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Benediction is a name that is not as heavily bandied around insofar as early 90s death metal is concerned, perhaps in large part due to the saturation of the style in Sweden and certain key parts of U.S. This is unfortunate given that the band was equally as competent as its competition and definitely a boon to anyone who liked the style when it was based more so in menacing melodies and infectious riffing rather than exaggerated brutality. But while the band's full studio out put during the 1990s are worthy of any death metal head's consideration, it wasn't until their sophomore effort "The Grand Leveller" in all its odd imagery and dark demeanor that the band's signature sound truly came into being.
The majestic quality and morbid atmosphere that this band creates is definitely a collective effort, but there is something to be said for Dave Ingram's vocal contributions to the fold. He occupies a rather intricate middle ground between the middle ranged bark character of John Tardy and Chuck Schuldiner and the deeper grunts and groans of Glen Benton, which definitely plays well against a deep, heavy, chunky yet crisp and organized musical backdrop. The combination tends to be possessed of a greater unity on the 3rd album "Transcend The Rubicon", but even with the denser and slightly muddier guitar tone heard on here and the resulting greater affinity it holds with early Obituary, Ingram's angry vocalizations fit in masterfully.
While most of this album is steeped in the slower grooving character mixed with maddened frenzies of thrashing beats and tremolo riffing right out of the "Scream Bloody Gore" approach, this album differs a bit in terms of atmosphere. Occasional keyboard and studio effects not all that different from what would be heard on coinciding efforts out of Messiah and Darkthrone occur at some key points both at the album's onset (a tolling bell in the distant reminiscent of Black Sabbath's debut but also with menacing voices whispering incoherently and a more advanced set of notes that manages to conform to doom practices) and on a few subsequent songs in the form of droning chords behaving like a distant choir, though with less frequency and greater subtlety than the 2 aforementioned death metal bands' early 90s offerings.
When dealing with the actual meat and potatoes of the songs themselves, the band is marked by an approach that is consistent almost to a fault. The intermingling of slower grooving sections with pummeling chug riffs vs. the faster, mid 80s Slayer-inspired thrashing is marked by a somewhat moderated sense of build up through mid-tempo bridge sections, as underscored in the epic opener "Visions In The Shroud". This formula is repeated quite often within the song and makes it fairly easy to mistake one song for another at first listen, though a careful listening will reveal songs such as "Graveworm" as lingering a bit more in slow territory before starting to cook, whereas "Opulence Of The Absolute" spends most of its duration channeling the spirit of Schuldiner's most speedy and primitive of thrashing early death metal offerings, contrasting itself only with a slightly more adventurous usage of the two guitar arrangement beyond brief shredding passages and playing with melodic/harmonic ideas a bit.
If one were in the market for only one Benediction album and is so disposed to the conservative, early 90s approach to the style, it's advisable to pick up "Transcend The Rubicon" first as it has a slightly more varied and intricate approach. Nevertheless, this album nips at its heels and should definitely be sought by all whose budget will allow it. This is an album based primarily in tradition, though in its day it wasn't as much of a throwback as it would have been had it come about a couple years later when its slightly superior follow up came into being. All the right elements are in place for a terrifying experience that, unlike nowadays, wasn't solely reliant on graphic gore and mutilation to get its point across and knew the value to a broader approach to conveying dreadful imagery both musically and lyrically.
Shortly after the release of Benediction's "Subconscious Terror" in 1990, Barney Greenway exited the band to join Napalm Death. Following this departure, the band found Dave Ingram to fill his shoes, and I would argue this was actually for the benefit of the band. While "Subconscious Terror" was indeed a decent outing, it was hardly anything that could tangle with the best of the band, that being this album, released to the world in October 1991.
I wouldn't necessarily say that Benediction were looking to reinvent the wheel here, for there isn't a huge difference between this and its predecessor except perhaps a noticable improvement in the songwriting. The songs are still mostly mid-tempo, relying on groovy, catchy riffs and fairly straight forward compositions. Ingram's barks here are a bit more menancing than Greenway, perhaps less vicious, but more suiting to the music as a whole. The production also aids things, its plenty heavy without being overly processed, sporting a particularly gritty and grimey sound.
