Gruesome – Twisted Prayers

Death metal’s Greta Van Fleet

The revival of old school death metal has, in a similar fashion to modern thrash, yielded a few gems in a sea of redundant, bland, toothless and copy-paste bands that offer nothing new at all, and Gruesome is perhaps the most notable and blatant example of how creatively bankrupt this wave can get. Their music isn’t an Encoffination-type ordeal, where the band fundamentally misunderstand what made their main point of reference appealing to begin with, but more a straight up facsimile of something that’s been heard before with absolutely no twist or spin on it to speak of. I can give it to the band that the baseline level of competency (songs that progress, tight playing, decent and clear production) has been met but that’s really about it as far as positives go.

Gruesome, for those who’ve never heard their music, is a carbon copy of early Death, put simply. They play a very thrash-influenced, very simple and highly riff-driven style of death metal. The longer songs and more frequent changes of pace within them point towards the band drawing more from Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, with the latter obviously being an inspiration for the thematic content of the lyrics and cover art. The problem with zeroing in on a singular inspiration here is that at no point do the band do anything to the basic template at all; this album is literally an inferior copy of those two albums (which really says something as Spiritual Healing is one of my least favourite Death albums) with no positive unique traits to it at all. Literally the only distinguishing features this has from either of those two Death albums are notably worse and less memorable riffs and production that strips the music of intensity, due to being more polished. Not helping matters is that Spiritual Healing has had another impact on the music, which is that the music itself isn’t as intense or savage as it could have been as to not remove focus from the somewhat more intelligent lyrics. This is the main problem with Spiritual Healing, and so on an album that is worse in every respect it is an even more notable problem. These flaws result in an album with longer songs that feel much, much longer than they actually are because the few basic ideas presented by them get stale in the first minute or two and were never played convincingly to begin with. The album is tired, dull, stale and boring and the only redeeming qualities it has beyond basic competency are the decayed remains of the work of a much better band.

There really is nothing else to say about the music, it’s that vanilla and plain. If all new music was as uninspired, worn-out and cliché as Gruesome’s work, there would be no reason to listen to new music at all as every genre would be a dead end that never challenges or intrigues the listener at all. Fortunately, Gruesome truly is an exceptional case, as there are very few bands out there that ride the coattails of larger acts as hard as they have done. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with drawing heavily from classic artists – some of the greatest modern albums in multiple genres would not exist without those kinds of influences – but zeroing in on one or two albums by one band and doing nothing with those influences at all, and not even trying to live up to them quality-wise? That is inexcusable, not only because it’s unbearably lazy but also because the end result of such a process sounds unbearably lazy. Even the earliest of Death clones, Massacre, were so far above this album I feel bad for comparing them to Gruesome, and at least the people behind From Beyond actually had a hand in the sound of early Death. If you want good music in this style, cut out the middleman and go straight to the source, as there is no reason to listen to this over any of the far superior albums that inspired it.

Rating: 25%

Iron Griffin – Curse of the Sky

Stop it

This album is a patience-testing and extremely redundant affair. It’s almost insulting with how nothing-y it actually is, and how people are actually receiving this positively (I know someone who is considering this to be an album of the year candidate and it’s only March) is beyond me. Before getting into the music it will be stated outright that only check this out if you like piss weak trad metal with almost nothing going for it at all.

To get the main issue with the album out of the way: it is totally, 100% unexciting on the instrumental front. At no point during this album’s half hour duration do the instruments do anything of note. The riffs are the most basic, derivative, and trite trad metal riffs possible; the kind of thing anyone versed in this sort of metal has heard hundreds of times already. They have no energy or drive to them, the guitar tone is weak and thin so they lack any sort of weight, and there’s just no skill put into them beyond ‘the guitars are in tune’ (and frankly, messing about with that would make this album substantially more interesting.) This is pretty much the album’s biggest problem; the main body of the songs have nothing in the way of personality or memorability – they don’t engage you even while playing and certainly don’t stick with you afterwards. The other instruments are the same story really. No interesting bass parts, no good drum patterns or fills, nothing at all.

