once again removed the principal songwriter here and the band never fully developed the unhinged yet well-adorned brutality on this particular release.
Internal Bleeding – Voracious Contempt (1995)
You can’t have a discussion about “slam” without giving respect to the true innovator of the genre, and on their first full-length Internal Bleeding manages to take the more primitive elements of Broken Hope and build songs around their rhythmic flash-mob hypnotics instead of using them as brief respites from melody. This inversion of death metal structuring gave rise to the mosh-fueled escapism of modern metalcore superficialities and almost renders this release as completely unpalatable, but the brazen focus on rhythm doubled with the vocal cadences mirroring each palm-muted phrase force a smirking respect out of the listener. If not for the blast beat-laden melodic tangents in between each mosh this would be an entirely one-dimensional record, but the duality enforced just barely places Voracious Contempt on this list as a release of somewhat substantial worth.
So should you find yourself weary of the tribulations in transcending the self as art, perhaps these entries could provide a palate cleanser along the path to sublimity. Or maybe you just want to swing your arms around like a caveman and level the face of the lesser mortals next to you. Either way, remember that each path needs its inverse for relevance, and sometimes a primitive outlet provides the substance that its fully realized form only hints to attain.
(Editor’s note: We miss you Chris Pervelis!)