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For some years I have been waiting for the next band playing good, non-boring death metal with hooky riffs, nice drumming and great vocals. Survivors Zero finally made it for me this time. This band reminds me of Demigod’s Let Chaos Prevail and the good old Amoral. Their style is a blend of death metal with some thrash elements and a bit of melodic death metal (mostly for some melodies that fit in perfectly).
The album starts with “Embrace The Inferno”, which is a song that pleasantly punches you in the face. This song is quite aggressive until the chorus kicks in, showing clear influences of melodic death metal. I love the drum work on this song; there are some fills that are really awesome. The song’s pattern is really simple, but it just does the trick so amazingly good that I love it. The rest of the album goes on with the same path this song takes us through, except the fact that most of the songs do have solos. Every song has a share of aggressiveness, nonetheless some are cut with harmonized melodies, depicting a more melodic effort. There are also songs like “Thorns Of Rapture” in which we can hear some melodic thrash elements (like the riff of the verse). I also think that the solo on the intro of this song is really rock-and-rollish and the main solo reminds me a lot of Arch Enemy’s guitar player, Michael Amott. “I Bury Them Deeper” is one of the songs that make me relate this band to how Amoral sounds. The intro/verse riff is so classic Amoral that I can’t stop thinking that this band fills the emptiness Amoral left when they decided to play shit.
Concerning production, it is incredible really, not to be surprised as Sami is a great engineer. The guitar tone is crunchy and mid-highly, yet fat, and very well complemented by the bass tone, which clearly makes everything sound quite full. Drums sound really huge, everything is so clear to understand. Of course I can hear sample replacement here, but every band does that, and the engineer made a great job with drums (and everything) here. Vocals deserve kudos too. The singer is quite versatile with is growls, he often alternates between low growls and harsher vocals, making vocals not sound monotonous at all (and, boy, do many death metal singers fail at this)
There’s not much else to say about this album. I can’t recommend any song because I love the album as a whole and every time one of their songs pops up on my mp3 player I have to listen to the whole album. There’s no flaw in this album, maybe it could have a couple more songs, but nowadays 10-song albums seem to be quite a common thing. I would say that if you are into non-monotonous death metal, death/thrash, and/or melodic death, you will no doubt love this album. Go grab a copy and let’s hope that these guys stay together for a long time.
Even just the name Survivors Zero was enough to spark interest in me and the more I read about the project (another band that mishmashes members of other well-known Finnish bands into one super group) and Sami Jämsén’s goal -- to “re-invent” Finnish death metal -- I knew I needed to hear this album and I knew I was going to like it. When Sami mentioned that he wanted to change Finnish death metal because he didn’t like what he heard (and working in a studio I am sure he hears a lot) I wonder if the Hypocrisy-like sound achieved on this record was by accident or his goal. Which ever is the case it doesn't matter. CMXCIX turns out to be a viral output that plants Survivors Zero right in the middle of the death metal war zone.
Between forming Survivors Zero and releasing the debut album it is said he had two years to develop the songs and riffs found on CMXCIX and no matter if this is true or not these songs are devastatingly executed and well enough thought out that not a single one is left to be seen as filler. The riffs are so developed that I really could see Sami taking two years to squeeze in every detail he could to prevent any of these riffs from being boring. And he passes any expectations anyone had. Cannot say my own expectations. I didn’t have any. There are moments of less interesting riffs on I am the Gun and Trail of Fears but if comparing to overall quality of these riffs too they surpass the word “average” by far. But the quality of the other songs over shines these duller moments.
CMXCIX explodes into action with four incredibly intense songs. Right from the get go I think the Hypocrisy influence is prominent. The production mirrors the latest outings Virus and A Taste of Extreme Divinity by mentioned Swedish melodic death metal act; it is loud, the drums smash their rhythm out and the guitars bleed of this bright sound that is a very memorable sound and those higher octave notes have a very distinctive tone that helps form this “Armageddon atmosphere” that is more common in these melodic death metal bands these days. If the rhythm guitars were slightly pushed back in the mix slightly so the lead melodies could stand out a little more. It sounds like Reclaim My Heritage and Lucifer Effect have melodies that would make Eraser proud but because they are so deep in the mix it is hard to hear. I didn’t even realize there was a lead melody until my first listen with headphones and that, my friend, is a shame.
