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Welcome back, Metal-Jerks Metalheads. I’m back with a bit of deviation from my normal review patterns, but I felt that it was time I switch it up a bit, and review something that is completely outside of my usual fanfare, which would bring us to the second offering from deathcore giants Whitechapel, titled “This Is Exile“, which is actually their Metal Blade Records debut. I suppose I’ll get this out of the way first: I hate deathcore. I hate it with a passion, and think that all it does is speak to the lowest common denominator and make everything that is good about death metal completely trivial and take a backseat to the ever-prevalent “breakdowns” and endless cliches that plague the sub-genre. For the sake of journalistic integrity, I am going to try and review this album as fairly as I can, and who knows, I actually might be pleasantly surprised by the end of this review. Never say never…
I have noticed that a lot of people seem to hold this band in such high regard when it comes to the deathcore monicker that you cannot discuss the sub-genre without being pummeled verbally about how this band is single-handedly making deathcore evolve into a completely different beast. While this may be true in some aspects, I feel that the deathcore trend has already stagnated before it even got off the ground.
The first thing I will say about this album is that it does absolutely nothing to try and set itself apart from the rest of the seemlessly never-ending inadequate musical clones of one another. One of the first things I’ve noticed that may even try to set these guys apart from the rest of the A-tuned masses is that they have three guitarists, rather than the usual two. While this may sound like a good theory when written on paper, the execution is far from stellar. If you cannot accomplish your “heavy” sound with two guitarists and a bassist, then you are doing it wrong. All the third guitarist has done is drown out the bass more than it would have already been. Not once throughout all of “This Is Exile” have I been wowed and thought “Man, I’m glad that third guitarist was there to make that breakdown more noticeable!” It is obviously a gimmick that is far from perfect, and something should really be done about this.
Before I get into what else makes this album incredibly predictable and lack-luster, I will actually throw Whitechapel a bone and say that they are quite good at injecting different melodic licks where the music calls for them, even if it is normally at the apex of a generic breakdown, but, there’s only so far that melody alone can take you. Thankfully, they seemed to try quite hard on the track “To All That Are Dead” to at least make it seem like they are not one-trick ponies and are capable with different song-structures, which shows that they do have a little bit of promise as a band.
Now, let’s get to the riffs. While I can certainly see the appeal of the endless “dun dunnn…. dundundun dudun…” riff-style, it really leaves quite a lot to be desired, when all 11 tracks on this album are filled to the brim with faux-slams and pitninja-induced breakdowns. They do try to stray away from that never-ending pattern, and normally go into quite the predictable speedy-yet-melodic thrash/death metal riff, which immediately transcends into another generic breakdown, time and time again; “Somatically Incorrect” is easily the worst offender on the album in regards to this complaint. The guitarists are certainly more than capable of playing their instruments, but when it comes to innovative-riff-thinking, they are no where to be found. There is also the matter of trying to inject quite a bit of Bay Area technical death metal, which is easily done best by the likes of Decrepit Birth, Odious Mortem, and Severed Savior, fail to make a dent in my wandering attention span.
The drumming, while consistent and competent, is incredibly boring; almost as if they were afraid to let the drummer deviate from constantly following the riffs, almost note-for-note. Really, there isn’t a lot else to be said about it other than it is probably the least offensive thing on the album, and while triggered, not to the point where it is so obnoxious that it makes this album unlistenable. Also, the vocals just seem to support my stance on most deathcore bands trying to one-up each other by emulating one another, meaning that his growls sound no different than any others of their ilk, and will howl once those speedy riffs show up again, and growl when the slow-and-bludgeoning chugga-chugga riffs show their faces once again.
To be fair, I really expected “This Is Exile” to be much worse than it was, thinking that it would be offensive to all five of my senses, but in reality, Whitechapel as a whole are young, but more than capable of making good music, which is quite evident by “To All That Are Dead“, which was the only track I could keep my attention on. The album is just really unimaginative, predictable, and boring, but still better than what I originally expected. However, this is still miles ahead of whatever garbage Suicide Silence or Waking The Cadaver are continuing to spew out to the masses. All in all, if you are already of the thought that there are no redeeming qualities of deathcore, or that all of the bands sound alike, you won’t like this album; however, if you love the slow plodding moshpit riffs and plentiful breakdowns and competent melody, you will enjoy this album and this band.
