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The third full-length from Swedish death metallers Puteraeon, “The Crawling Chaos,” is certainly a much more cohesive and enjoyable release in their catalog than expected and remains a consistent and enjoyable offering.
Like most of their Swedish brethren, it’s pretty obvious what to expect from the group throughout this. Charging throughout here is those ever-present melodies providing this with the chance of utilizing the most prominent aspect of the Swedish style of death metal in those grinding chainsaw-like grooves throughout the music here. Whether it’s in the two different tempos traditionally played at in this style, raging throughout in fiery, frantic up-tempo numbers or oozing through slow, churning crawls that same grinding pattern is consistently featured throughout this. While not nearly as prominent as most would like throughout this, the fact that the raging tempos here do generate plenty of enjoyable moments is certainly proof of the riffing style being best demonstrated in the proper hands for there’s still a lot of life left in those grooves, churning out blazing high-speed numbers with the kind of abandon that comes along quite rarely in the scene as the slower tempos are usually explored more. That these other efforts are still featured here puts the chainsaw grooves into action with a slew of dynamic rhythms, marching along at a furious mid-tempo gallop or slung low into slow, sprawling crawls that bring in heavier patterns than the majority of the other sections here which makes for quite a slew of impressive elements as this matches up with lots of dynamic qualities within this.
Getting beyond the chainsaw riffing also uncovers the album’s other main factors. The varying tempos throughout here , as this whips through devastating high-speed tempos graced by the simplicity and furious energy of the punk roots of the style to the sprawling, mid-tempo bruisers using the kind of tempos and riffing found in doom metal, certainly allows this to contain a far more well-rounded sound than just simply producing tight chug-like pattern throughout. However, this does more than just provide a rather dark atmosphere with all these different patterns in here as this produces a sense of variety to the music that’s inherently endearing to the band for the songs themselves are rarely as one-note written as many other bands in the scene. Weaving through a multitude of segments here provides a variety that’s a lot more exciting than it otherwise would be as simplistic numbers here with this generating the kind of alternating moods and tempos that really stick out quite a bit here. Ranging from a slow sprawl for an intro into a furious mid-tempo march and charging through an up-tempo finale filled with blazing speeds and tempos is quite a dynamic feat here that can only be accomplished through the variety of the riff-work present here. Rather than opting for a series of blazing technical displays, this opts for putting the riffing into different tempos and arrangements instead, and the results pay pretty big dividends.
Aside from that riff-work, there’s not much else here as the album is pretty straightforward. There’s that churning, ever-present bass-tone throbbing away in the background which allows the guitars their chance to fire away with those churning chainsaw rhythms while still giving this a rather heavy and dynamic feel. Giving off that clanking feel when necessary while carrying enough nimble, dexterous patterns to maintain the kind of charging tempos throughout here, overall it makes this quite well-played. As well, the drumming here is top-notch with that kind of pounding performance that manages to accompany whatever it’s doing quite nicely during whatever version of the two tempos its required to perform. During the faster numbers, this has a reckless speed-driven power that matches the ferocity of punk rhythms with the way it charges forth through the raging sections as the hard-hitting patterns are given a rather dynamic power to comfortably sit in those sections quite nicely. As an added bonus, the occasional foray into frantic blastbeats during these sections gives this a raging intensity that makes their brief appearances all the more welcome with it not being driven into overkill with relentless blasts and saves them for select occasions. Likewise, the doom-laden sections are given a generally-loud, thumping crunch to match the plodding pace so that there’s a heavy, pounding undercurrent to the music, and these all make for a fine effort.
Frankly, there’s not a whole lot to this that doesn’t work. A familiar pattern that does become quite apparent in here is the fact that there’s set writing patterns for the different types of tracks. There’s a few blazing, full-throttle speedsters in here, and they all tend to rattle through rather short paces so their running time is quite a bit shorter from the longer, more dynamic and involved tracks. Those tend to revolve around a lot more involved patterns and displays which tends to run through much longer sections so the shorter numbers stand out quite a bit in this display. It’s not a distracting or detrimental element, but more of a sneaking issue that tends to crop up from time-to-time. As well, the album manages to successfully recall that Swedish-styled atmosphere with the familiar pattern arrangements on display so this does have a rather sinister air to it as the churning chainsaw riffs and dynamic drumming creates a dirty, dark air about it. This also exposes the band’s one big issue in that it’s all pretty much been done before here. Most of the riffing patterns, arrangements and even the track structure used in many of these is taken straight from that original ground from the Swedish scene done years ago and remains quite typical of the modern proponents of this scene which don’t really offer up much of anything all that original themselves. About the only change here is the fact that this one is much more comfortable-seeming playing at the slower end of the spectrum here based on the numerous amounts of such rhythms against the more frantic, furious areas which gets put down in the album. There’s enough of these to break up the slow, sprawling tempos and stand out from other works so it doesn’t get thrown together into an unrecognizable blur of chainsaw riffs and energetic punk-like rhythms. It might not be enough of a change for some but it does get featured here.
