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Sometimes it is difficult to separate novelty from quality, and at others it is difficult to recognize quality given the sometimes overbearing character of novelty. In the case of Broken Hope, a fairly early but not quite pioneering band of the early day of death metal, became noteworthy for a couple of specific accomplishments that can be categorized as ancillary to the entire scene, especially in respect to what other bands had done a couple years prior. One of these being the first band to record entirely in a digital format on their debut LP Swamped In Gore, and album that otherwise did more to reaffirm existing practices rather than break new stylistic ground. Similarly, while musically they never got too far beyond things that were put forth by Obituary, Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel a year or two before, the vocal work of Joe Ptacek did ratchet up the extreme depths that the characteristic guttural barks of the style more so than John Tardy and David Vincent had, and also arguably even next to the equally brutal and deep character of Chris Barnes work.
At first glance, Broken Hope's debut album comes off as a quirky, almost comical take on the gore obsessed character of death metal. The album art almost looks like a chess game parody of said theme, and the lyrical content tends to reflect and arguably expand upon the graphic imagery characteristic of Cannibal Corpse's Eaten Back To Life. However, musically things take on a decidedly safe and by the numbers character, reflecting the sludgy yet still largely coherent and character of the style's thrash and doom metal roots, with a bit more of a focus on the slower doom elements than CC's early albums in favor of something closer to Obituary's Slowly We Rot and Autopsy's Severed Survival, though the combination of Ptacek's extremely deep vocals and the generally husky sound of the atmosphere accomplished in the production bears a bit of resemblance to Immolation's Dawn Of Possession, which hit circulation only a few months before this. It could rightly be considered a product of its time, though it does maintain a level of distinctiveness.
While this is an album that is heavily simplistic compared to where the Florida scene was moving by 1991, the combination of its simplicity and the atmospheric character it shares with certain early New York entries into the genre (Incantation, Immolation) give it a certain charm that makes up for much of what it may lack in intricacies and flash. It makes fairly regular use of bass alone segments, arguably about 4 times as frequently as Cannibal Corpse ever has, though the segments are generally a reflection of the simplistic doom character of the riffs and whatever technical flash is found it generally reserved to the guitars. Guitar solos are used a bit more sparingly than the obligatory Slayer inspired fair heard out of Florida bands, and sometimes omitted entirely during some of the shorter songs such as "Gorehog", though when they occur they tend to exemplify the wild character of the Kerry King method, particularly on "Gobblin' The Guts", the tail end of "Awakened By Stench", in fairly short bursts. But overall, this is an album that is driven by atmosphere and a dichotomy of fast and slow that ranges from gradual transition to jarring shifts.
Generally this album does not get as much respect as it probably should, mostly because it tends to embrace a number of stereotypes that would be later abandoned as the 1990s progressed and bands such as Suffocation began to influence the tone and tenor of what constituted brutality, whereas other bands took a more melodic or progressive road as typified in later works of Carcass and Death. Words like passe and obsolete might be a bit harsh, but they do reflect a general attitude towards this older mode of death metal by much of the current scene, with exceptions given to certain obligatory classics that are otherwise identical in style to this. It is by no means a bad album, quite the contrary, but it is definitely a product of its time to the point where it may not do much for someone who considers the likes of Defeated Sanity to not be brutal enough. It's definitely fodder for old school fanatics that can develop a level of affection for the early works of less consequential bands such as Benediction and Massacre.
After my Wombbath review and some discussions about death metal with a friend I've been thinking about bad classic period death metal. Said friend's argument is that practically anything from the correct era playing the basic tenets of the genre will be praised excessively despite being useless shite, which is an argument that I can agree with to a point, said point being the useless shite part of things. While I can think of many, many hugely overrated, mediocre death metal classics that are worshiped as being infallible, actually finding any that are out and out bad is surprisingly difficult. Even the bigger names which particularly anger me with inescapable popularity aren't really painful releases when I really look at the music offered it; Altars of Madness or Slowly we Rot aren't horribly awful when I really look at what's on offer, maybe they're a bit too thrashy for me, maybe I think they've been done better elsewhere, but they're not really bad. I guess bad old school death metal is a lot like horrible toothy oral sex or half chewed pizza; I may deride it heavily in public, but if a retard with a heavy lung infection shows up on my doorstep offering theirs I'm probably going to accept it and feel somewhat satisfied about myself later.
