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Comecon come out of the Stockholm death metal scene of the early 90s. The band consists of two guys who both play bass and guitar and work with a drum machine and session vocalists. Their earlier albums features Stockholm legend L.G. Petrov of Entombed/Nihilist/Morbid fame, and Martin van Drunen of Asphyx/Pestilence fame, while this one has Marc Grewe of Morgoth. Somewhat unconventional - it works for them in some ways, it doesn't work out in others.
The guitars are easily the strongest point, it is quite apparent that the band consists of two guitarists. You can build a decent band off of riffs alone, which is what Comecon is. The tone is classic Stockholm style, heavily distorted and abrasive. The riffs are solid, and the tone is a great method of delivery. Some riffs fall flat though, they aren't at 100% all the way through. The drum machine programming has certainly improved, the patterns match up to the rest of the music well much of the way through, it feels as if the parts are much more like what a human drummer would do rather than simply a timekeeper. It isn't exceptional, and it feels mechanical at times, but that's not a problem when the riffing drives the music hard. The vocals are alright, they fit the music at times, but they feel like an afterthought most of the time.
Perhaps the problem with the whole album is that there are two guitarists with some killer guitar riffs and a drum machine that they are getting better with, plus vocals that didn't seem to be considered in composition most of the time. The production of Tomas Skogsberg and Fred Estby does as well as it could, it lends the brutal Sunlight tone to the guitars, it adds some depth to the vocals, and it seems to even tone down the drum machine a bit whenever the guitars can add percussiveness to the mix. Most of the time the cymbals are annoyingly clicky though, but at the time I can think of no cure for this. Despite all of this, there are still moments where it feels like nothing is going on, the music just kind of dies while the drum machine clicks away, the guitars chug, and the vocalist is alright, but can't lead the music.
Therein lies the problem Comecon faced on this album - after three albums they had refined their sound to put together their best riffs and make the best album them could, but even legendary vocalists and producers couldn't elevate them to the level that other Stockholm DM bands had been at for years. The guitars more or less stood alone and had nothing to work off of other than a drum machine that serves only the guitars, and other than a few great delivieries (parts, not even full songs), the vocals were also an afterthought. In 1995, Comecon were still chasing the sound that Dismember and Entombed has perfected and moved on from. They never got a fourth chance as Century Media dropped them and by the late 90s, nobody else seemed interested in continuing a disappointing legacy.
As an afterthought to the review, the clean/acoustic guitar parts on the album are completely out of place and interrupt the songs needlessly while doing nothing in their own right. The synths detract when they do appear, including the 10+ minute piece at the end that has no place other than seemingly being an afterthought and taking up space. Both of these are significant detractors from the rest of the album, though at least one can be skipped.
What's interesting about Comecon is that all three of their albums have a different lead singer. Megatrends in Brutality boasted Lars-Göran Petrov from Entombed, Converging Conspiracies is blessed with the presence of the great Martin Van Drunen of Pestilence fame, and this album, Fable Frolic, has... Marc Grewe from Morgoth. Now, in life, there are things that simply cannot be done. Marc Grewe living up to the lofty standards LG and Martin set prior to his inception is one of them. Let that statement set the tone for the remainder of my treatise.
There's no doubt that the vocals were a huge part of what made the first two albums good, but let's look at what else they had going for them. Aggression? Yes. Vicious riffs? In abundance. Production that would make Leatherface's dick hard? Of course... they're Swedish. To be perfectly frank, Fable Frolic has absolutely none of these things, except for the occasional forest clearing. The aggression is all but gone. The opener, "Soft, Creamy Lather", begins with what sounds like lambs bleating (which reminds me, the artwork sucks), then starts up promisingly with a decent riff that might as well be a chainsaw revving. Then the vocals come in. Ugh. These vocals aren't death metal, and that's all there is to it. They're shouts. Not growls, not barks, not shrieks, but straight up hardcore shouts. And that's it, there's no variation whatsoever. I mean, singing like that might have been cool for one song, kind of like how Matti Kärki shouts the chorus to "Skinfather", but using that style for the whole album is ill advised to say the least. But the troubles don't end there. That riff that I said was promising? It doesn't last very long before it turns into a lame acoustic shuffle. With Marc spewing uninteresting political nonsense over it in his oh so understandable shout, it goes from boring to unbearable.
The guitar players are clearly skilled, throwing some alright riffs around from time to time, but those acoustic sections are garbage. Comecon fooled around with acoustic parts before Fable Frolic, but the parts were always relatively brief and added to the music. Basically, it still sounded like death metal. This album, I don't know, it doesn't even remotely sound like death metal about half the time. But I have to say, when they go balls out with their riffing and aren't fucking around with infeasible songwriting anomalies, I dig it. The first two and a half minutes of "Frogs" is Godlike in its brutality. Then the inevitable acoustic section rears its ugly dickhead. Damn it, everything was going so well before they ruined the song with that. And guess what. The next song, "Ways of Wisdom (Serbes Two)", follows the same exact exact pattern of starting out awesome and unraveling itself with a detrimental acoustic part later on. And that's the album. I swear it's like they intentionally put all of their best riffs right before their worst. There is no consistency, and hence very little enjoyment to be had. And their imaginary friend on the drums, "Jonas Fredriksson", is not programmed very well. Its (I refuse to call a computer "he") drumming adds virtually nothing and is drowned out by the guitars anyway.
I did not like this album at all, but I have to give the guitarists points for some great riffs, even though just about every song did just about nothing on the whole. I also have to say that Marc Grewe isn't necessarily a terrible vocalist, as I enjoyed his work in Morgoth more than this. That being said, Fable Frolic was one small step backwards for Marc Grewe, one giant leap off of a cliff for Comecon. Bitterly disappointing in literally every aspect, I can't recommend this to anyone.