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In a somewhat perplexing move, Bone Awl have pulled a switcheroo: instead of ending the demo with the long, repetitive instrumental (as they tended to do on earlier releases) instead they've chosen to open with exactly this sort of thing. It's a confounding move, as these tracks are usually the least interesting songs on any given release. Luckily, this change in track order philosophy is not indicative of a major overhaul in Bone Awl's modus operandi; Almost Dead Man is a brief and brutal lesson in the effectiveness of the black metal/punk rock hybrid.
Continuing the trend established on the second Furdidurke split, the guitar and bass are distinct from one another on this demo, something that was far from obvious on earlier Bone Awl releases. That dirty, picked bass sound is back (unlike the clean, fingered bass on the Furdidurke split) but the guitar has enough muscle to stand as its own entity. The tone generally sounds quite mean and full, but at the same time I can't help but miss the old "distorted bass powerchords" sound that was so central to the band's older releases. The riffs, for the most part, are the simple punky affairs we've come to know and love. Opener "Almost Dead Man" consists of just two chords jammed on for its entire five-and-a-half minute length, for instance. Strangely, this release contains some of the band's most varied riffing (see the strange rotary speaker effect on "Together", "The Quiet Torture of Words in a Head" and parts of the third title track) but contains relatively few distinct and memorable riffs. The guitar lines from "Wall As Hard" and "Dead Back Home" are so similar that it's hard to tell when one song ends and the next begins.
He Who Gnashes Teeth's vocals are more buried in the mix on Almost Dead Man than any other Bone Awl release. It's a real shame, since the man possesses a completely demonic black metal roar delivered with enough force and conviction to please all comers. The vocals sound like they're distorted more than they normally are, with an effect that sounds similar to the one Ravn used on 1349's Hellfire. This distortion adds an extra element of aggression to the vocals, serrating what was already an incredibly sharp knife edge. I would really like to hear these vocals get their deserved place higher in the mix.
Similarly, the drums get pushed to the back by the newly musclebound guitar tone. He Who Crushes Teeth has never played the most complex or technical drum parts, instead preferring to stick to simple one-two punk beats, but as Bone Awl's music has always been about attitude over instrumental prowess the simple yet effective drumming always served as a strong focal point in the band's sound. Buried as they are, the drums simply cannot perform this task up to par on this release.
While there's only one thing on Almost Dead Man that actively annoys (the overuse of that rotary speaker effect on the guitar) there's also a lot that stands in the way of this being one of the more enjoyable Bone Awl offerings. Vocals and drums getting a louder spot in the mix (or just turning down that guitar a bit) would have worked wonders on this demo, especially as it generally lacks ultra-high-quality riffs and songs. The songs contained in this demo are exclusive to this release but, as this isn't the most memorable stuff the band has done, this one remains low on the list of priorities for people getting into Bone Awl.