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The Sweet Smell of Decay - 100%

Cat III, August 6th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Dissonance Productions (Digipak)

Been Caught Buttering achieves greatness not by expanding upon or pushing forward the death metal genre, but by distilling it. Here is death metal embodied: buzzsaw guitars threaten to slice through limb, drums are hit with the precision and care of a killer clubbing his victim, the bass throbs underneath like the pulse of some monstrous beast, solos rip through the din without warning, depraved tales are recited in a maniacal bark, and everything is sloshed in terrible, fetid grime. As far as ruthless, muck-encrusted death, its only rival is Mental Funeral. This is elemental—admirable for its purity of vision.

As definitive as this sophomore album is, it's also unique, both in Pungent Stench's discography and in death metal as a whole. Nothing is quite like it, which is hinted at before you even hear it. Joel-Peter Witkin returns as cover artist, with the piece “The Kiss”, a photograph of a cadaver head split down the middle and the two halves laid side by side as if caught in an amorous embrace. Witkin's work is suitably repulsive, but with enough artistry to elevate it above the legions of goregrind covers created from an evening trawling rotten.com. Musically, there's an undercurrent of rock. Unlike death 'n' roll bands (such as Pungent Stench became on their subsequent album) who make rock music with DM trappings, Been Caught Buttering bends and contorts rock to fit within its twisted framework. Just as the cover takes a familiar and innocent image and perverts it into something dreadful, the band employ well-worn tropes to devious ends. Take Martin Schirenc's plentiful solos which have an old-school flavor while retaining the band's manic sickness. They're also plentiful, appearing at least once on all songs except “Splatterday Night Fever”, and are played in a squealing tone which contrasts well with the mega-distorted crunch of the rest of the guitars.

Many of the riffs groove, but in the way that 70s rock grooved rather than the way 90s metal did. Infectious songwriting is always at the forefront—these Austrians will make you bob your head before lopping it off. Schirenc and drummer Alex Wank have a contentious relationship, but make a tremendous team musically. Wank's performance is aggressive yet dynamic, shifting effortlessly between thunderous, slow sections and crazed blasting. Technical proficiency had improved since their debut, For God Your Soul... for Me Your Flesh, but there's still a looseness to their playing, even a bit of punk sloppiness. While not as integral a part of Pungent Stench, Jacek Perkowski proved a capable bassist through the first half of the band's existence. Often individual notes aren't discernible and instead the bass is a low thrum laying six feet beneath the other instruments. At times, the bass does rise up, zombified and ready to attack such as in the heaving gloom of “And Only Hunger Remains” or the funky bassline that leads into a shrieking solo near the end of “Sick Bizarre Defaced Creation”. The latter is one of a few nutso left-turns. “Games of Humiliation” ends with Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar and the tinkling of bar chimes. Hearing “It's heavy” moaned in a death growl over this instrumentation is deliriously weird.

Schirenc's vocals are another standout feature. More homicidal lunatic than horned demon, he delivers a performance so uninhibited, so ferociously batty it has yet to be topped. He groans, grunts, screams, sputters and gargles. A throat has rarely been utilized for such wild and gross results on a metal record. Close your eyes and you can practically feel the spit flecks hit your face. Chris Reifert on Autopsy's underrated Shitfun is a good parallel. The lyrics spewed are fittingly brutal, covering topics such as cannibalism, BDSM, crippling deformity, venereal disease and the preservation of body parts obtained through serial murder. English is not their first language resulting in some awkward lines (“You look like a dumb, like a head full of shit” from “S.M.A.S.H.”), but that only adds to the coal-black humor. “Happy Re-Birthday” details a gruesome parricide which precedes the narrator literally reenacting his birth. “Ballad of Mangled Homeboys” puts a DM spin on inner-city gang violence, a subject uncommon to this genre. Particularly I like how the walls are “daubed with their names” in the first verse, and “daubed with their brains” in the final one. That song and “Daddy Cruel” come from the 屍臭 EP released the same year, but have been included as bonus tracks on so many reissues, and fit so well that I consider them part of the album.

Speaking of bonus tracks, Dissonance Productions' 2018 reissue includes 33 minutes of previously-unreleased live material. These were recorded in 1991, but strangely are all taken from the previous album and EPs. Still, the quality is decent enough to make a worthy addition. Packaging is simple: a digipak only containing lyrics and lineup info. A live version of “Bonesawer” is listed on back despite not appearing on the disc (the material Wank provided Dissonance exceeded the CD runtime, but the cover design wasn't updated after this was realized). However, considering how long physical copies of this and the rest of their albums have been out of print, fans ought to be pleased.

The Pungent Stench discography is inconsistent in its quality. There are other high points, but none to match this, not that one could reasonably expect a band to attain this quality once, let alone multiple times. When asked what this death metal thing is about, my answer is simply to play Been Caught Buttering. If you worship at the altars of ungodly splatter, if you regularly have sonic sewage oozing from your headphones and your buttering has as of yet gone undetected, it's high time you get yourself caught.