My basic line of thought is that the genre's absolute core goals are exceptionally low, and exceptionally easy to achieve. Despite the hyper atmospheric minimalism of many retro OSDM bands, the original stuff was usually pretty numbskulled and just wanted to pound you over the head with riffs and weight. You very rarely had to deal with riffless, meandering slogs of overwrought drivel, instead you'd almost always get a high riff count with plenty of tempo changes, plenty of headbangable parts, a nice thick and suitably raw production and some angry grunting; it was an inherently tolerable sound. This was pretty damned easy to pull off really, bands didn't need to be hugely inventive, skilled or rich to execute this uniquely simple idea at least somewhat competently, and even then bands which fucked it up kinda made them sound a little different and exciting compared to the massive armies of competent OSDM cannon fodder. Hell, even the previously derided Wombbath still get a technically passing grade from me and they've got like four above mediocre riffs on their whole album and maybe one cool melody, purely because the basic idea of OSDM is so intrinsically palatable. An utterly mediocre pre-'95 death metal album tends to be more pleasant to sit through than an utterly mediocre release in any other genre to me.
...Which leads me to Broken Hope, one of the first acts which come into my mind when thinking about bad early 90's death. Like Wombbath, their biggest crime is being boring rather than outright obnoxious, but Swamped in Gore certainly makes the crossover from the “easily distracted and not overly enthralled” side of bored which most of the lacking entries into the genre exist, and into the "Ok, I'm getting annoyed by this shit now" side. These guys don't have those four good riffs and a melody. There isn't one riff on here which stands out, there isn't one tempo change which elicits any kind of visceral response, there is no variation in the song writing structure on any of the 11 tracks, and the general sound of the album fails to pack in all that much weight or magnitude. Are many of the riffs really terrible in their own right? Not really when I really look at them I guess, but the album is simply as mediocre as humanly possible through its massively bloated 45 minute run rime, impressively so really.
Broken Hope definitely live up to the expectations of being from Chicago, a place where even tech death bands like Oppressor chug along at a midpaced crawl most of the time, and certainly stick to abusing the bottom string and clunking out grooving, moshable riffs in alarming numbers. I guess it could be compared to the sort of beatdown hardcore inspired stuff from New York, but Chicago death never seems quite so pissed off, instead aiming to be just heavy, catchy and groovy. It's a little bit of a hit and miss style as is, since it demands quite a lot in the way of pure riff composition skill and a nice production job to help carry such simple, reasonably non-atmospheric music. Cianide for instance were (and still are) very good at this general idea, successfully giving their simplistic grooves a lot of thick, morbid groove, while efficiently delivering bursts of power whenever things sped up. Broken Hope are very bad at it.
Swamped in Gore is a lifeless bore with no redeeming features. Most of the music is midpaced and based around chugging on low notes with little no variation, and none of the grooves or riffs really have anything intriguing or fun about them. They're heavy enough I suppose, but hardly devastating enough to really cover for the lack of genuine musical appeal. In short the riffs here simply don't have enough excitement or energy to be entertaining on a surface level, and the band is about as passionate and refined as an Indonesian slaughterhouse so there are no atmospheric qualities to make up for it. The band speeds up on a semi-frequent basis, but really the riffing styles never change too drastically from bottom string plonking which neuters any sort of visceral momentum created by the blasts. I'd be surprised if the band used more than two strings for the whole damn album, and since they have absolutely no talent when it comes to writing meaty, imposing or catchy riffs that's a hell of a problem. This drags like hell even on the shorter and faster songs, but when you consider songs like "Gobblin' the Guts" and the title track are 6 and a half goddamned minutes long this really does stand out as likely favourite for the single most boring OSDM album created in the golden era.
