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Death metal that worships at the altar of the old school is nothing new. Plenty of metalheads and musicians alike appreciate the straightforward aggression that the earliest death metal bands conveyed so well. And really, how can they be blamed? There's just something magical about those classic death metal bands' collective ability to push the limits of thrash beyond their breaking point to create a wholly unholy new beast. Most of my favorite death metal albums were birthed during the golden age of death, a time when, strangely enough, the genre managed to be incredibly diverse yet unexpectedly unified under the gory banner of death metal. Slugathor, like an uncountable sea of their contemporaries, were so fascinated and captivated by the old school that they were compelled to throw their disparate-yet-related influences into a blender and hope for the best.
If there's one thread common to the majority of old school death metal bands (or at least the ones that were any good), it's the emphasis placed on the riff. Few death metal albums have stood the test of time without having a hell of a lot of great riffs to serve as the foundation upon which the music is built. The best of the newer bands that play in the old-school worshipping style recognize this. A good many of them write damn good riffs and glue them together into a cohesive song. Toss in some proper growls and competent drumming and you have yourself a thoroughly enjoyable death metal album. Ever listen to a newer "old school" death metal album, have yourself a good headbanging session through the album's duration and then smile and nod when the whole thing's over and say to yourself, "yep, that's death metal"? Call me easy to please but I get a lot of enjoyment out of albums like that. Slugathor, however, are that rare band that transcends mere adequacy, as great as that may be. Their influences aren't hard to pin down; mix a few parts Bolt Thrower with some Incantation and a sprinkling of Demigod and a pinch of blackened goodness and you're not far off the mark. Describing them as such, though, is like saying that the best Philly cheesesteak you've ever had was simply steak and Cheez-whiz (get out of here with that pussy provolone crap) on an Italian roll with some fried onions. The whole is absolutely more than the sum of its parts in both cases.
As I stated before, the key ingredient on an album like this is the riffing and Slugathor have imported the finest gourmet guitar meat for their debut. There's absolutely nothing pretty or fancy about it; the guitars spend about 70% of the album's running time in a glorious downtuned flurry of thrashy, punky goodness. The guitar tone is somewhere between War Master and Mortal Throne of Nazarene but unfortunately the production doesn't give quite enough weight to the guitars' low end riffs. It feels like the bass knobs are just a little too high and the mids just a little too scooped for my tastes. Mind you, these low-end riffs still hit like a chugging freight train but when the guitars switch to the higher tremolo patterns they cut through the mix much more effectively. A few times those lower-pitched riffs speed up and veer sort of into early Carcass style grind territory but more often they're a deal more articulate than that. Lead guitar, you ask? Well, not really. There are some dive bombs here and there but in general this isn't the type of album to let melodic lead guitar get in the way of the pummeling rhythms any more than it has to. Likewise, you shouldn't expect (or even want, really) the bass to do more than follow the riff on this monster. I'm sure it does a great deal to fatten up that bottom end but if it ventured out on its own all it would do is trip over the guitars and muddy everything up. There are some fantastic riffs on this album; just see how the tremolo lines transform into pounding brutality near the end of "Suffering Endlessly" or witness the groovy swagger of the opening riff on "Phenomenon of Doom."
One of my favorite things about Slugathor, and something they thankfully retained throughout their too-brief stint, is their vocal style, which is on full display here on Unleashing the Slugathron. The lead vocals are a very deep growling style (Rottrevore make a good benchmark) and aren't all that varied themselves but are backed throughout much of the record by a throat-shredding blackened howl. I could die a happier man if those backing vocals were higher in the mix but I'll take what I can get while I'm still alive. While not too far removed from the concept of what I've heard called "demon vocals" (the type where vocals are doubled using a pitchshifter to juxtapose growls and shrieks, (ab)used often by Glen Benton for example), the result is wholly different and, to my ears, miles more effective and enjoyable.
The drumming is definitely a highlight. Immu really knows exactly when to pour on the blasts (not lighting fast gravity blasts, mind, but the more mid-paced variety) and when to hold back. The fills come often enough but are varied enough to never wear out their welcome. My only complaint is that the bass drums sort of get lost in that massively bassy mix. The only obvious "remedy" would be to up the "clicky" factor to make them more audible and if there's anything that bugs me more than not-loud-enough bass drums, it's clicky, obnoxious sounding ones so I'll let that slide. Evidence enough of Immu's talents can be found during the opening of "Fabric of the Multiverse." Sure, you could "tech" that drum line up a good deal but there's really no need to. That pattern alone is proof that it's possible to ooze character while staying within the bounds of relative simplicity.
