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20 years to the day that Cannibal Corpse began challenging the limitations of what constituted death metal, as set by its more occult-oriented pioneers Morbid Angel and Possessed, as well as their slightly less gory and later intellectual foil Death, this band has consistently held brutality as the necessary and sufficient primer for this style. Relying largely on the aggressive brevity of “Reign In Blood” as a template, they’ve held firm to this directive of all brutality, all the time, making distinguishing one album from the next largely one based on quality rather than stylistic evolution. Muddied down tuned guitars, hyper-guttural vocal barks, Kerry King influenced lead guitar bursts and a mishmash of neo-tonality and chromatic sequencing to their riff work are all elements within their template that have basically become as cliché as their exaggerated lyrical content, resulting in something that will come across as noise to anyone not already indoctrinated into the extreme side of the metal paradigm.
In terms of overall album quality, the band has gone through some pretty sizable peaks and valleys through their various studio efforts, making this album something of an aberration as it doesn’t jump out as being fantastically good or bad, but sort of lingers in the solid fanfare category. Brief, tremolo-happy, blast beat steeped crushers like “Carnivorous Swarm” and “Priests Of Sodom” are the order of the day, clocking in at less than 4 minutes in most cases, and going almost as quickly as they arrive. Individually most of these songs are crafted for the adrenaline rush rather than sticking in one’s long term memory, but the album as a whole will definitely leave a lasting impression of a 39 minute long sonic ass whooping.
One breath of fresh air that this album offers is occasional breaks from the lyrical descriptions of human decomposition and botched surgeries “Hostel” style for something a bit more interesting. “Priests Of Sodom” and “Cauldron Of Hate” are all but gore free and loaded with evil imagery that wouldn’t be out of place on a Morbid Angel album, while others like “Evisceration Plague” and “Shatter Their Bones” pay homage to various horror movies with plotlines rather than sit on the gore theme and ride it all the way through like a Necrophiliac jacked up on Viagra would with a decaying corpse of a Louisiana hooker.
This album is at its best when things stretch beyond the 4 minute mark, which only occurs twice on the entire album. “Evisceration Plague” is the first winner with a pretty wide range of varied riffs and an actual sense of buildup from one extreme to another, rather than a straight line of blurred brutality from start to finish. The principle riff has a pretty sweet mix of Sabbath style trills and an overall doom oriented atmosphere that draws some similarities to “Into The Void” and “Zero The Hero” in terms of feel, but definitely departs from Iommi’s still fairly common practice tonality sense of dissonance. “A Cauldron Of Hate” also stands out with a really morose vocal performance and a good mix of tremolo work and heavy groove riffs, as well as a pretty dynamic and, at times, melodic guitar solo.
When all is said and done, this is a pretty predictable release for this outfit, though by their occasionally lackluster offerings, a cut above some in their back catalog. It’s not likely to pull in many death/thrash fans that prefer this genre the way it was before the mid-90s, but occasionally there are some brief glimpses of thrash, though they tend to not last very long. The real charm here is the technical guitar work and the solos in particular, which do challenge a good number of tech. death bands out there trying to be the next Suffocation, while simultaneously not getting ridiculous with the blast beats and endless streams of random notes. This isn’t quite as good as the thrashing “Kill” was, but this is still pretty good and worth your time.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 1, 2009.