Fist pumping high energetic choruses dominate Armageddon Cult, Reclaim My Heritage and Thorns of Rapture. Not only do they get the listener into a frenzy but these songs drive for those moments and prove that death metal can be of high quality and not suffer by cutting short on catchy choruses. But where most songs fall short on chorus they make up with heavily melodic verses (ala Lucifer Effect and Scavengers of Christ), sheer speed (Embrace the Inferno and Trail of Fears), or even a catchy hook (I am the Gun). There is always something found to grab your attention and filthily hand it over to the rotten priest.
Ahhh… I am the Gun. Here we have an intense song with a verse that not only includes a catchy hook but a palm muted rhythm that, if I recall, is strikingly similar to the In Flames song Pinball Map. But just wait for the chorus. Once it rears its ugly head you too will be double looking the stereo speakers. “666 gauge killing device”. You get three guesses what nu-metal band the chorus sounds like and the first two guesses don’t count. It has grown on me like a weed but I still cannot get “If you are 555…” out of my head when I hear that. A very small price to pay for a great experience other wise.
Technical skill-wise this album is no Endgame. Don’t expect Dave Mustaine’s mad skills but none the least never say never when it comes to a good solo. Those are to be found here. Every song. Thorns of Rapture even throws a curve punch with two solos and one taking place during the intro of the track. Take that I am the Gun’s chorus! No guitar duels to be found or ten minute progressive songs but again this album is one not based on technical skill but sheer power and riffage. It is a pleasure to the ears but after all unlike their American counterparts the Finns never abandoned the art of the solo.
Music should never be harmless. Yeah, right… The name of this group describes it. Survivors Zero. The perfect anthem to Armageddon. How many survivors are there? Zero. Even if the midpoint of the album has a couple of songs that don’t have the same excitement as the beginning; the devastating atmosphere, solos and rip roaring speed will keep you listening till the final two destructive closing tracks (real gems). This album takes the best of hypocrisy and adds a Finnish touch to it. Will it change Finnish death metal like Sami set out to do from the beginning? Only time and the evolution of Survivors Zero will tell. At the moment us melodic death metal fans have a new band to enjoy. A band who knows how to do it right and when all the beans are laid out on the table at the end of the day ready for divvying up that is all that matters.
First impressions are an important thing in life, and this is doubly true for bands just releasing their first album. It can either make or break a career. Producing a range of responses from “Oh that’s just fucking cool!” to “Uh, what the hell is this shit?” We are at a point in time where bands from all over the world can be streamed at any given time on internet radio and web-pages. A band must stand out to survive in this cutthroat world of the World Wide Web; Survivors Zero would blend in with the crowd. They are not inspiring enough to make me get up and search for their debut album CMXCIX. Now, that being said, there are some good points to be made about the band’s technicality and musicianship, but it doesn’t help the band stand out from the ever-growing crowd and make you say “Wow.” Which is somewhat of disappointment considering the band’s lineage. With members hailing from bands such as Impaled Nazarene, Finntroll, Deathchain and The Scourger, you would expect this Finnish “super-group” to sound a little more... well, a little more. I do have to admit with this one though, that I was really only familiar with Impaled Nazarene and only ever heard one or two tracks from Finntroll. CMXCIX left me feeling somewhat shortchanged by the end. And when you have a project like this, it can either succeed or fail, and with Survivors Zero, they tend to be faltering towards the fail side of the line. Fortunately for Survivors Zero, they aren’t quite at “fail,” but they don't quite make the cut either, just barley passing the bottom line for what a decent death metal outfit should sound like.
