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Plinky plonk music - 43%

robotiq, September 14th, 2020

There comes a time in every band's career when their recordings are no longer worth hearing. The precise moment for Human Remains was in 1994, with the release of this demo/promo thing. Two years previously, the band had launched their incredible "Admirations Most Deep and Foul" seven-inch. That was their peak. This is their nadir. Unlike most death metal bands, Human Remains didn't grow stale by rehashing past glories. They fell prey to the opposite problem, deviating too far from what made them great in the first place.

The core problem is that Human Remains lost focus. Sure, they had always spiced up their songs with weird guitar effects and jazzy timing, but it was peripheral. Here, it is their raison d'ĂȘtre. Anyone hoping for crushing death/grind will be disappointed. These elements are still there but are relegated to the sidelines. I don't begrudge Human Remains for going in this direction. It is better to fail by experimenting too much than too little, and Human Remains had always hinted at this direction. For me, this highlights the limitations of the death metal genre in the first place. All death metal bands have a sell-by date. They all reach a point where they become irrelevant, split up, or disappear up their own backsides. Human Remains chose the latter route.

The songs on this demo are mostly awful. Three of them would be re-recorded on "Using Sickness as a Hero" with better playing and a better production. None of these three songs are any good though. "Human" lacks any flow and soon descends into random plinking and plonking, even the big breakdowns can't save it. "Rote" and "Swollen" are longer and more complex, making them even less interesting. The former begins with more plonking, then some impressive blasting from Dave Witte, then it moves through several disjointed phases without a plan. It feels more like an academic exercise than music, lacking the bone-crunching simplicity of their early material. The remaining song is "Mechanical". This one originally appeared on the previous seven-inch and sounded amazing. This version is a hollow imitation but is the best song here by default, at least it has some structure.

The production is worse than it was on the band's previous two demos. The drums sound brittle and lack power and depth. The guitar tone is thin, meaning that the heavy sections have no heaviness. The vocals have lost their aura and lack the blood-curdling menace of before. Overall it sounds more like a rehearsal than a proper demo. The title implies that they released this as a promo for Metal Blade. Perhaps they had no money for a proper studio and just wanted to record the songs as soon as possible, knowing they could come back to them at a later date (which they did). I'm not even sure if this demo was ever properly released anywhere other than on the band's discography compilation. Either way, the production is off-putting when considering how great "Admirations Most Deep and Foul" sounded.

Still, I can't deny that Human Remains were onto something here. This music was influential, at least once "Using Sickness as a Hero" came out. This demo is the earliest showcase of the band's experimental death/grind direction. Other bands heard Human Remains and copied some of these ideas. The jolting, jaunty, effect-laden stuff became fashionable at the turn of the millennium. Many bands signed to Relapse Records and followed what Human Remains had done. The band had tapped into a broader stream of New Jersey experimentation; this demo came out at a similar time to Deadguy's "Work Ethic" seven-inch, and a year after the second Rorschach album ("Protestant"). All three of these bands matter in the course of extreme metal history, but I much, much preferred Human Remains when they just played death metal.