For highlights, you could go with pretty much any song here and you'd have a winner. "Visions in the Shroud" begins with an ominous intro before moving into some familiar grooving territory, coming off as one of the catchier songs here. "Graveworm" is more of the same, while "Jumping at Shadows" is perhaps the darkest and most interesting song here, complete with a quote from a letter written by David Berkowitz, better known as "The Son of Sam," the man who committed murders as commanded by his neighbor's demon possessed dog. Definitely adds a certain eerie nature to this song, which the dark atmosphere captures perfectly. Its perhaps one of my favorite Benediction songs of all.
The CD version of this album also contains "Senile Dementia" and a Celtic Frost cover in "Return to the Eve." Both songs are nice to have, but neither one really steals the spotlight here from the original material. This said, "Return to the Eve" was a nice choice for this band to cover, paying tribute to a pioneer in extreme metal and they manage to add their own character to the song.
"The Grand Leveller" is quite the gem in old school death metal. Its certainly nothing flashy by any means, just hammering some sweet grooves and catchy riffs in a very workman like manner, devoid of any real ambition or forward thinking. At the same time, its excellent stuff to just blare out of your speakers and headbang to. The band has always been something of a lightweight counterpart to Bolt Thrower, but that in itself is hardly a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
First I must say that I'm very content with my decision to give Benediction's sophomore effort a chance after listening to the highly mediocre "Subconscious Terror." After hearing all the talk of how these guys were similar to Bolt Thrower (My favorite death metal band), I was extremely disappointed with my first impression of these guys, but luckily "The Grand Leveller" is light years ahead of Benediction's previous effort. Everything about this record is better: the songwriting, riffs, vocals, solos, drumming and everything else.
On "Subconscious Terror" everything seemed so bland and predictable. I don't recall any moment where my head was banging or I was intrigued by a single solo or riff. On this record, however, Benediction decided to change things up structure wise. Not every song is written in the same fashion, and there is plenty of variety to be found here, riff-wise anyway. The undeniable Bolt Thrower influence is present once those doomy melodies on "Jumping At Shadows" enter the fray, while "Opulence of the Absolute" features some great tremolo sections that would make the American masters proud, as well as some midpaced riffs that are absolutely crushing. "The Grand Leveller" is most reminiscent of the band's fellow countrymen (and woman) in it's creeping, midpaced mayhem but the title track here shows off the band's ability to go at much faster tempos and it sounds awesome.
Even though the debut full-length of Benediction featured the legendary Barney Greenway of Napalm Death fame, the vocals on "The Grand Leveller" fit the music much better. Dave Ingram's vocal performance here adds a darker atmosphere to the sound, whereas Barney didn't really add anything to the music, he was just growling in front of the already mediocre music. The drumming on here isn't much to brag about, but it did it's job just fine so no complaints here. The bass is pretty good throughout, thumping along audibly while also providing some nice fills on the intros to "Born in a Fever" and "Jumping At Shadows."
Some might complain about the overall comparison of Benediction to the more well known Bolt Thrower because it makes them seem like a subordinate, but it's definitely a compliment. "The Grand Leveller" is a fantastic death metal record and one of the best to come from the UK, so if you haven't heard these guys then you now have some homework to do.
"Jumping At Shadows"
"Opulence of the Absolute"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
Before death metal turned into a lollipop piece of trash genre, and before Benediction turned to crap, they put out this Behemoth of an album.
This album is heavy as fuck. Sabbath must have rubbed off on their contemporary countrymates seeing as Benediction, Electric Wizard, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, and many more at one time destroyed like no other.
The tone of this album is really what makes it. It's also the only Benediction album to get it right. Downtuned guitars, very good drum sound, and Dave Ingram's godly vocals. I like his stuff better than any of the other singers for Benediction or Bolt Thrower, he's an underrated vocalist in my book.
The album is a bit slower in some parts, but it also gets very fast- it's mixed tastefully. Check the 2 minute mark in "Opulence of the Absolute" for some uncomprising headbanging action.
Graveworm is a highlight here, as is the opener, Vision in the Shroud. Most of the songs follow the same formula, and you'll hear the same drum beat in every track. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it really isn't foreground music. This is the ultimate album to let play while doing something else.
This should appeal to any metalhead with a bit of taste. It's a very heavy album that fits in with the best of early nineties death metal. There really isn't much else to say; the disc is worth many listens.