From the opening track, “Embrace the Inferno” to the album's final offering, “Reclaiming my Heritage,” this album is pressed and clean, to the point of being sterile musically. The exact opposite of what many death metal purists would say it should be. While listening to the album, you might become aware of moments of doubt where lyrically, the songs almost sound pro-Christian, but then promptly switch back to the albums overall theme of Hell, Damnation and denying God. With the possibility that this switch was done on purpose, I found it somewhat annoying, but not to the point that I didn't want to listen anymore.
After listening to the album a few more times, three tracks started to stand out from the rest as being, good quality songs showing that these boys potential as a band. The tracks “Armageddon Cult” - the strongest cut on the album - “I Bury them Deeper,” and “Trail of Fears” all stood out from the rest of the album. If you listen to just these three tracks alone, you will get a good idea of what these Finns might be capable of on future albums. A final song of note is the last one, which has also been released as a single. “Reclaim my Heritage,” seemingly an anthem for a new generation, proclaiming nothing new, but still presenting it in an almost catchy, neatly packaged song ready to feed to the awaiting hordes of potential fans. Both lyrically and musically, the song could be stronger and more powerful, the instruments blending together a little less and the vocals being a little bit cleaner in their presentation. I honestly think that “Armageddon Cult” would have been a better first single off this disk, with “Reclaiming My Heritage” being a second or third release from this album. In any event, the song is likeable and almost catchy. Then there is “I am the Gun,” possibly the one song I disliked the most on the album and had an almost Slipknotesque feel. This got to the point that every time the song would reach the chorus, I started expecting the chorus for Slipknot's “Heretic Anthem” from the album Iowa - confusing me to what CD I was actually listening to. I found it incredibly annoying and had to resist the urge to proceed to the next track. Beyond that, most of the tracks blend together, making it feel like one giant song on the disk with a few stand out bits that make it listenable, but not sticky in my mind.
According to the band's website, it took the band a year to work out their style and thematic elements, this time being “long and tedious” which seems to show in the recorded album. While the band's bio goes on to say that the band synched musically once vocalist, Tommi Virranta became included, it’s not as much as I think they feel they did. Survivors Zero feels like a forced smile on the face of a seven-year-old. While the music is well constructed and pieced together - each member of the band's individual talent shining through on the album - it still doesn't pack quite the punch that I think many were hoping for. There is hope though, before I totally discount it, and this stems from the fact that they all seem at least moderately talented (they range, and I think you can tell), and with more work and time will sound more together.
The album’s artwork and packaging are very crisp and well produced (almost overly so) and doesn’t quite fit with the “ugly and smelly” image they seem to want to project to the world. The lyric booklet is both unique and fits well with the thematic elements of the album. I like it - but the lyrics themselves are very hard to read, being both in a very tiny font and dark text over a dark background leaving no contrast for the reader trying to see what they are singing about. They are also then seemingly concealed by the song titles (which are gigantic), drawing your attention from the actual focus of the page. It almost seems like they are trying to hide the lyrics between the extra-large track titles and the camouflaging background. Very annoying if you are one of those who like to try and read the lyrics of the song you are listening to.
Once I was able to actually make out the lyrics, they were your run of the mill, pro-Satan, we hate Christ lyrics. The songs are straightforward and have no clever use of the dark imagery that is so popular in Metal today. They don’t hide it behind veils, putting it in your face and telling you how it is, which would be one-hundred percent okay if it weren't for the fact there really is nothing in them to separate them for other bands in the death metal scene.
While I have to admit that time might make Survivors Zero a better band, and that the album was somewhat growing on me with each listen. I still couldn't get past the fact that with this band's experience in the industry; they should sound better than they do. While I won't discourage someone from buying this album, I would suggest that you listen with the intent you might be a little disappointed after listening the first time. If I were to make any real suggestions of what you should do with this album, it would be this: this would be one of those albums you would get for your thirteen year old kid brother who’s just getting into death metal. But it also might grow on you with time. I personally I’m going to wait it out for a second album before I place them on the “it looked at the time” pile. In other words, even though I don't really like this album, I do see the beginnings for a good, quality band with staying power if they develop themselves in the right way.
by Kesh Butler, contributor from Metal Psalter Webzine