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Cursed are the skulls beneath the living tree. - 87%

hells_unicorn, July 23rd, 2013

Benediction is a name that is not as heavily bandied around insofar as early 90s death metal is concerned, perhaps in large part due to the saturation of the style in Sweden and certain key parts of U.S. This is unfortunate given that the band was equally as competent as its competition and definitely a boon to anyone who liked the style when it was based more so in menacing melodies and infectious riffing rather than exaggerated brutality. But while the band's full studio out put during the 1990s are worthy of any death metal head's consideration, it wasn't until their sophomore effort "The Grand Leveller" in all its odd imagery and dark demeanor that the band's signature sound truly came into being.

The majestic quality and morbid atmosphere that this band creates is definitely a collective effort, but there is something to be said for Dave Ingram's vocal contributions to the fold. He occupies a rather intricate middle ground between the middle ranged bark character of John Tardy and Chuck Schuldiner and the deeper grunts and groans of Glen Benton, which definitely plays well against a deep, heavy, chunky yet crisp and organized musical backdrop. The combination tends to be possessed of a greater unity on the 3rd album "Transcend The Rubicon", but even with the denser and slightly muddier guitar tone heard on here and the resulting greater affinity it holds with early Obituary, Ingram's angry vocalizations fit in masterfully.

While most of this album is steeped in the slower grooving character mixed with maddened frenzies of thrashing beats and tremolo riffing right out of the "Scream Bloody Gore" approach, this album differs a bit in terms of atmosphere. Occasional keyboard and studio effects not all that different from what would be heard on coinciding efforts out of Messiah and Darkthrone occur at some key points both at the album's onset (a tolling bell in the distant reminiscent of Black Sabbath's debut but also with menacing voices whispering incoherently and a more advanced set of notes that manages to conform to doom practices) and on a few subsequent songs in the form of droning chords behaving like a distant choir, though with less frequency and greater subtlety than the 2 aforementioned death metal bands' early 90s offerings.

When dealing with the actual meat and potatoes of the songs themselves, the band is marked by an approach that is consistent almost to a fault. The intermingling of slower grooving sections with pummeling chug riffs vs. the faster, mid 80s Slayer-inspired thrashing is marked by a somewhat moderated sense of build up through mid-tempo bridge sections, as underscored in the epic opener "Visions In The Shroud". This formula is repeated quite often within the song and makes it fairly easy to mistake one song for another at first listen, though a careful listening will reveal songs such as "Graveworm" as lingering a bit more in slow territory before starting to cook, whereas "Opulence Of The Absolute" spends most of its duration channeling the spirit of Schuldiner's most speedy and primitive of thrashing early death metal offerings, contrasting itself only with a slightly more adventurous usage of the two guitar arrangement beyond brief shredding passages and playing with melodic/harmonic ideas a bit.

If one were in the market for only one Benediction album and is so disposed to the conservative, early 90s approach to the style, it's advisable to pick up "Transcend The Rubicon" first as it has a slightly more varied and intricate approach. Nevertheless, this album nips at its heels and should definitely be sought by all whose budget will allow it. This is an album based primarily in tradition, though in its day it wasn't as much of a throwback as it would have been had it come about a couple years later when its slightly superior follow up came into being. All the right elements are in place for a terrifying experience that, unlike nowadays, wasn't solely reliant on graphic gore and mutilation to get its point across and knew the value to a broader approach to conveying dreadful imagery both musically and lyrically.