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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.