How are you doing today, folks? I’m back, and it’s time to break out your old denim or leather jacket, make sure your mullet is unkempt, and you have a plane ticket to Haninge, Sweden, because that’s where I’ll be taking you today. These days you will see a lot of old-school death metal revival bands, and while they are certainly doing what they can to try and off-set the amount of garbage that is polluting my beloved sub-genre, it isn’t and won’t ever be enough, so what is it that we must do? We must continue to look back and pay homage to the classic bands that have helped spawn what true death metal bands should strive to be, and right now I’m talking about the legendary Crematory. The band existed from ’89 to ’93, and while I have no clue as to why they broke up, they certainly left their mark in the Swedish death metal scene, and are still remembered quite fondly by guys like me. For those of you who are still young and have for the first time ventured into the world of death metal, pay close attention, and realize why all of your favorite young bands today cannot hold a candle to the first players in the game.
Now, while they have released quite a few demos and one EP, I’ll be taking you through my favorite demo of theirs, “Netherworlds Of The Mind“, and it was released in the wonderous year of 1992. After the band broke up in 1993, Mats Nordrup (drums) and Urban Skytt (guitars) formed goregrind Gods Regurgitate, so, there was certainly an upside to the band breaking up. Also, keep in mind, this is not the crappy Crematory that hails from Germany and does a god-awful goth/death metal mash-up; it’s the only true Crematory from Sweden!
“Netherworlds Of The Mind” only has four songs on the cassette, so while there isn’t very much to say about it, the music clearly speaks for itself. They couldn’t have chosen a better track opener with “Enshrouded (In The River Of Eternity)” that kicks in immediately with a speedy riff with cymbals backing it, and the rest of the band joining in, immediately immersing you in the raw and nasty production that was given to this fantastic song. It is easily one of the most memorable Swedish death metal songs from back in the day and could not have set the atmosphere better, making sure to give the listener a real miserable and evil aural experience, and with it being about four and a half minutes long, there’s nothing a death metal fan can complain about.
Now, the title-track, “Netherworlds Of The Mind“, has one of my favorite opening hooks in a death metal song ever. It is a slow and plodding attack, that once again calls upon true human suffering to really get you into it. The vocals fit the music perfectly and follow the riffs almost to a T. Normally, that would bother the hell out of me, but the band really makes it work for them, and not one second is wasted in this song. They even go ahead and inject a bit of the famous Swedish melody into their work, and it makes things even eerier than before. I love this song so much, and is my favorite off of the whole demo.
The third song is “Souls Astray“, and almost sounds like it’s going into crossover territory, but you can tell that it is going to firmly plant its feet in the death metal soil and rip your face off. While it is still death metal and adds a bit of Interment-like melody, it still feels like one of the tamer tracks off of the demo, but is still very good. One thing that I really appreciate about Crematory is their ability to seemlessly mesh style of blistering thrash-like riffs with straight-ahead-take-no-prisoners death metal song-structures. There is absolutely nothing in this song that is any different from the previous tracks except maybe a couple spots where the tempo drastically changes, but overall, you can really still hear the true Crematory sound, with Urban Skytt wailing on his guitar and Rikard Jansson giving off his fantastic deep growls; now that’s how you do it! Even at the very end of the song is a small acoustic interlude that just gets the listener ready for the final eruption of Swedish brutality. Are you ready to take the last turn with me?
