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Raising the Stakes (See that pun? Whoa!) - 98%

__Ziltoid__, August 17th, 2010

Some call Oakland’s Impaled nothing more than a good Carcass ripoff. As someone who doesn’t really like much of Carcass’ music (although I do respect it), I couldn’t disagree more! Sure, there are quite a few similarities, but in my mind, Impaled just seems so much more intense. Having created four great death metal albums, Impaled is one of the great modern bands flying the death metal flag with pride. Their musical and creative peak, however, came in 2002 with their modern classic, Mondo Medicale.

For those who don’t know Impaled, you should expect lots of heavy riffs, addictively catchy hooks, uncompromising brutality, and an awesome harsh tri-vocal assault that includes all band members except the drummer. Impaled serves both as a good gateway band, with their accessible riffs, good production, and somewhat articulate vocals, and as a staple within even the most elitist realms of true death metal. Mondo Medicale is the best example of why Impaled is such a great band.

Impaled’s gimmick and central lyrical theme is gore and medical shit gone wrong. If you squirm at the idea of listening to such lyrics, then go the fuck back to power metal! I assure you, dragons and fairies tend not to get mixed with gore. From the opening instrumental piece, ‘The Hippocratic Oath,’ Impaled make it clear that this will sound like every medical horror ever shown in films, just with even more blood and guts. The piano and audio samples are a very nice touch, actually. You might not expect such attention to detail from a band like this, but small things like this really give this album a sadistic atmosphere that really works wonders with their lyrics.

Soon, ‘Dead Inside’ starts, and the extremely low, very guttural vocals start things off very nicely. They’re the kind of vocals that are nice and low, but not laughably low like a lot of generic brutal death metal bands that sound like shit. After that comes a nice vocal trade off between the highest and raspiest harsh vocals and the mid-range harsh vocals, and this is really a treat to hear. The high vocals are especially outstanding. They really do a lot on this album, whether on their own, or when harmonized with another vocalist. What’s really odd is how fucking catchy they are. Sure, the riffs here are catchy, but the harsh vocal melodies are abnormally catchy. When people think of harsh vocals, catchy tends not to be what comes to their minds. But here, they’re super catchy! In my opinion, they’re catchiest on the choruses of ‘Raise the Stakes,’ ‘Operating Theatre,’ ‘We Belong Dead,’ and ‘The Worms Crawl In.’

Of course, while all that fun vocal stuff is going on, the riffs almost get ignored upon first listen. Hell, I only focused on the awesome vocals when I first heard this album. But the fucking riffs here are abso-fucking-lutely fucking excellent! Impaled transition from groovier, catchy riffs to tremelo picked riffs and thrashier death metal riffs with ease, and these riffs alternate all throughout each song. Once again, ‘Dead Inside’ is a perfect example of this. I really love how this song is structured, especially the riff placement and transition. Riffs also tend to appear in altered forms in the same song, which is something is really like when it’s done well.

The leads and solos here are actually very interesting. While certainly on the melodic side, leaning towards the Iron Maiden-influenced style implemented in later Carcass albums, the melodic nature of these never dominates the music, and I mean that in the most positive of way. Quite often, death metal bands with a lot of melodic leads like this let them dominate the music to the point where the actual death metal part of the music is diluted to the point where it’s just dull and boring. Impaled does not let that happen here! These melodies and solos certainly have their appropriate sections of songs, but even there, they are blended with what is going on, which is usually a catchy riff.

I feel like I must give special mention to ‘Operating Theatre,’ which was one of my first real death metal songs. This song has an incredibly simple and catchy riff that refuses to leave your head if you let it get stuck there! The lowest of the harsh vocalists dominates the beginning of this song, which makes it surprising that it’s so accessible. This is a prime example of the true role of harsh vocals in metal. most of us appreciate them for what they are–a darker, more extreme, atmospherically fitting, often violent, aggressive alternative to clean vocals. With harsh vocals, the point is not to really care about the words, but to grasp the melody and feeling exuded by the vocalist. The beginning of ‘Operating Theatre’ does this in a way that is, to me, one of the finest and easiest ways to understand, especially for someone new to metal. To make things even better, the harsh vocals in this song harmonize with the low harsh vocals for the chorus, while also standing on their own in the thrashy section of the song. Again, since many who get into death metal get into it through thrash, this song serves as an excellent introduction to death metal. Of course, the main riff here is, as stated before, catchy as hell, but my favorite part of the song is at 2:07 when they play half of the riff, and then end it with varying rhythms while alternating vocalists each time. It’s one of those things that took me awhile to notice the beauty of, but once I did, I really gained a new respect for this song.

With that love letter of a paragraph aside, the rest of this album is also damn great. The drumming is mostly straightforward, mixing between a mid-paced and fast blastbeat. When the catchy riffs play, the drums are integral in establishing their catchiness by playing a restrained beat. A simple, groovy 4/4 beat can really do wonders if implemented well, and Impaled do it like the best of them. These beats really accentuate the transition from the faster, more aggressive sections of the song and the catchier ones. The one in the chorus of ‘We Belong Dead’ is one my my favorites, because it makes the already catchy chorus even catchier.

Is there Carcass-worship going on here? Sure, to a certain extent. But Impaled tend to take things to more intense level than anything they’re worshiping. With Mondo Medicale, Impaled created an album that is miles better than anything Carcass wrote while also being a staple in its own right, serving as deliciously awesome blend of melody and brutality, with little compromise from either side. If you like Carcass, you’ll definitely love this. If you don’t like Carcass, you’ll probably love this. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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