In 2017, there are few genres of music that have yet proven themselves to be conceivably timeless. Much of what we hear in the modern day and age could, and probably should be considered ‘modern’ music, and whilst there’s nothing overtly wrong with this, it does often feel as though a great deal of what we’d consider ‘classic’ and ‘pioneering’ sounds, are simply fading into the ether. Whilst this may just be a natural side-effect of how music progresses, there do seem to be some exceptions to this rule, predominantly within the rock and metal sphere. The more extreme side of metal in particular comes to mind, with the thrashy, gore-inspired movement of the 1990s going on to power through the years in utterly unrelenting style, with bands such as CATTLE DECAPITATION, BROKEN HOPE, CEPHALIC CARNAGE, and DYING FETUS all fitting the bill. In addition, Californian quartet EXHUMED are certainly not exempt from such a bracket, boasting a seven-album-strong discography, and contriving to maintain a merciless brand of death metal that bears substantial ‘gore’ influences, supplemented by an amalgamation of thrash and grind.
This outfit unhanded their very first attempt (the fittingly entitled Gore Metal) in 1998, and yet still don’t look likely to be hanging up the picks and sticks any time soon, even to this very day; in fact, the launch phase of their eighth full length effort Death Revenge is currently well under way. Fortunately, we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on the album, so let’s take a closer look and find out if the reign of EXHUMED is set to continue in style as one would expect.
Since this is the band’s first bona fide release since 2013 (having dropped a re-issue of Gore Metal in 2015), it was clearly important for EXHUMED to ensure they were able to make a statement with the outset of Death Revenge. It’s fair to say that they achieved this to great effect. Following a symphonic introductory track, the first song Defenders Of The Grave serves to make a fantastic impact, exploding out of the traps with an intro of flurried drum fills, and subsequently sauntering into double kick patterns and crunchy, prominent riffing. The remainder of the song goes on to boast a palette of varied death metal vocals, crushing blast beats, catchy riffs, and a fairly impressive guitar solo; a relatively clear-cut foreshadowing what the rest of the record has to offer. Almost instantly is this theory proven, with the following track Lifeless persevering in this overwhelming sense of pace and brutality, and moreover offering another fantastic guitar solo; something that definitely strikes us as being a recurring feature of this record.
Whilst frequently adopting the format of unrelenting heaviness, Death Revenge is also able to offer sincere and tasteful vignettes of melody, acting as a welcomed balancing measure. At times, this is conveyed in the form of catchy, groovy lead riffs that seem to be littered throughout the album, and serve to offer a heightened sense of digestibility amidst the squall of brutality; a more conventional usage of melodic elements in death metal. However at certain other times, this sense of melody is manifested in a far more meticulous and artistic manner, and is utilised in order to create more of an atmosphere, and contribute towards breaking up the material, and perhaps also telling a story. Arguably the best example of this is the interlude track Gravemakers Of Edinburgh, which simply offers a symphonic melody, that slowly builds up and creates an aura of suspense for the following track; a significantly more subdued approach from this band.
We do see this method at play again however, namely as an introductory passage to the instrumental, seven-minute epic, The Anatomy Act Of 1832, acting as a thoroughly effective build-up and segway into what is certainly the most bardic and imaginative song on the record. All things considered, this approach serves EXHUMED very well, and not for just one reason: yes, it allows the record to flow far better and creates a conceivably much-needed sense of balance, however more importantly it allows this outfit to gracefully evade the stereotypes and generalisations that often accompany the genre, particularly in terms of gore-related music. It would appear that EXHUMED are still sticking to their roots, and offering a healthy measure of grind and gore-inspired thematics, whilst simultaneously allowing their more artistic tendencies to flourish; a thoroughly welcomed combination.
Despite the predominantly impressive nature of Death Revenge, there are some fairly glaring downsides to point out. Whilst this record offers a handful of good riffs, and an even bigger handful of good solos, it does often feel as though some of the riffing is rather derivative and uninspired. The introductory and hook riff to Night Work is probably the strongest example of this, offering nothing more than a lazy jingle that brings to mind bands such as METALLICA and SLAYER. It would be inaccurate to suggest that this occurs frequently throughout the album, but even so, it certainly underwhelms, and acts as a rather bitter contrast from the otherwise high quality guitar work. In addition to this, it can also be posited that the full play-through of this record gives the impression of a chore rather than a seamless breeze. This certainly takes nothing away from the musicianship at play on each song or perhaps in groups of two or three, but unfortunately, the album in its entirety tends to give the impression of being muddled and poorly structured. Granted, the aforementioned interludes and snippets of melody do swing the needle in the band’s favour slightly more, however it simply doesn’t feel like enough, and the overall impression of being overly spontaneous and indistinguishable, unequivocally remains.
As a concluding statement, EXHUMED‘s latest effort is one that certainly impresses in many ways. The general musicianship and performances on the individual songs are well-constructed, technical, and performed with utter musical prowess. Most importantly, what Death Revenge achieves is to tastefully deviate from many death metal stereotypes by adding snippets of melody in certain places for good measure, whilst also managing to maintain their gore-inspired roots. Having said this, they do seem to have just about missed the mark in terms of avoiding the muddled and wearing effect that a lot of death metal has the tendency to provoke. The melodic elements are few and far between, and don’t quite do enough to break up the material, and the final product lacks that extra iota of memorability as a result. Overall this is a good album that bears a lot of impressive elements, but one that unfortunately doesn’t manage to avoid being lumped into a category of all-too-familiar death metal.
Death Revenge is out now via Relapse Records.
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