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Holy Fucking Fuck - 95%

Cat III, January 17th, 2020

This EP is heavy. Bodybags-filled-with-bricks heavy. A-monster-so-big-skyscrapers-crumple-under-its-feet-like-empty-pop-cans heavy. A-neutron-star's-guts heavy. HEAVY. In 2020, Human Waste retains its overwhelming, unfathomable weight; imagine what people made of it in 1991. If Altars of Madness was the dividing line signaling that death metal was not merely a more extreme version of thrash but its own separate entity, Human Waste did the same to delineate brutal death metal as something related to but independent from traditional DM. At time of its release, it may have been tempting to dismiss it as another regional sound—Suffocation incorporated elements of New York hardcore after all—but the style was so extreme, so unashamed in its maximalism that it's no surprise it moved outside the Big Apple, shacking up with other underground styles to spawn a brood of bastard sub-subgenres: deathgrind, slam, modern tech death.

Tuned so low they graze Satan's scalp, the riffs are unceasing. They pound and trample with abandon, leaving in their tracks so many victims of blunt force trauma that to treat them the world's largest ICU would exhaust all resources, right down to its final roll of gauze, to the remaining sanity of the last nurse who could keep her eyelids open. Through this carnage, the band shows even wanton violence can be performed with finesse; pummelings comes in a multitude of forms. Normally I'd single out some tracks to highlight the different flavors of pummel on display, but every track offers a cornucopia of brutality. Suffocation hurdle from femur-snapping grooves to barreling runs to tremolo that tears off skin to torso-flattening riffs, with no heed paid to conventional ideas of song structure or natural flow. Ideas don't lead one to the other; they burst into existence telefragging whatever was happening before. Schuldiner introduced elaborate musicanship to DM which was expanded upon by Atheist and Cynic among others, but tech death as we know if today owes far more to the likes of Suffocation and Gorguts. Not that everything on Human Waste is guitar godly. The solos won't make it onto any “best of” lists, though their fitfulness gels with the chaos of the album. It sounds like the guitarist started practicing his divebombs in the middle of “Human Waste” and they decided to leave it in. Somewhere a whammy bar wakes up in a cold sweat from nightmares of this record.

Mike Smith's performance declares his status as a top ranking drummer and it's just a teaser for the absolute beast he'd become. He takes the intensity and techniques of grindcore and applies them with lethal precision. Frank Mullen stands at the other end of the spectrum of versatility, but his presence is no less arresting. His growls are as monotonous as detractors claim all DM vocals are, but they are so low, so ground-quaking they succeed on sheer force. To this day, these are among the most ferocious death growls recorded, projecting a malevolence that's missing from the subgenre in which such vocals have largely been supplanted by burps and porcine warbling. Revolutionary as this EP is, it retains elements of its parent genre often absent from its brute descendents. Palpable dread runs throughout, hangs overhead and skitters underfoot. This sense for the sinister creeps in in some unexpected ways. “Jesus Wept” for a moment sounds like it will break into a hellbound waltz. Much of this character is happenstance, owing to the unintended yet wonderfully grimy production. There's enough mud for an Austrian bodybuilder to evade detection from an extraterrestrial trophy hunter. Other “flaws” are localized: static garbles part of “Jesus Wept” and the audio cuts out of the left channel at one point during bonus track “Reincremation” (I verified these also show up on the version Relapse Records posted to Bandcamp). The only production quirk not to my liking is how light the bass is in the mix. Don't trot out that canard that bass is never audible in extreme metal. You can hear it fine in “Human Waste”, because despite being the title track it's actually pulled from the Reincremated demo which had a bass-friendlier production. The other two tracks from that demo are included as bonus tracks on reissues of Human Waste making it even more essential.

As a once avid trading card collector, it warms my heart to see artwork from my favorite Magic: The Gathering artist, Ron Spencer. As far as I can tell, this is the only album cover he ever made yet there's no reason it should be. How badass is that demon? Like death metal covers, MTG went on to get artists a lot slicker than Spencer, but as the style was homogenized something was lost. Suffocation followed a similar trajectory. The band has had a respectable career, but past this my admiration is of an objective sort. Talented though inexperienced, they brought a naivety that makes the chaos of Human Waste feel genuine not calculated. It stands athwart sterility and weakness.