The real magic of this album (and Slugathor in general, for that matter) is how the band blends the flawless performances of these various elements together and injects the whole affair chock full of atmosphere so dense you could cut it with a knife. The way that meaty guitar tone combines with the band's downright awesome dual-vocal approach conveys the "decaying zombies shuffling through a graveyard" aesthetic better than any of their contemporaries. If you appreciate a good death metal riff anywhere near as much as I do, you're going to love this album. The amount of conviction these guys have for making their music pushes Slugathor's music above and beyond the realm of nostalgia or even respectful worship of their influences. To top it all off, there's good news for anyone listening to this record: Slugathor not only managed to create something unique and special here, they managed to grab onto that creative spark with both hands and refine it further on each subsequent release. While it's abundantly clear on Unleashing the Slugathron that these musicians get death metal, they'd go on to prove on Circle of Death and swansong Echoes from Beneath that they have unique voices and an all-too-uncommon knack for turning our favorite death metal ingredients into something much more than just "yep, that's death metal."
It is always pleasing to find a band doing something else besides the usual death/thrash, black metal (melodic or otherwise), folk metal or gothic metal right here in Finland. Slugathor is one of those bands. Well, actually, a lot of stuff outside of those is done here, but this is the first time I run into brutal death metal band in a while so it feels refreshing. Slugathor aren't out to re-invent the wheel though. I can't say that they are the most innovative band out there.
But the band isn't aspiring for that either. What they are out to do is to write some crushing death metal and that is where they definitely succeed. The band keeps the tempo to middling speeds so as not to lose any of the heavy momentum they have. Keeping to middle-paced material, they also carve out a rather ignored niche for themselves and play their biggest strength, the songwriting. The songs are not so much constructed wholes, but organic beings evolved from the very first notes. The way the riffs grow from the beginnings to the climax of the song is unbelievably effective. What makes it even more powerful is the way the drums join in in this grand evolution of songs. Immu's drumming is great even otherwise, not very flashy, but his beats are nicely varied and fills fit in well within the compounds of the songs. Where his drumming really shines is when he gradually changes the beat to support the evolving riff. That is something close to perfection.
Another magnificent aspect of Unleashing the Slugathron is the production. It is very heavy on the low end. The guitars don't have that much crunch, but when they're so crushingly low with the bass providing a distinct, rumbling backbone, you don't even notice it. The vocals are mostly low rumbles as well with some higher rasps occasionally thrown in. The low vocals are not very distinct, but they are utilized as just another instrument, not really taking the foreground except at a few points for highlighting purposes. Most of the time they work together with the guitars and bass to create organic songs. Which is what Unleashing the Slugathron essentially is - a collection of organically growing songs, fitting well together and forming a cohesive whole due to their common breeding ground. As I said in the beginning, this album doesn't break much new ground, but damn if these guys don't execute death metal better than almost anyone out there at this time, if ever. This album is just such a joy to listen to all over again.
Holy brutal shit, where did this come from?! Finland unleashes a fucking load of old-school blasphemous brutal death metal on us from out of virtually nowhere. I'd no idea this band existed, were it not for Agonia Records and their nice marketing. The other thing that made me want to check this out is that they're a DM band on a relatively BM-based label, which usually ends up brilliant (Drawn & Quartered, anyone?). Anyways, this is five-thousand pounds of brutal, bottom end-heavy, pounding death metal.
What drew me in here, upon first listen were the vocals. They're relatively generic, but when coupled with some screechy backup vocals, they become sinister in tone. This is a very good aspect of the band. Technical riffs can be heard all the time, and the riffs are nice and varied as they should be. The band is basically midpaced. They never go into "ULTRA BLASTBLASTBLAST" sections, and they keep the tempo in the middle a bit. That's not to say that they don't have blasts, though. Also some rather neat groove parts, such as the beginning of Bleed For Me.
The bass on this release is absolutely crushing. Like any good death metal album, this album understands the importance of low end. For the most part, it's a rhythm instrument, never really taking the reigns, but it's very powerful in its position. Very solid performance.
This isn't a particularly laborious listen, so I don't have to go into huge metaphorical tangents and compare them to bulldozers or heavy machinery or anything silly like that. All I really have to say is that if you like old-school death metal (even atmospheric death metal fans will find something in this; the guitar tone is very interesting), GET THIS ALBUM.