Monday, October 20, 2008

Criminal Element - Guilty As Charged (Sevared Records; 2008)

Supergroups in metal are tough to judge. On one hand, you have a bunch of musicians coming together to make music that they like a lot, presumably, and said musicians are usually among the best in the their respective bands. And then they are horrible when put together, presumably because of the Law of Geniuses In One Place At One Time (which I just made up, probably) stating that lots of brilliant musicians together does not necessarily correlate to great music. Criminal Element would like to have a word with you, if you subscribe to this belief. They'd like to arrange this meeting in an alleyway. Bring friends and you're even more dead.

Such is the pounding, ferocious and EXTREMELY American sounding Criminal Element on this album. Boasting a really, really ridiculously cool lineup and past-lineup including Suffocation and Dying Fetus members, I always kind of looked over this band due to subscribing to the above viewpoint. Then Vince Matthews took me behind an abandoned building and shot me in the head. I have since learned not to judge books by their covers...this is great! It almost sounds like death-thrash for the discerning East Coast-US-slam-wigger (non-pejorative in this case, don't think I'm hating because wigger slam can often kick ass) who won't listen to thrash unless it sounds like this; big, meaty, full of breakdowns, low vocals and gang-like vocal-tradeoff choruses. This really is the epitome of East Coast modern brutal death metal. Vince's voice cuts through the riffs with a mid-range precision, sometimes opting for absurd lows with the help of Gallagher of current-Dying Fetus fame. Speaking of riffs, this is good combines thrash riffing/pacing with old-school stuff and melodic/slam tradeoffs almost too well. But it never sounds like they're going through the motions; it's subtly challenging music with excellent flair. And check out that booklet; mugshots of every band member with an "offense" they've "committed" right undernearth (ranging from tax avasion [sic] to sexual assault!) with case file graphics and just an overall VERY well-developed aesthetic.

Let's talk about drums. The drums fucking rule. Adam Jarvis (also in Misery Index) weaponizes his drum set. Right from the first 20 seconds of "Blood Money" we have some great cymbal use, effectively capturing the intesnity of the lyrics on display, which range, in that song, from misanthropy to murder to capture and imprisonment. Derek Boyer of Suffocation plays a competent role as bassist, though I would like to see the production lean more towards the heavy as it is a bit biased towards the trebly thrash style. If you're a slam fan, though, and you're looking to explore thrash, traditional death metal or just other good music in general that isn't pure slam but contains enough of the moshing elements you need to get through the day, you'll probably like this. It isn't for everyone, but Vince and co. wouldn't let you know that; they just kill the detractors with extreme prejudice. Stay sharp.

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