But as stated earlier, mediocre and done to death riffing over an overly extended period isn't really a nail in the coffin for most early 90's death metal, I'd give many albums which I'd make similar complaints about a relatively favourable score in a lot of cases, there has to be something extra that Broken Hope fuck up here. That fuck up seems to be the production. Somewhat famously Swamped in Gore is the first wholly digital death metal ever recorded, so I guess it's not hugely surprising they got it so very wrong. This doesn't have the usual hallmarks of an overly digital production, the guitars aren't too clear and refined, the drums aren't mechanical and sterile and the whole thing isn't laughably loud so that the rises and falls are lost. This isn't a processed or robotic sounding record, it's just a remarkably flat sounding one. This is ridiculously timid sounding, the guitars are thick and distorted yet carry no weight, the drums are quiet enough so that they don't overpower the rest of the sound but it leaves them packing no punch whatsoever, and the admittedly pretty guttural vocals are pathetically faint in the mix. The whole album seems to be trying to execute the idea of not having anything be the main focus, but it does it by making everything equally meek; it lacks dynamics so badly that you could be forgiven for thinking they only used one string on the album instead of two.
I think what makes this my easy number one pick for the most boring straight up death metal album around is really how it fails to really pull off any of those really easy elements of DM with any sort of flair or life despite having a pretty decent riff count in every song. There are no interesting riffs, there is no energy, the production makes everything even more tedious, there are no good hooks, there is no atmosphere, there are no variations in approach or sound. There is nothing. This isn't like one of those occasions where I use some hyperbole and just ignore a few examples on the contrary since they're sparse exceptions, there is literally not a single one of any of those things at any moment, and as such it's the most boring pre-95 death metal album made. I can't of any audience this could appeal to, people who want the dumbed down simplicity of Cianide but without the malice and moodiness? People who want Gutted but without any of the extremity or violence? I dunno, all I know is this is an album that leaves me pretty bitter with boredom after about eight to nine minutes and it needs to go die. My search for bad DM will continue as I struggle to find something that actively frustrates me from the awfulness of its actual components so I can hate it outright rather than just get annoyed after prolonged exposure, but this was a pretty solid first place to look.
With one of the coolest album names ever, “Swamped in Gore”, an awesome album cover, and the first digital death metal album ever, this album displays simple but heavy as hell death metal.
Now, being the first of anything, there are bound to be flaws galore. And the production does have a few pretty significant flaws. Nothing that makes it unlistenable but flaws nonetheless. I’ll go over the positive aspects of the production: The guitars are really heavy, they are a little quiet and not quite as “in your face” as they could be but they still sound really good. Another positive are the drums. They sound amazing. No matter how fast they go, they are always at the front and are very loud and aggressive sounding. The vocals also sound really good on here. Now for the negatives: The bass is pretty much non-existent. It has a few standouts (Devourer of Souls) and if you listen REAL closely you can here a few clicks but pretty much not there. Everything could sound a bit louder and heavier but that pretty much sums up the negatives.
Now the songs are straight forward, simplified death metal. The riffs aren’t too complicated but they are insanely heavy and kind of catchy riffs. “Incinerated” is a good example of this, it starts with an insanely awesome blasting part and the catchy guitar riffs with the awesome vocals. It switches between the two and is easily one of the better songs on here. “Swamped in Gore” is a slower song with some very heavy riffs and an awesome chorus. “Devourer of Souls” has some of the best riffs on here and displays the bass with a few awesome stand outs.
One problem I see with this album is that there isn’t much variation as far as speed goes. It seems like it’s mostly mid-paced or blast beats. I kind of wish they would have incorporated some thrash in there but there isn’t much of it. The songs can be kind of long and because of the lack of variation, they can get tiring after a while. Although they lack variation, the songs can still be catchy so the songs don’t overstay their welcome for too long.
The lyrics on here are just flat out gross. Similar to what Cannibal Corpse writes about, just disgusting gore lyrics. Interesting to read because of how gross they are.
Overall, this is a good death metal album. It is a pretty much forgotten gem among the underground of the early death metal scene.
Best tracks – “Swamped in Gore”, “Incinerated”, and “Devourer of Souls”
Broken Hope, from my understanding are a pretty well praised brutal death metal band. Swamped in Gore is considered by many to be a masterpiece of brutality. I was very excited when I got this album, I couldn't wait to be pummeled by heavy, gory old school death metal. Damn I hate setting myself up.
Lets get one thing straight here, this is by no means a horrible album its just mediocre. This is partially my fault, the bar was set so high I was expecting another Cause of Death, but what I got wasn't anything outstanding. It took a good 3 or 4 listens to really let this album sink in.