Finally, we have the ending track, “Dwellers In Twilight“. At first listen, it’s a bit disappointing because my copy seems to have quite a bit of popping and sounds fading in and out in the left earpiece, so I have no idea if my cassette is screwed up or if something with the recording process caused it, but after quite a few years of listening, I’ve learned to tune that little annoyance out. Much like “Souls Astray“, the track on its own is slightly slower than the first two, but again, it has absolutely no effect on the pacing and fantastic musicianship on this album. However, just to play Devil’s Advocate here, I would say that out of all four songs, this one would be the weakest in my mind. Now, while it has its weak point of being somewhat forgettable, it is still a very good track once you listen to it and let it rattle around in your brain for a while.
Much like how Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Lock Up, Brujeria, Venemous Concept) worshiped the old Terrorizer demos, I do the exact same thing with the old Crematory material. While on the outside I would wish the band would get back together, I know deep down in my heart of hearts that they wouldn’t be able to release the quality material we have expected of them in their four years of existence, and I am perfectly fine with that. Out of all of their demos and one EP, “Netherworlds Of The Mind” is easily my favorite, because it is the epitome of the Swedish death metal sound that was still in its infancy back in the ’80s and early ’90s, and thankfully bands like Interment, Grave, Dismember, and quite a few others have grabbed the torch from the rotting hands of Crematory and ran with it all over the world, grabbing our hearts and crushing them in their musically-talented hands.
One thing that a lot of modern death metal fans tend to forget about are the forefathers that really gave this sub-genre a name for itself and something to be proud of. Crematory was obviously a part of this small select group of individuals that were able to take a fledgling concept and mold it into a beast that nobody could have comprehended, and to them I tip my hat for helping give birth to the most extreme and talented form of music on Planet Earth. Thank you for all you have done for us, Crematory, and your demo of “Netherworlds Of The Mind” will still be in heavy rotation until it can be pryed out of my cold dead hands.
Mantic Ritual’s Executioner is an example of the thrash revival being done right. Although it’s never too original, the riffs, leads and songwriting are strong as hell, resulting in an album that’s strong all the way through, and Mantic Ritual don’t make the same mistake as Blood Tsunami and make sure that the songs are actually heavy; there’s no over-melodic frippery here.
Executioner is a re-recording of an album recorded under the band’s previous name, Meltdown. I haven’t heard the original version, so I can’t comment on it, but the production on this is excellent throughout. Dan Wetmore’s vocals are excellent; at times, he appears to be invoking Kill ‘Em All-era James Hetfield in his delivery, but he mixes it up enough so he doesn’t feel like a total clone. The solos and riffs are also excellent; the album’s only real weakness is the rhythm section. The bass is barely audible and the drumming is especially weak; it just sounds repetitive, dull, and overly mechanical most of the time.
Still, despite that one major fault, this is a fine album and a worthy successor to the original wave of thrash bands. If only the rest of the movement was this strong…
It’s really a shame that this didn’t come out under the Black Sabbath name. Oh, I know how Ozzy, Bill and Geezer forced Iommi to sign a contract saying that the name couldn’t be used without the participation of all four original members, and how this was justified due to Iommi’s dragging the name through the mud during the late 80’s and early 90’s, but this is a quality release, arguably better than any of the “real” Sabbath albums with Dio (it’s certainly better than the the mediocre-as-hell Dehumanizer).
That said, The Devil You Know doesn’t really have a sound that’s much different from the other Dio Sabbath albums, but it’s really, really good despite its lack of innovation. Dio sounds amazing for a senior citizen (would that all vocalists could sound this good this late into their careers), Iommi’s riffs are as good as ever, and the rhythm section is solid throughout. There’s even a little bit of synthesizer that’s used sparingly but effectively.
The album’s tone is also remarkably consistent- it’s completely dark, with no silly excursions into other moods like the Ozzy-era songs “Planet Caravan” or “Changes.” It’s also fairly slow-paced throughout (but not in a boring way). This leads to a few songs sounding awfully similar, but it’s not quite as much of a fault as it might sound. The lyrics are sometimes pretty cheesy, but they don’t really stick out a lot when the music is this grim. All in all, this is an excellent album and a more than worthy addition to the Sabbath catalog, even if it is technically apocrypha. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who changed their MP3 tags to “Black Sabbath” for this album at all.