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Belarus avant-metal special, part XIV - 65%

UCTYKAH, February 1st, 2013

There were times when genre hopping was not such a routine order of the day, and bands like Robbed Tomb were possibly looked upon as forward-thinking eccentrics, fearlessly expanding metal's horizons. These days are long behind us, while the widespread idea of frivolous fusion of styles demonstrated, along with its allegedly progressive, boundary breaking posturing, how dull and formalistic it all could also be. Case in point: Robbed Tomb's very own and better known countrymen Divina Enema. Unlike the latter, who managed to gain some sort of international exposure, RT's stubborn DIY activities during the latter half of the 1990's bore no fruit, and the group's hopelessly localized status eventually led to an inevitable demise. That is not to say that RT were a bunch of criminally unrecognized geniuses. Not quite. Yet I can freely acknowledge that these guys might be "of interest" to a few of you out there.

Technical ability notwithstanding, introducing and then blending foreign elements into your music is a relatively easy and even predictable way out, as opposed to erecting something novel out of conventional parts that everyone else uses. Learning new tricks on the same old lawn, with the same old frisbee is a much bigger challenge; or, because such achievement is seldom possible, employing the least amount of new tools, unless, of course, you invent these tools yourself. RT adopted the former way of doing business on this particular recording. The band's Lithuanian neighbors Anubi used a similar, if classier and more refined, approach around the same time period, by throwing together a plethora of divergent, constantly shifting elements, albeit taking their cue from a more blackened setting, but coming off as a veritable bunch of weirdos nonetheless. RT's jumping platform, on the other hand, appears to be located closer to the death metal territory, which is what their debut album "The Fall of Heaven's Realm", heard many moons ago, was leaning towards, if I recall correctly, though not without its own line of deviations. Which matters little all the way down the line, for the aesthetic attitude employed by RT on this demo is not fundamentally different from what numerous contemporary hipsters are doing nowadays, pulling together as many influences as their technical and creative prowess can grasp, digest and blend. Whether to buy or not to buy into what any particular group does is a solely individual choice for a listener, of course. And I do, indeed, find many modern merchants of the metal "avant-garde" to be too glib (Unexpect or Diablo Swing Orchestra, anyone? Oh, I bet!) for their own good - weird 'cause we can be, and because we can come up with our own logarithm for the weird and pull it all off musically with ease, not because we are weird by nature. In that respect, I sit on the fence with regards to RT as well. Some of the things they do here feel a bit obvious, less natural and more premeditated, on the one hand, but still gleefully strange, on the other. Bring out the eye of the beholder, I say!

On these four fairly lengthy tracks, RT concoct a crude but exotic salad, which, in reality, has next to nothing to do with death metal. For one, neither tremolos nor blast beats are anywhere to be found on this tape. Perhaps if a band like Phlebotomized (or maybe Pan.Thy.Monium) had completely lost it at the end of their run and started covering polka tunes and pop songs right before their impending break up... Well, that might be taking it a bit too far, but not too far beyond the horizon. "Burial Flame" is a bizarre attempt to drag an adult contemporary ballad through a gothic doom blender, and, unlike an average Boney Nem cover track, RT sport some conceptualist flair while going about their business. The band cleverly introduce the ballad in question as is, and then gradually clothe it in metallic coating as they move along, adding distortion and hoarse vocals, solos and folksy keyboard leads. Yet, they rarely change the crux of the song, always coming back to its exaggeratedly mushy chorus and breaking down the pop music aura only with a couple of sped-up and awkwardly unrelated (to anything else that goes on around) segments of oddball death-doom (I guess) approximation. Strange happenings do not end there. "Diving Angel" (sic) carries itself as if it was a gothic metal song played by a punk band. Gothic cliches are worked up and rushed through in quite an unscrupulous manner. Some courtesy is provided via a few pit stops (with the chorus surprisingly reminding me of the obscure Russian-Israeli gothic-folk band Zlye Kukly), where the band sort of mocks you by saying "yes, we could, but we do not really care to" - before jetting back out again. And was that a cow bell they were beating on during the fourth minute of running time, about twenty seconds before that short-but-sweet neo-classical bridge around the five minute mark? Still, they budge at the end and finish the song in a normal gothic manner. "Robot Rats" is the shortest and most sound and sustained piece, which is probably why it also happens to be the catchiest, what with cool lead work and bobbing, driving bass presence. Two short keyboard passages are the icing on the cake here, with their somewhat cheesy and retro (I want to say something along the lines of low budget 1970's-80's sci-fi flicks) feel. And of course you just have to have a waltz on your record, now don't you? "Cemetery of Gods" is exactly that and then some. This track consists of three alternating segments, which really have nothing to do with one another and are strung together like mutant creatures from the island of Dr. Moreau. What a hack job! Yet I like each part individually enough to keep on listening. The waltz-metal is always fun, and so is the skronky bashing in the vein of the old Hellhammer/Celtic Frost days. Plus, the mellow chorus and its cleanly sung harmony of the third section again bring back the flashbacks of Zlye Kukly, who, by the way, were not even around at the time this recording was cut.

This being a demo, warts and all, the sound quality is subpar. The guitar is especially weak and crumbly, although the solos/leads can be heard fairly well. Bottom line is that you do need quality production for this sort of thing, which, obviously, no DIY band, from Belarus of all places, could afford, especially back in the 1990's. Props are gladly given for the band's idiosyncratic mindset, particularly for their integration attempt on "Burial Flame" - something most other extreme metal bands merely trying to cover (much less write their own) pop tunes (would) usually fail at. Other experimentations are more predictably patchy, consisting of some interesting parts but lacking in consummation. RT were all too eager to think outside the box (and it shows), even at the expense of looking provincial and uncouth. (And while I am on the subject, does anyone recall the short-lived comedy-metal group People, whose demo was issued by Relapse back in a day?) Judging by this tape, the band's potential could have swung either way to either get out of hand in its desire to be different or create something potently interesting. I have not heard RT's sophomore albums, so for all I know, this could just have been a one-off experiment. If anything, it was neither boring nor too senselessly irritating, which is a positive thing.