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Realms of the Ungodly was a mostly blind purchase of mine from around the era of my life when I would've ritualistically impaled myself for Cephalotripsy if they had asked me to. The material on this Condemned album isn't really anything like Cephalotripsy in terms of riffs and general composition, as the guitarists are totally different, but it shares a vocalist and a drummer with them! To 2011 MutantClannfear these were clearer indicators of quality than if Jesus fucking Christ himself moseyed into the record store I was in and personally handed me the CD, but nowadays every time I try listening to this I just get really sad. This album is a turd.
What you've basically got here is brutal death metal that's on the complete opposite side of the spectrum compared to Cephalotripsy - apparently Condemned's guitarists think slams have cooties, so the music here actually sounds a lot more like, say, Defeated Sanity. Tons of technical tremolo riffs dot the music, the band do a lot of the DS-style BDM trope of tripping over themselves to create "technicality", and instead of punchy slams the music is populated by slow, agonizingly claustrophobic chuggy sections which hearken straight back to mid-90s BDM like Suffocation. Blast beats sprout up in seemingly random places in the music, even in places where they're obviously not wanted. Basically, this reminds me of Defeated Sanity in a lot of ways, except that Condemned thankfully lack the horribly bloated production job that DS love so much. And yet, as if to compensate for not sucking in one area of their music, practically everything else about this album just sort of sits in the lower range of "mediocre", leaking over into "actively bad".
Okay, first off, this album cannot carry any weight or momentum - save for obviously bedroom-based one-man projects, I honestly don't think I've heard a brutal death metal album which was more inefficient at sounding heavy when that was obviously what it was going for. That's the sole redeeming factor of Defeated Sanity in my eyes - because the appeal of this seemingly random style of technical riffing that's worshiped by bands of this breed is completely lost on me, the heaviness helps to offset the boredom I have to fight while listening to them. At the very least, when I'm near a sound source emitting Defeated Sanity, I can just sort of shove my head into it and act like I'm being drowned in brutality and heaviness until it ends and I can put something less boring on. Realms of the Ungodly doesn't even have that, for a few reasons. I think the mix here was pretty poorly planned - the guitars are too quiet, and the drums of all things are on top of everything, making this a rather percussion-based album instead of guitar-based like this sort of BDM probably should be. The guitar tone doesn't help, it's almost totally devoid of bass and yet, whereas most bands would compensate by boosting up the bass guitar, that guy is nowhere to be found on this album. The CD booklet quite clearly shows a bassist standing in the vicinity of the other band members. Where the fuck is he on the recording?
But of course there have been albums with awful production that have been saved by brilliant riffs, so do Condemned redeem themselves there? Nooooope. Pretty much every single riff on this piece of junk strives harder than the one before it to be as unstimulating as psychologically possible. Like I've said, imagine Defeated Sanity, now tune the riffs up maybe three-to-five half-steps. Boom, Condemned. The technical riffs are pretty fucking tasteless, and not in a good way; they mostly just do circles around themselves really, really fast like a dog chasing its own tail, with pieces of pinch harmonics and other guitar wizardry jammed somewhere into the riffs in a futile attempt to make things more interesting than they actually are. I imagine this is exactly what Brain Drill sounds like to people who don't enjoy Brain Drill, in which case I AM SO SORRY THAT YOUR EARS WERE SUBJECTED TO SUCH GARBAGE. For some reason the band sometimes swap out the Suffocation-chugs with strangely melodic guitars that sound kind of eerie, but only in comparison to the banality of the technical riffs they're usually shoved in between. A lot of them sound noticeably flawed in ways that, to me, seem blatantly obvious to correct - for example, that one riff near the end of "Submerged unto Phlegethon" pisses me off because the last note change at the end of it makes it sound really cheery and happy, like a downtuned children's song, which I imagine is the last thing Condemned were trying to sound like.
Angel Ochoa is pretty much the only aspect of the album that isn't disappointing in some way - his vocals are indeed pretty close to the way they are in Cephalotripsy, and his rich, throaty gurgle sounds outright pleasant to listen to (if not a little croaky at times). I'm not entirely sure if they fit the music that well, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure if any vocalist would be able to sufficiently complement and improve music that was seemingly only created to bore the listener to death. Realms of the Ungodly has absolutely nothing noteworthy in terms of melody, rhythm, or heaviness; its only conceivable purpose is to use it as some sort of "music-upgrading" tool by listening to it and making whatever you listen to next sound 40 times better than usual by mere comparison.