The first half to this is certainly quite enjoyable. Intro ‘Wrath’ sets this up magnificently as the slow, sprawling riffs turn into dark, churning buzz-saw riffing and dexterous drumming careening through explosive up-tempo sections with the occasional turn into the sprawling sections before blasting back into the charging tempos for the extended rhythms in the finale for a massive, walloping blow to start things off here. The mid-tempo march of ‘In Dreamdead Sleep’ brings barreling riffing and steady chugging that takes the mid-tempo pace through churning riff-work filled with dynamic solos amongst those steady chainsaw grooves which offers slow, sprawling tempos in the second half with a fiery final half, giving this a decent overall track. Blistering along, ‘Path to Oblivion’ offers the album’s best speedster with blazing drumming and tight, churning buzz-saw riffs flying through an intense up-tempo effort with few breaks in the blistering energy and intensity throughout here. Working familiar ground, ‘Pickmans Model’ is all sprawling riffing and dexterous drumming along a churning mid-tempo crawl that ushers a slow-burn into the mid-section that throws in swirling leads and churning rhythms throughout a series of more up-tempo sections into the finale, leaving this a competent but unspectacular effort. Slightly better in execution, ‘From the Ethereal Vortex’ also offers a slow, evil churning pace lead by furious chainsaw rhythms among the swirling low-key plodding that brings in sprawling tempos before firing away with bigger melodies in the monumental-yet-dirge pace of the second half, yet this one does a much better job of doing this.
The second half here tends to play out much like the first one does. The title track starts with demonic shouting and organ blaring that turns into churning up-tempo chainsaw grooves with thumping drumming, tight chugging and surging lead melodies along the blaring tempo and sprawling rhythms for a fantastic highlight. ‘The Abyssal’ offers frantic full-throttle riffing buzzing away with blasting drumming and driving speed that hurtles this throughout the dynamic lead melodies mixed in with the furious riff-work and dexterous drum-patterns for a solid, enjoyable up-tempo effort. Back with the mid-tempo efforts, ‘Asenath’ features sprawling rhythms and plodding drumming that eventually form blazing up-tempo rhythms with fiery chainsaw grooves, blasting drumming and frantic up-tempo patterns that continually rattle along in the up-tempo pace throughout with blastbeats and churning riff-work for a blistering, brutal effort throughout here. Enjoyable enough, ‘Rotten Aeon’ works intense blasting with frantic drumming and up-tempo razor-wire riffs that feature intense rhythms and heavy riffs that continually charge forth in the darker atmosphere with plenty of dexterous drumming, raging tempos and chainsaw grooves for a solid outing but falls in as the weakest of the raging tracks. Epic closer ‘Welcome Death’ uses churning rhythms, plodding drumming and sprawling paces off-set the blazing lead-melodies and slow burning rhythms that churn and broil in slow-moving tempos across the dynamic riff-work carrying the lead-melodies throughout the plodding final half to really end this on a disappointing note.
While many of these bands are nowhere near the kind of impact that was ushered forth from the early Swedish bands, these guys remain one of the better examples of the current wave in that scene by at least offering a few small differences to stand out. This makes it quite a solid pick for purveyors of this style of death metal as well as proponents of all manners of old-school death who don’t mind the familiarity.
Puteraeon's latest opus, The Crawling Chaos, is very unlikely to breach the Swedish sound-off barrier, being that it's nearly a direct tribute to classics like Left Hand Path. But that aside, a few listens through the thing have convinced me that one should not be so quick to write them off, if only because they seem to really engage with their subject matter, engage with their songwriting and in the end provide us a pretty genuine window into the death metal ideals of their forerunners. This is accomplished almost entirely through their strict attention to melody and harmony, far more so than the usual runts of the Swedeath litter, which provides just the correct amount of musicality and atmosphere to save this one from the chaff-bin and put it with the rest of the wheat. That's not high praise, and this disc doesn't deserve such, but you could listen to this front to end, the entire 45 minutes and not really come away too bored or banging your head into a wall at the vast level of derivation it subsists upon.
In short, it's Left Hand Path with a few cruder grooves and d-beats shuffled in to balance out its more interesting ideas with something for the pit ghouls. The set-up is great, with the grimy, doomy grave dirt melodies inaugurating the 7-minute, sepulchral "Wrath" raising the bar for my expectations, and a number of riffs across most of the individual tracks providing some follow-through...only just not enough that it seems incredibly level or consistently memorable. Rhythm guitars are ugly, Swedish, but in accounting for themselves they incorporate a fair share of melodies that travel off in some fulfilling directions. In fact, had the band changed production styles and tones to something more unique, and dropped a few of the bland d-beat drive-punk passages, we could be hearing a fresher take on the death metal nostalgia that has started to corrode its welcome. Alas, The Crawling Chaos is planted too firmly in its safety zone. There are occasional riffs which deviate, like the opener of "The Abyssal" which is a grinding, evil paean to Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence, and in truth about 3-4 of the songs here would have made for a killer EP, but like a lot of old school stuff I get, the 'good' parts are watered down by a surrounding miasma of 'meh'.
