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If Demigod's acclaimed Slumber of Sullen Eyes is an example of a polished but in my opinion underwhelming Finnish death metal sound, then Convulse's World Without God would be the polar opposite. Sounding dirty and underwhelming is actually harder than you might think, but Purtenance's Member of Immortal Damnation is one instance of such a peculiar flop.
The production on this album is one of the worst for a full-length in 1992, even though it's by no means underproduced or lo-fi. What it is, however, is awfully imbalanced. Timo Häyrinen's vocals are oppressively loud and domineering, and making matters worse is the bass drum, which is unnaturally fat with regards to the rest of the drums (this is especially glaring during double bass-intensive moments). This leaves the guitars in bad shape: lacking both bass and treble, they're just an unwieldy mess of mid-range frequencies. When synths make an appearance on Reality Isn't Disappeared, the guitar tone becomes so horribly mutilated it might as well be non-existent.
Of course, I could easily look past the botched production job if the songwriting made up for it, but this just isn't the case here. My unshakeable predilection for Finndeath tends to elevate even the most half-assed riff to 'somewhat decent', so it almost pains me to call Purtenance's riffs flat-out boring. The aforementioned guitar tone is simply unable to make any of their riffing styles imposing in any way; the doomy opener Black Vision trudges on like a Thergothon song sans atmosphere, and the tremolo riffs scattered throughout range from being paper thin to nearly indiscernible (aside from anomalous Deep in the Darkness, in which the guitars are not only audible, but actually pretty loud).
Purtenance also strays from many of the tropes that would characterise the Finndeath sound, but this isn't necessarily a good thing. Häyrinen's gruff, slightly punkish bark is unlike your typical disembodied Finnish growl, and Toni Honkala's leads are just sort of... there, without ever really contributing to anything. Shit, even Abhorrence, on what could arguably be considered the first death metal release from Finland, had leads better than this. The one thing that barely saves the album from complete mediocrity is Harri Saro's drumming. Despite being rather rudimentary with little in the way of fills, he does throw in a few oddball beats here and there (like the sudden switches from bouncy romping to triplet blasts on A Dark Cloud Arises, or Black Vision's awkward 5/4 beat), so you can at least direct your attention to his drumming if you're getting a bit bored (not an unlikely phenomenon).
For what it's worth, the cheesy but surprisingly pleasant synth closer John 3:16 puts everything that came before it to shame, with an effortless flamboyance that only bands like Nokturnal Mortum could match. In some ways, one could view Member of Immortal Damnation as a missing link between the thrashy grime of early Funebre and Convulse and the more atmospheric approach that bands like Depravity and Adramelech would pursue. But to me it sounds more like a band that didn't really know what they were going for, and somehow managed to put out a bunch of death metal songs through sheer luck - a band whose fall into the depths of obscurity was not unwarranted.
After Purtenance Avulsion released their demo in 1991, they changed their name by dropping the ‘Avulsion’. With this name change came their first official release, the ‘Crown Waits the Immortal’ 7” on Drowned Productions. This EP was a clear indicator that Purtenance intended on keeping the vile nature of their demo intact while making refinements at the same time. This bumped them up even higher on the list of best current death metal bands (well, back from when it was good, at least). A short while later, Purtenance released their magnum opus, the ‘Member of Immortal Damnation’ LP, ranking them up there with Rippikoulu, Depravity, Demigod, and other classic Finnish bands. This album is a perfect, and I mean perfect, example of the preeminence and mastery that bands from this country were achieving at the time.
The production does wonders for the band, as not only does it enhance the filthiness that was already put in place by the music, but it also highlights every instrument, giving each one a proper place in the mix so nothing has an overpowering effect. The vocals aren’t extremely upfront in the mix like a lot of death metal albums. They are somewhat buried, and blend in with the barrage of darkness flawlessly. This kind of gives the same effect that the vocal mix gives Molested’s ‘Blod Draum’ LP in that it becomes another instrument rather then a dominating everything that’s going on (but of course stylistically the two sound nothing alike). The guitar and bass have a pretty equal balance, and both are playing with some extremely hideous tones. The drums are also given their fair share of space in the mix, and are prominent enough to keep the bus moving forward but not to the point where drown out anything else going on.
