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Beneath is a five-piece brutal death metal band from the capitol of Iceland. Their latest release is their debut full-length album, Enslaved by Fear, and it does a great job of showing us just what to expect from the band of Icelanders. Album opener “As Gods Walk the Earth” kicks you in the face quite a few times with a heavy as hell instrumental and intense vocals. The band shows off a melodic, yet tasteful flare throughout the record, which instantly sets them apart from the countless brutal death bands that I have become the unwilling purveyor of in the past year. The drums, too, are incredibly powerful and very well-produced, but remain in the back of the proverbial car during some of the high-octane guitar performances. However, the question I began asking myself as I listened more and more to Enslaved by Fear is ultimately the question I will answer with this review; what sets Beneath apart?
The guitars were what really caught my ear upon my first listens. The mix really props the guitarwork up to a powerful stance, and it’s by no means undeserved – a fair amount of Enslaved by Fear is made up of incredible, well-executed passages and leads. What’s even better about the guitarwork of Beneath is that while they do have quite a few proficient leads, they maintain the brutal subgenre by keeping it simple more often than not. This is another reason why the guitars are so integral; they contribute directly to the structuring of the album’s nine tracks, making them one of the driving forces behind Beneath’s sound. While there are plenty of great examples of this in the high-speed, unrelenting brutality of tracks like “No One Above”, one of the best cases I can bring up is in the title track. The main focus of this song is largely in the guitars, and when it slows down and evokes a melodic atmosphere, you can tell exactly what’s bringing that sound to the table.
Another factor that elevated Beneath was their vocals. I’m not a personal fan of the “gutter vocals” approach taken by the majority of today’s brutal death bands, so I was excited when I heard the fantastic vocal variation on this album. If the guitars are the driving force, then the vocals are most definitely the GPS (hah, get it? Shut up, my mom says I’m funny). While the majority of the album’s vocals are a brutal and practised low bellow that will bring back memories of Behemoth’s Nergal, the vocalist really outdoes himself when he belts out his highs and mids. The highs in particular have a tendency to be grating, but in that positive way that really adds to the strength of the overall mix. The low vocals, however, really go hand in hand with the guitarwork when it comes to structuring the songs, and that’s phenomenal; powerful vocals and powerful guitars can make one hell of a powerful album.
The drums and the bass remain to be accounted for, however, and all might not bode well. The drums are more than passable – when you throw on Enslaved by Fear, you’re in for well-crafted drum fills and plenty of blast beats. My only qualm with the drumwork, honestly, is how it relates to the rest of the band’s sound. There are moments where the drums sound less powerful than they should. I don’t mean to say that the drums themselves aren’t well-played or even that they aren’t well-produced, but perhaps they just didn’t have the right sound balance when they went into the studio. There are some awesome moments on the record that I will attribute to the drums, too – it’s obvious that the drummer is proficient and talented. Giving him the spotlight a bit more often wouldn’t hurt, though. The same can largely be said for the bass; it really adds an exquisite atmospheric touch to the slower parts, but otherwise can be overlooked by the rest of the sound. I feel that the bass suffered more than the drums did in this regard.
All in all, though, Beneath delivered a powerful, relentless, and vicious album with the release of Enslaved by Fear. While there is always room to improve, their debut record is worthy of much more than a single listen, and it should serve as a benchmark in quality for their future records. It was great to hear such fantastic work from a relatively-young band in the genre, and they’ve got a lot of ass-kicking left to do in the metal world. Go help ‘em out, and treat yourself to some music.
2.) “Lies of the Dead”
3.) “Enslaved by Fear”
4.) “No One Above”
9.) “Sacrificial Ritual”