Earlier it was stated that this album had almost nothing going for it at all, as the album’s one saving grace is the singer. Maija Tiljander’s performance is spectacular, to put it simply. She’s like a life ring to cling onto to prevent drowning in a sea of wallpaper paste – i.e. the only thing that makes this album even vaguely tolerable to listen to. She wails and sings her heart out and it’s truly astonishing how much power and energy goes into every last lyric, especially when her voice is as smooth as it is. She has a great vibrato and despite being incredibly expressive with a lot of that wailing vibrato she still manages not to overdo it. Each song has so many vocal acrobatics and other otherwise interesting and amazing vocal lines that it’s insulting that she’s paired with the talentless hack making all that dull noise behind her.

Really, there is no reason for this to exist. Outside of the vocals nothing on it is done in a fresh or exciting fashion, and there is no vision to the backing music. The instrumentalist is normally the drummer for Mausoleum Gate – and frankly that is where he should have stayed. Instead he somehow managed to rope in a great singer and cobble together this completely pointless album that manages to be a taxing chore despite only being thirty minutes long. The instrumentals are almost insultingly bland given how wide the gulf in talent is between the two members, and while the vocals mean sitting through the album isn’t impossible, they definitely don’t save it. Put Maija in front of some players who actually know what they’re doing, because she deserves so much better than this.

Iron Griffin would be better if they were a different band.

Rating: 35%

Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name

Bleh

This album wouldn’t even be worth talking about were it not for the fact that the band has their priorities all wrong. The way to make boring music more interesting is to write more interesting parts – better riffs, more imaginative beats, perhaps throw a curve ball in the songwriting. This simple concept is one that is lost on Rivers of Nihil, because in their attempts to make their sub-standard modern extreme metal formula more interesting they’ve managed to turn what would otherwise be a not at all noteworthy mishmash of extreme metal styles into a stupid, annoying album.

At its core this album is what I just said: a really boring, below par mix of modern brutal death metal, technical death metal, deathcore and progressive metal to create a sound that falls under the vague ‘extreme metal’ banner. Everything about the music is impressive on the surface but leaves zero lasting impact. The triggered drum performance that’s all too common is as rapid fire as a minigun and as precise as a sniper rifle, but it sounds mechanical and lifeless. The same can be said of the guitars, which play really uninteresting and unmemorable ‘extreme’ riffs, tedious mid-paced chugging (reaching a high point on the boredom scale during ‘Subtle Change’) or run of the mill tech death leads. Admittedly the leads are technical, but again they aren’t really emotive at all and don’t impact the listener beyond ‘wow this must be hard to play’. The vocalist’s harsh styles alternate between serviceable rasps and a somewhat barking growl; he’s probably the standout performer simply because it’s hard to make vocals sound mechanical and shallow like every other performance here. The production is pretty standard for this type of music too; it sounds compressed and overly loud and the instruments on the album are so polished that they sound synthetic. All of the edge to the guitar tone has been stripped and none of the instruments ever bleed together or sound organic at all.

If this was all that was wrong with the album then I wouldn’t be writing about it; basically all modern metal that falls under the category ‘extreme metal’ has these problems. What really makes this album stand out as being bad is that Rivers of Nihil saw fit to ‘improve’ their sound by adding a lot of outside influences. Sometimes they draw from progressive rock and metal in the form of tranquil acoustic/keyboard driven sections and rather expressive, passionate leads that are of a much higher quality than the ones found in the metal portions of the songs. Other ideas they throw in are the gratuitous and aimless saxophone a few minutes into ‘Home’ or the bland attempts at electronica they’ll dive into in an equally pointless fashion. Aside from being masturbatory and flashy rubbish, the problem with these sections is that they’re jammed into the songs with no rhyme or reason; the band never really weave the metal and non-metal components of their sound together, and as a result one track feels like a mashup of two or three songs, and it makes the album an incoherent and uneven listen. The songwriting in general is pretty piss poor, with any one section of a track dragging about and not really going anywhere to the point where these bloated compositions get tiresome very quickly. You can’t improve bland music by jamming in unrelated sections into the music in an attempt to have a progressive and open minded approach to songwriting. It throws off the pacing and consistency of the album and actually makes the music more unmemorable than it otherwise would have been; which is quite the feat given the base of lifeless ‘extreme’ metal the band were building off of to begin with.

