Welcome to the first installment of Brutal Bits & Pieces for 2017, a monthly miniseries culled directly from the extreme metal underground. The aim is to shed some light, and perhaps a little blood, on some of the grittiest, grimiest, and heaviest bands the metal realm has to offer. The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Acranius – Reign of Terror (Rising Nemesis)
Hellions of the German beat-down slam scene, Acranius burst into relevancy with their 2013 debut When Mutation Becomes Homicidal, a wholly satisfying free-for-all of mid-paced thuggery with a zombie polar bear on the front cover. Four years later, their third LP, Reign of Terror, hears the band offering up another adrenaline-fueled royal rumble.
The grooves, the galloping riffs, and all those precious slams are back, but the quartet have also added a noticeably more sinister atmosphere to the proceedings. Reign of Terror feels much more pissed than its predecessors, dialed back to deliver a more straight-forwardly barbaric experience. Void of any unnecessary noodling, the new Acranius is a welcome no frills gut punch to start the new year.
Beheaded – Beast Incarnate (Unique Leader)
Maltese death-bringers Beheaded are back after a five-year hiatus with Beast Incarnate, their fifth full-length release that hears the band eschewing much of their earlier brutal style in favor of a more refined but no less aggressive assault on the senses. No longer brutal death in the strictest sense, the band employ a modern approach, a mix of melo-death and grind that’s not far removed from current Misery Index.
Although the album has a noticeably uniform sound, one likely assisted by the even production, Beheaded’s penchant for smart, inexorably heavy riffs keeps the listener in a state of gracious unease, with more unorthodox and complex tracks like “Fid-dlam ta’ dejjem” or “The Black Death” adding some to thought to all the violent thunder. An exacting 40-minute return to form.
Belial – Nihil Est (Siege)
Belial are an odd entity indeed. The band play deathcore, of this there is little doubt, but they likewise add to it a hefty dose of melody and electronics, and then intensify it all with a djenty modern tech-death approach that, surprisingly, comes out of the oven fully cooked. There’s no question that deathcore and its offshoots flounder on the strength of their ADHD medication, but Belial’s second EP, Nihil Est, is a well-constructed effort.
The foundations of the subgenre are in full effect, but the melodic flourishes and stentorian drumming performance make for an impacting experience. Additionally, the EP is supplemented by instrumental versions, as well as their burlier 2014 self-titled debut EP. Removing yourself from the inherent immaturity and histrionics of deathcore is tough, but Belial make this a relatively easy task. Nihil Est is a strong response from this UK bunch.
Blastomycosis – Covered in Flies and Afterbirth (CDN)
Originally released in 2015, Covered in Flies and Afterbirth, the second full-length release from Toronto’s Blastomycosis, is getting some much deserved reissue treatment. Comprised of gore-filled death metal that borders on the extreme side of things without completely boiling over, Covered… is a down-and-dirty riff monster, short and nasty and loaded with jagged and crooked teeth. Additionally, the group consist of members of Will of the Ancients and Gravitational Distortion.
Mastered by Dan Swanö, the album succeeds on three notable merits: the engine of drummer Dave Black, the carefree nigh-slapstick approach, and the bottom-heavy, blood-spilling production. Fifteen tracks are a bit much, but the running time stays neat, and the ogress vocals of Isabelle Tazbir are impressively subhuman, adding heat and fume to an already ferocious display of barf-bagging death metal.
Brain Spasm – Toxic Monstrosities (CDN)
Another Canadian death metal band with fluid on their minds and hands is Brain Spasm, a quintet that is having their debut EP, Toxic Monstrosities, released on compact disc this month through CDN Records. The eight-track album is swift and visceral, and leaves the impression that Brain Spasm and Blastomycosis would be ideal split partners (interesting to note: Bob Shaw, one of the group’s two vocalists, performed live with the latter act).
Although short, the record harbors a nice balance between trudging mid-paced jackhammering and hefty skull-caving blasts. There’s an old school vibe to all this goregrind indulgence, and while the riffs (and samples) are typical brutal, over-the-top fare, it’s all managed with a determined and ferocious zeal. Uber-guttural vocals and pounding slime-draped riffs done with crazed Canadian charm.
The Drip – The Haunting Fear of Inevitability (Relapse)
If Washington’s The Drip equate fear with the unavoidable, then the inevitability of their success should have them wetting their beds. In the wake of their wholly convincing third EP, A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics, this grindcore quintet have returned to unleash their debut full-length in The Haunting Fear of Inevitability, a pummeling exercise in fast-forward extremity that should have many a listener approvingly combing their beards.
While the album feels a bit too similar at times, the concussive might of the music and the natural confidence of its players makes this too impressive to not recommend. Drums rattle and guitars crunch and vocalist Brandon Caldwell roars and screams with gusto to spare. This is grindcore cut from the same soiled cloth as bands like Nasum and Rotten Sound, dense and manic and crispy and riding with Black Breath and Gatecreeper on the Sunlight highway to hell.
Helmed by composer/guitarist Sandesh Nagaraj, The Replicate is, for now, a one-man progressive death metal band from Los Angeles. A Selfish Dream is the group’s debut EP, and it consists of four ‘traditional’ songs and an ambient closer. For the music, think ‘90s prog-death ala Cynic, Death, or Atheist with a decidedly off-kilter sci-fi atmosphere.
The EP, as EPs are wont to do, works as a nice introduction. The production is purposefully modest, adding a dose of realism to the Outer Limits vibes, and the coherent raspy vocals remind of Scandinavian yellers Jens Kidman and André Søgnen. The riffs are plentiful, sort of wonky and jazzy, and the result is an effective if uneven first entry. Eager to hear more.