Condemned are a band that ultimately is a shadow when compared to other death metal bands out there; not particularly well known and unlikely to be; nothing particularly unique. The kind of band that you are likely to find in the back aisles of used CD shops; that never really made an impact and for the most part were simply there to fill the void. Should you pass them by however? Definitely not.
Whilst this album is by no means a classic, it is one of those rare albums that is just great as it stands, with every track being an enjoyably crafted slice of brutal death metal. Each band member succeeds in giving a thrashy, reliable showing on each of their instruments. Special mention must go to the drummer however, as instead of simply pounding the double bass and blast beats over and over again as many death metal drummers do, he attempts to put an original spin on things by using random bits of fill.
The biggest two problems with this album are very common in the genre and sadly Condemned do not manage to escape them: Repetitiveness and lack of individuality. If you were to listen to this album and not be allowed to see the track number or times you would simply not be able to tell when each track begins and ends. You could start off listening to track 1 and before you even realize it at least four tracks have gone by. This also causes the album as a whole to feel bloated as each track is brutal riff after brutal riff and gets tiring very quickly. A lot of the tracks when compared to the standouts also feel incredibly fillerish and seem to exist solely to fill up space, thus some of the songs are of little value.
The album occasionally breaks into rare atmospheric moments, the tracks that do this such as Eirgmos Aidios, Catharasis of human impurity and Realms of the ungodly are easily the standouts; As they provide something of a breath of fresh air when compared to the sheer brutality throughout. Lyric wise, this band is something of a surprise, as a lot of imagination and effort has clearly gone into catering the standard death metal subjects and can occasionally serve as a remedy for lack of individuality. Unfortunately, the singers guttural growling can make most of the lyrics near impossible to understand at parts and thus a lot of them loose most of their significance.
Realms of the Ungodly is doubtless an enjoyable experience overall and is definitely recommended if you are seeking some new death metal to jam on an infrequent basis. You really have to give credit to some of the band members for attempting to bring something new to their brand of death metal, unfortunately it may prove to be to little too late. We can only hope that Condemned decides to take their more original route in future rather than rehashing what many of their peers are already doing.
It's stuff like this that contributes to why I feel estranged and indifferent towards the majority of modern brutal death metal bands. I found this piece of shit for $2.49 in the 'dollar-bin' at the record store (it was in there because it sucks, of course) and I bought it because the Unique Leader label usually runs a fairly consistent ship, and the Jon Zig artwork is awesome. I figured if the music was even half as sick as the cover art then it would have to be a few bucks well spent, right?
No! Unfortunately, this sucks. Condemned from California fall heavily into the Disgorge(US) and Defeated Sanity category of brutal death metal, except for that they're not nearly as good as either of those bands and they're just doing it wrong on every level. Condemned are a pale ghostlike carbon copy of those bands, and If you've heard one minute from any track on this CD then you've essentially heard the entire disc. What does that mean? It means that the songwriting is bad.
Without decent songs its going to be challenging to come up with a decent album, but with a band playing in this style the saving grace may possibly be unreal brutality. Unfortunately for Condemned, this album is not brutal. The ultra-compressed and digitally tampered production gives this a fake and fraudulent sound. "Realms of the Ungodly" is weak-sounding without any real aggression, darkness, brutality, or atmosphere. Is this suppose to sound dark and threatening? Because if so, I can't tell, and bands like Disincarnate or Gorguts would not have been able to tell either.
The guitar playing is sloppy, redundant, and monotonous. The drumming is one dimensional and consists of non-stop pseudo gravity-blasting that gives no dynamics in timbre or control in technique. Bass guitar tracks can't be detected in the mix. The vocals are fake sounding and just sound like pitch-shifted grunting and gurgling without any sense of purpose or timing within the songs.
So while Jon Zig is most definitely the man, In the case of Condemned- these "songs" are most definitely just bad. If you're going to listen to death metal go get an album that's actually brutal and well-written, because this is neither of those things.