For being one of the first death metal albums recorded digitally, this sure sounds bad. The sound is weak, everything is flat and muffled. Your going to have to turn this album up really loud in order to hear everything clearly. I'm not a fan of over produced, polished sounding albums but this is just unacceptable.
The band draws influences from Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Autopsy. The music doesn't stay fast all the time, like Suffocation there are breakdowns mixed in with tight blasting. There is actually a good dose of groove on this album when used effectively, these parts will get you headbanging in no time!
The guitar work is nothing mind blowing, these riffs are not too technical. The drumming is solid, good double bass work and choppy, grinding blasting can be found in these songs. The vocals are excellent in my opinion. Joe Ptacek possesses a deep, throaty growl with some nice gurgling effects (Swamped in Gore, Cannibal Crave) thrown in.
The songwriting is a bit lackluster though. There is not much going on and after awhile everything starts to sound the same. All of these songs follow the same basic pattern, which makes them sound interchangeable. I don't really read into lyrics that much, but these are decent they get their point across.
This album is not all its cracked up to be. I actually think their follow up album The Bowels of Repugnance is a lot better. One thing is for sure this is brutal, make no mistake about it. I would recommend this for fans of the aforementioned bands or anyone looking for something heavy and brutal.
This is boxy death metal; the kind that has narrow slopes and when opened up contains empty contents. This is essentially a standard, run-of-the-mill translation of what could be viewed as what was happening musically in death metal in 1991. While some bands were going beyond that boundary with varying or intricate structure, or just plain engaging song writing that's going to last in people's mind till the next year's time. This isn't going to catch the same memorability as albums that have held up to the test such as Immolation's 'Dawn of Possession' or Autopsy's 'Mental Funeral' of the same year, that's assured.
This is simple music, simply put. It expands only on bass, thickness, and its gory lyrics. Yes, the bars have been pushed in extremities since and after. There's been bulk-talk about how the human body can be disassembled and rearranged. There's been guitars that have found new boundaries to sink to; vocals that seem to expunge any highness. Though one could easily come to an accurate conclusion and say this album didn't have its sights in mind.
Broken Hope do switch to different speeds on 'Swamped in Gore,' breaking the album up with slower, mid-paced and faster blast beated sections. The major problem here though isn't were they split up their speeds to try and create versatility, it is the simplicity that they do it in. This isn't the old gag of it's-so-simple-that's-why-it-works philosophy. This is essentially a failed attempt at grabbing your attention that might start to wonder. Having song writing that doesn't escape itself to be worthwhile; guitars that stick with upper, deeper and uncharacteristic notes. To get a little off-kilter, this isn't early Celtic Frost, using the same primitive areas on the neck of the guitar, yet still applying it with memorable riffs and using guitar lines that change at opportune times causing the song to rise, getting a certain dose of something without overdosing on it. I think Broken Hope's main agenda wasn't to try and go for surprising change-ups, and there's hardly a hook in sight. I think they were trying to go for an atmosphere that would be heavy enough to hamper you immobile. Like listening to the basic heaviness of Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot' of two years prior. Instead they cause you to lumber around in a sleepish stupor from a basicness that doesn't thoroughly excite, and an album that combined with all of its brutish nature doesn't bring anything to the table that's hardly worth a trade, or is barely noticed when it is gone.
This has a lot of mid-paced sections, crunching the guitars along as the drums pulverize the double bass pedals; vocals belch into the microphone as a monotone, unnatural force of nature. With their characteristic display in mind, I don't find that the music lacks ability: meaning that they were attempting to play death metal and didn't conform, and the production is quite loud and evenly distributed too. Just things here aren't far-seeing and lacks that "something" else. Essentially the musicians match each other, but don't challenge themselves to overcome and add something that will be remembered; like a technique, for instance, that might stand out among the crowd.
'Swamped in Gore' went for an atmosphere that reads like a standard ghost story: hearing the same basic tale loses its enigma over time. Broken Hope's song writing at that point is simple in direction and not long-stretching in its overall final outcome. It can be looked at as stuck in the year that it came out, unescapable because of its mismatched short legs and heavy, upper body development.