After things get started off with an intro comprised of a heavily reverberated guitar lead, the bludgeoning begins with the crushing doom-laden opening riffs of “Black Vision”. This element of doom metal keeps appearing throughout the album, but not quite frequently enough to deem this death/doom. These morbid, sludgy sections work as the perfect contrast with the mid-paced sections as well as the faster, blasting sections, which keeps things moving along at a nice enough pace to pull the listener in and not let go. Now of course this is certainly nothing new, as lots of bands from Finland at the time were doing the same thing, but like the previous reviewer mentioned, there weren’t too many doing it quite as well as the mighty Purtenance.
The vocalist, Timo, has a good, powerful growl that you can tell comes from the deepest part of his gut, and maybe picks up some of the shards of glass this guy eats with his cereal every morning. It stays in the mid-lower range, sitting somewhere between Swden’s Crematory and Carnage. The riffing, as I said, alternates between doom-laden devastation and grinding death frenzies, always staying on the low-end of the fretboard and tuning down to somewhere near A or B. The leads are actually more melodic and coherent then you would expect from a lot of other bands, especially during the slow sections. However, sometimes, where the pace picks up and a solo comes in, then it might resort to whammy-abusing atonality, which is never really a bad thing, but it’s just refreshing to hear a band who can fuse melody with sinister evilness as well as these maniacal death metal masters. The guitar tone and bass tone mesh perfectly, as both have equal amounts of filth and putridity caked on top of them, creating a huge wall of towering decay. The drummer is pretty efficient, never missing a beat but never overdoing it with excessive fills and overbearing double bass when it’s not necessary. He also knows how to use the bell of the ride cymbal really effectively, and it doesn’t sound like he just hits it accidentally when beating the shit out of his skins with blastbeats.
This is an excellent piece of old-school Finnish death metal at its finest. I would recommend downloading it first and waiting until The Crypt does the double-LP reissue, which will contain the demo and 7” on one slab and this masterpiece on the other. That is unless of course you are okay with paying a pretty penny for an original pressing, but even then, good luck finding a copy.
Purtenance is an odd, unknown band hailing from Finland. They officially formed in 1990 and released two demos before their debut album, "Member of Immortal Damnation". This record displays excellent craftsmanship in the areas of both doom and death metal, for it seems to be an almost perfect concoction of what both genres have to offer. Make no mistake, there are surely plenty of other bands doing a similar thing, but not very many have 'nailed the bullseye', so to speak, as Purtenance. At times there will be a slow, mournful passage with despondent harmonies layered on one another masterfully, to give the full effect of depressive emotions... And yet they will instantly shred that moment from the listener and break away into a very brutal and pounding cascade of aggressive death metal.
The album is commenced with a short guitar melody ending with a bell toll, invoking thoughts of mystery and expectation as to what will come next. Preceding through the rest of the album is the blend of doom/death metal that many bands today have popularized and are well known for. The second track immediately starts with a plodding, almost as if it were a funeral procession. Not too long into the track is where Purtenance really decides to thrash things around and break away from the doom and gloom, only to enter into the next level: the realm of death.
The structures of the songs I think are what get me the most. Purtenance knows exactly how to keep a listener interested with the music, not keeping too many parts the same, and not deriving too often from their original ideas as to remain consistent. The musicians themselves have such a clear understanding of how each other works, so they can optimize this to the best effect to create music together that utilizes the best of their abilities. For instance, the guitar players will not try to outdistance the drummer in terms of speed, and vice-versa. Everything is practically perfected, including the vocals, which have a most unique texture. Not the usual deep guttural death growl, and not a very typical scream either, almost a blend between the two.
Are you ready to become a Member of Immortal Damnation?