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Keyboard-driven death metal? - 69%

differer, November 25th, 2008

Italy’s Sadist were among some of the best-kept secrets of death metal until their comeback last year. During the last decade or so, their early albums have been frequently used by some music journalists as examples of insanely complex song structures; while this is true, I doubt if too many people were even aware of the band at that point, which makes the comment rather meaningless.

As is usually the case with progressive death metal, the music here is anything but brutal, and ‘death’ is a characteristic of the vocals alone. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but I would have liked to hear something a bit heavier. The emphasis is on awkward rhythms and simplistic melodies rather than complicated guitar riffs, making this album somewhat an oddity even in its own genre. The frequent use of “heavy” keyboard riffs without a guitar accompaniment at all is another strange factor. ‘The Ninth Wave’, for example, has to be the only death metal song I’ve ever heard where the guitar doesn’t appear even once! Also, there are remarkably few solos. The guitarist certainly knows how to play his instrument, but keyboards still remain the main thing.

The objections I have to ‘Tribe’ deal with two things. First, the vocals. While the vocalist having a noticeable accent shouldn’t be surprising, he uses his voice in high-pitched screams in a “spit the words out”-type manner, which I personally dislike. Also, he has some problems in keeping the output “raw”, especially in some faster parts. Another thing is the drum work. The guy can beat the skins as well as most, but has often trouble fitting his beats to the music, resulting in a not-too-fluent style, at times literally breaking the song’s momentum. As weird as it may seem, it is the bassist who most of time holds things together – regardless of his “jazzy” finger-practice routines.

As for songwriting, this album is a two-edged sword. Any fans of experimental music know that in order to break the rules, one has to know them first. Sadist does not. The song structures seem to have been put together more or less at random, making it sound like the band has little or no idea of what they’re doing. On the other hand, there are a good number of real musical ideas here, ranging from decent to pure genius. It is up to the listener to decide whether or not it’s enough – I happen to think it is, but many will almost certainly disagree.

I have to say that, initially, I liked Sadist’s music more than I do now. This was back in 1996, when I more or less accidentally managed to hear two of the songs from this album. It may be because the sounds – in particular in the case of keyboards – seem really out-of-date... or maybe because this is far less extraordinary music nowadays. The first time around, Sadist was a unique band. I suggest you give it a try yourself; in any case, ‘Tribe’ can be recommended (with some reservations) to those who don’t take their death metal dogmatically.