Vocals are a little blunter and more monotonous than, say, L-G Petrov, but they at least compliment the growling with some even further guttural bursts. I can feel the repulsion bass lines spewing out sewage on the bottom end, but they never present themselves as something that deserves the same attention as the other instruments (a common fault in this style). The drumming is steady and has a live show feel to it, but in terms of beats and fills there's nothing really creative happen, it just happens to work within the context of the style like you'd expect from most bands playing at this level. The Lovecraft lyrical theme seems more or less serious, as it was on the first two discs these guys released, but this is such a commonplace thing in the 21st century that you wonder what the old corpse of everyone's favorite horror author would think about this. Personally I don't feel that The Great Old One would choose Swedish death metal as his entrance music when he steps in the ring against humanity (in a brief, one-sided bout). Nah...something more chaotic, orchestrated, layered and probably impossible for our species to comprehend. But the Mythos, and cosmic horror is such a fascination that it doesn't really get old, even when you're using a title like The Crawling Chaos which has been done before many times. So, yeah, not any better than the last two Puteraeon discs, but at the same time, no worse. You like Demonical, Revel in Flesh, or the original purveyors of this sound from that important 1990-1993 era, and you're not tired of the endless recycling of those ideas, then I don't imagine this one would put you out much.
To some it’s a transparent formula, to others it’s an art. Everything from the buzz-saw guitar tone, throaty grunts and punk styled drum patterns contributes towards the abrupt notion that this revered sub genre is indeed far from difficult to identify. But of the countless modern-day artists seeking affirmation in the style, it’s perhaps not all that surprising to note that many bands debase themselves as terribly unambiguous reproductions of the classic Swedish death of the early 90′s, without contributing too much in the way of exclusivity. This isn't by any means an automatic write-off, at least from a critical standpoint, but it’s always refreshing to see artists that place more of a contemporary spin on a style which is now firmly rooted in the old-school.
And Swedish quartet Puteraeon fit this bill flawlessly. For a band barely six years old, their work ethic is admirable. Having squeezed out two albums and a split since their demo-days of 2008/9, the bands approach reeks of motivation before even setting your ears to anything. So following their 2012 sophomore Cult Cthulhu we now have The Crawling Chaos, the latest in their line of highly hostile throwbacks to the esteemed Swedish death metal records of yesteryear. Much like their previous efforts, the album is teeming with raw aggression and relentlessly intricate riffing harking back to the halcyon days of Vomitory or Entombed. Though it’s not as predictable as you might think. From the opening chords of ‘Wrath’, we’re presented with a labored riff reminiscent of classic Autopsy, right before the double-bass kicks in and the mid-heavy riffs start cutting through the mix in a timeless fashion.
The production throws each layer at you with unmistakable fury, the crunchy guitar tone forcefully blasting through the raspy clamoring of vocalist Jonas Lindblood, who’s enunciated style is comparable to the likes of Martin van Drunen or John Tardy. In fact, Puteraeon’s approach screams Asphyx in more ways than one, highlighted by the elastic transitions between doom chord construction and piercing tremolo picking. Not all that shocking, as the band have cited Dutch death overlords (and perhaps van Drunen’s most renowned child) Pestilence as an influence on more than one occasion. But it’s the spattering of the more unusual connotations that gives the record it’s clout. The opening riff to ‘Pickmans Model’ bears a striking similarity to Carcass’s ‘Buried Dreams’, illustrating Puteraeon’s fondness for melodic harmony during slower sections. Then we have the blasting cascade of riffage present on ‘The Crawling Chaos’, one of the heaviest tracks on the record and an impeccable homage to classic Bolt Thrower.
From the bands choice of album/track titles, its no surprise that the Cthulhu mythos holds a great deal of inspiration for Puteraeon, and it always makes me chuckle to think if Lovecraft himself ever gave thought to how his writing would transcend both time and medium. I’d like to say that the album succeeds in conveying that wholly Lovecraftian sense of impending doom, but it’s my belief that this type of atmosphere is better left to, well.. doom. That said, there are moments on the album where a distinctly cataclysmic tone shines through, if only for a brief interlude before the blasting resumes chipping your face away in tiny chunks. Props to the band for attempting this feat however, as it certainly does nothing but enhance the mood of the record as a whole.
As a final note, it’s fairly typical for death metal of the old-school variety to possess a ‘what’s on the tin’ quality as far as repeated listening is concerned. Rest assured that The Crawling Chaos only shines brighter with each spin. It’s a tenacious and immensely satisfying slice of death metal with a cavalcade of groovy riffs, baroque harmonization and a frankly battering blend of old and new that is indicative of a fresher and more mature sound for the band. Fans of death metal of any description will not be left disappointed.
“The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
- H. P. Lovecraft
Written for The Metal Observer