Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sarcolytic - Thee Arcane Progeny (Unique Leader Records; 2010)

First of all, I'm glad this is finally out. I've been awaiting it since Sarcolytic's first material (EP and on a sick TXDM + Godless Truth split). The band has Ricky (fucking) Meyers from Disgorge, Cinerary and Liturgy, too, and his drumming (while not being very well-mixed) is pretty great in all its blasting, triggery glory. The kick drum is mixed a bit too high and sounds a little too clicky for my taste, and the worst part of this is probably the poor production (which is typical Unique Leader, to be honest, despite the fact that the band went to someone in Texas for the mastering) combining compressed production with overloud drumming and a drastic reduction of bass frequencies/heaviness.

That said, this is solid stuff. It isn't as "brutal" as the other Sarcolytic material, but, given the more "mature" looking aesthetic the band seemed to be heading towards, this is not too surprising to me honestly. Guitars play dizzying technical riffs, which often collide with the bass (which is audible, though oddly scooped) and sometimes slow into pseudo-slams which are wholly underwhelming ("Exalted Gift of the Abzu" features the first one on the album; just sounds kind of empty to me). The more mystical sounding, open chord parts with Zig's chant-like, cadenced vocals are pretty great and blend well with the concept, one of deep and involved Sumerian mythology, translations of lost texts, etc. The track "Emissary" is a highlight if I've ever heard one; featuring excellent melodic progressions, sick blasting by Ricky and bass highlights...this is one track where everything really comes together for the band, though I realize probably not everyone agrees. In any case, Jon Zig's verses on this song are perfectly rhythmic and well-delivered.

That brings us to Zig's performance. His vocals are loud, barking out orders not totally unlike something you'd hear in more "popular" metal like Nile, which is actually somewhat of a good reference point for this (though Egyptian and Sumerian mythology differ vastly). As previously mentioned, his precise style and deep lyrics permeate this whole album with an element of pure professionalism, and for this he must be commended. After a dramatic (and kind of unnecessary opening), for instance, "The Seed of All Beginnings" opens with a totally catchy rhythm with the methodical bark of this powerful frontman and figure in the scene, and later on there are even some sick layered (and lone) screams which are brutal and adept. Great stuff, and his performance is delineated from other powerful performances he has given before (Images of Violence's Degrade the Shapeless is pretty awesome overall), given more clarity and style in this band. To say he fits this band like a glove is an understatement. In addition, his new art for previously featured up-and-coming band Short Bus Pile Up is amazing.

Anyway, enough about Zig...this isn't only about him. To be honest, this is a difficult record to get into, and, above all, it is difficult to stomach for a lot of people. I've heard some people get angry because it isn't "brutal" like previous Sarcolytic efforts, nor did they include any of the earlier-produced tracks for this album or even re-record them. It seems like this is an entirely new chapter for a progressing, evolving band, and something evolution intimidates and drives people away. I think this is great stuff, not meant for "slammers" per se because the slamming parts are both few-and-far-between and honestly pretty lame, but it isn't meant to be seen as a part of the TXDM slam scene (or whatever's left of it at this point, I guess), so I think this argument is moot. As with all art, it should be received on its own merits; a solid modern death metal album in the vein of Nile, Internal Suffering and various other chaotic, blasting bands with esoteric lyrics and songwriting styles. In other words, I'd categorize this as "brutal death metal for the traditional modern death metal crowd", which isn't really a bad thing at all. Given the rate this band progresses/changes, I'd expect the next album to be even more different.

P.S. great album cover and layout! Points for aesthetic development and conceptualization are not at all a concept lost on me!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Engaged in Mutilating - Population: Zero (Comatose Music; 2009)

Texas has rightfully earned itself a hallowed place in brutal death metal history. It was pretty much the place for this style of metal in the late 90s/early 00s. So when I came across Engaged in Mutilating, a band made up of TXDM veterans, I was intrigued. Population: Zero is Engaged in Mutilating's first full length but the band includes members of Putrilage and Exulcerate.

On this album Engaged in Mutilating have departed from the typical TXDM chug and slam formula pioneered a decade ago. Instead they have opted for a more melodic, atmospheric, riff filled sound. Brutality is achieved through a constant array of cascading melodies backed up by expert gutturals and pounding drums. This approach reminds me a lot of Inveracity's excellent 2007 album Extermination of Millions. Also like Extermination of Millions is the post-apocalyptic aesthetic which I think fit very well with that more drawn out, atmospheric brutality.

Engaged in Mutilating have a lot of things going for them then, but did they make a good album? My answer is a disappointed "not quite". I really wanted to like this album but it just never got really interesting. Engaged in Mutilating spend a lot of time playing intricate, atmospheric riffs, but I was never drawn in. Nothing grabbed me. Occasionally they would play a cool solo or dive from a fast riff to a good slow chug, but these moments were too few and far between. The songs on this album felt like riffs being played in a row, rather than self contained entities. All the parts were here to make a great album, the songwriting just did not take advantage of this.

I don't want to sound like I'm bashing this album which did have some good moments. It's just a disappointment that it didn't have more of those moments.