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I was digging through my old cassettes the other day and came across this gem of an album from Meathook Seed entitled Embedded, an underrated one-off released on Earache way back in 1993. Giving it a re-listen, I was blown away by how good it was, how well it had held up, and how much I wished they had continued exploring this avenue of extreme music.
As a side-project between members of Obituary and Napalm Death, Embedded is fascinating. It takes the industrial-tinged death metal of Fear, Emptiness, Despair and tips it more aggressively into the industrial side of things. Released a year before F.E.D., it totally presages that album's sound yet steps away from the lingering grind elements. It also has little in common with Obituary at all, which makes it good that those members could get this out of their system safely. I miss more adventurous side-projects like this, where you get to see a different side of your favorite bands without them compromising the integrity of their main projects. Instead of playing it safe, they really branch out and take risks.
Musically, Embedded graces that same fine line between assaultive metal and repetitive industrial that bands like Ministry, Godflesh, and Skin Chamber strode so successfully at the time. The songwriting quality is impeccable, easily straddling multiple genres while constantly dishing up tasty riffs and memorable hooks. Mitch Harris certainly didn't save his best ideas for Napalm Death. And his guitar playing is ferocious, on the level of his best Napalm work. Donald Tardy totally destroys his drums on this, finding that overwhelmingly pummeling yet minimal sound that few drummers seem to master. Teamed up with a drum machine on some tracks, he manages to make the pairing work, using the metronomic effect of the machine to unleash off-time compliments and accents. Lastly, Trevor Peres absolutely kills on the mic. I prefer his death growl to his clean shout, though the latter is adequate. I just enjoy his death vox more.
Highlights include the crushing "Famine Sector," one of the best industrial metal tunes ever written. "A Furred Grave" features Peres's alternating vocals to their best effect and "Day of Conceiving" is a vicious bit of punishing slow-grind. The final track, "Sea of Tranquility," really brings the industrial influences into stark relief -- a 14 minute long dirge comprised entirely of alienating ambient loops, simplistic drum machine patterns, and feedback noises.
I'm not sure who produced this record, it sounds like Colin Richardson to my ears, but regardless, it is rich and full with the expert separation of sound so vital to records of this sort. You can hear every texture, from the guitar riffs and drums, to the electronic samples so clearly audible yet buried in the various layers -- and the album is well-layered, generating a massively depressive atmosphere appropriate to an industrial death metal album. Embedded conjures frightening images of decaying, abandoned factories and roving gangs of post-apocalyptic mutants seeking human sacrifice. It is industrial death metal done right and it's a shame the band never managed to reconvene with this line-up.
Side projects are a bit of a mystery sometimes. It is understandable musicians may want a break from their main gig, and have the chance to create something different. Mike Patton and Jello Biafra for example have turned their hands to a number of projects over a wide range of musical styles. What is harder to understand though, from the perspective of someone not actually in the band, is why a band member would want to do something not far removed from their usual band's sound. Mitch Harris' impressive side project is within spitting distance of grind legends Napalm Death.
Meathook Seed's sound on 'Embedded' could best be described as a cross between Napalm Death and Godflesh (anyone with Attention Deficit Disorder can stop reading now because this is the most important point of the review). Think of half paced Napalm Death with a few heavy–duty industrial rhythms thrown in, or a faster Godflesh with more vocal variety and a real drummer thrown in from time to time.
The sound is fucking huge, and it's not surprising. Harris' partners in noise were Donald Tardy and Trevor Peres from Obituary. The noise produced is tremendous, equal parts mountainous Death Metal and sludgy Grind. Overlaying the carefully calculated racket are tormented vocals, sometimes a shade Barney Greenway, other times Justin Broadrick.
The songs really do little to distinguish themselves from one another. That's not to say they all sound the same, but are of an equal standard, with none of the tracks noticeably better or more memorable than the others.
Closer "Sea Of Tranquillity" is the only real departure from the formula of rest of the album. It is a dark ambient/trance piece, incorporating celestial choirs, Gregorian chants, sampled drums, drones and other electronic wizardry.
'Embedded' is by no means essential or original. It is a powerful release, and most fans of Napalm Death and Godflesh would not think it out of place in their collections. However, they might not revisit it too often.
I abhor 99% of Death Metal. But when something metal is labeled with the term "industrial" in its genre, i almost feel inclined to check it out. Meathook Seed started off as a side project between two of the most influencial death/grind bands to exist: England's Napalm Death (unfortunately not with Lee Dorrian and Bill Steer though), and U.S.'s Obituary. Eventually the Obituary members bowed out and were replaced.
The music is pretty simple. Basic melodic metal/thrash riffs are paired up with tight drumming that varies from slow and menacing, to fast and hard. Trevor Peres' vocals are excellent. Not too gutteral, and laced with mic effects. The aspect which separates it from most of the dreck that pours out of the death metal genre is the added programming and synths. Cold, metallic, mechanized synths, derived straight from the old school industrial sound along the lines of Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly. It is not overdone, and not at all cheesy. This adds to the greatness of the music, instead of ruining it. As well, some of the songs include well-programmed drum machine, rather than live drums. But this, too, does not take anything away from the music, but also contributes to the cold feel of some of the tracks. The album finishes off with "Sea of Tranquility", a 14-minute opus, metal-free. Strange industrial and ambient sounds are coalesced and form an strange epic instrumental piece. A creepy end to a great album.
Embedded is nothing too brutal, and deals more with themese like regret and utter hate, rather than gore, shit, and dumb kiddie stuff like that. But if you like older sounding death metal with some thrashy riffs and a great industrialized sound, this album is a diamond in the rough.