Bleh. Don’t bother.

Rating: 20%

Encoffination – O’ Hell, Shine in Thy Whited Sepulchres

Onward from Golgotha

Let it be known that I have no problem with drawing heavy influence particular style of a band or album. Provided no direct plagiarism takes place, some sort of spin is put on it and the newer band can pull off that sound convincingly, there isn’t really a problem there. What I can’t forgive is when a band goes out of their way to copy something they plainly don’t understand or aren’t very good at, and that’s exactly what’s going on with Encoffination’s work. There’s no reason to listen to this band’s work at all – not because they produce inferior facsimiles of a classic sound but because they miss the point of that sound entirely and end up making music with not much going for it at all.

On the off chance you haven’t worked it out from the band’s name and logo or indeed from the title of this review, Encoffination play Incantation-worshipping death metal, specifically zeroing in on Onward to Golgotha, as they try to recreate the cavernous sound of that album here. As I’ve mentioned however, they’ve rather missed the point of what made Onward to Golgotha such an immense, planet-sized album. The ridiculously massive and slightly degraded production that album has is part of what makes it special. While Encoffination clearly realised this, having achieved a guitar tone that approaches Monotheist or Realm of Chaos in its sheer heaviness, the overall sound of the album doesn’t stand up in the same way. The guitar tone and drums are too clean and polished to bleed together into a wall of sound as they did on Onward to Golgotha, and as a result while this album is undeniably extremely heavy the sound doesn’t have quite the same impact as the Incantation album. In the grand scheme of things however this is the least of this album’s problems.

Where the band completely fall down is that they get far too carried away with crafting an atmosphere and aesthetic. Onward to Golgotha had loads of giant riffs to go with its giant production, while on here the guitar work is extremely bland. The guitar parts on this release are written to serve the atmosphere as opposed to being written to drive the songs and create an atmosphere through the progression of a song. The consequences of this are what kill the album: the songs are virtually motionless in the way they are written, with songs ending right where they started. They’re specifically trying to recreate one aspect of Incantation’s debut: namely it’s slowest, most crushing moments, and they achieve this by playing very slowly. As a result there are virtually no changes of pace, climaxes or twists in the songwriting as there would be with Incantation; all the band do here is play slow, ringing/droning guitar parts and very bland riffs that never grab the listener’s attention, all in the pursuit of heaviness at the expense of everything else. The drummer plays equally slow and dull beats with very little change to speak of, and the vocalist sort of sits there in the middle of the music, not impacting the motion or intensity of the songs at all. His growls are nowhere near as deep or powerful as Craig Pillard’s performances with Incantation, sounding much more like a run of the mill death metal vocalist, one that can’t even match the heaviness of the songs.

The music gets very boring very quickly and after about 45 seconds or so you’d wish they would do something more with the music, but it never comes to pass. The sheer unexcitement of the music kills any atmosphere they go for as the listener’s mind will start wandering shortly after the first song starts because there’s nothing engaging to focus on while listening. This is totally pointless music: it’s Onward to Golgotha worship that misses the point of Onward to Golgotha. It’s atmospheric death metal with virtually no atmosphere. It’s death metal with no intensity to it. It’s metal with no good riffs.

It’s shit.

Rating: 0%

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