Slam Grande – An Opinionated Investigation of Slamming Brutal Death Metal by S. Craig Zahler

I’ve been exploring slamming brutal death metal, and although I previously knew of a handful of these bands, it was a sub-subgenre name and style with which I was mostly unfamiliar.

There is certainly some confusion between slamming death metal and deathcore, which I don’t like. The stuff I’m interested in has mostly unintelligible vocals, rather than the hardcore/screamo approach of deathcore, which I find annoying or repellant, though certainly some of the riffs in slamming death metal may lean in this thugged-out direction, something that goes all the way back to the stomping death metal of Suffocation, Obituary, Entombed, Kataklysm and many others.

What I really like about slamming death metal is the deep pocket heaviness it achieves, something that’s been missing in most of the modern death metal bands I’ve followed—bands like Krisiun, Hate Eternal, Behemoth and Nile (though yes, a heavier headbanging approach can still be found in recent offerings by Horrendous, Asphyx, Necros Christos, Hail of Bullets, Slugathor, and the many retro acts like Hooded Menace). Still, the depth of the pocket in the best slamming death metal tunes goes way below the Earth’s core, and the emphasis on simple, rhythm-based riffs is a welcome development after all the technical (and heartless) showboating begat by computer bands like Decapitated, Necrophagist and Fleshgod Apocalypse.

Most slamming death metal bands I like have sounds that emphasize heaviness, simple riffs and lurching forward momentum. The vocals are gurgling & squealing abstractions that almost function like keyboard in that they set a tone and color everything, but rarely convey intelligible lyrics or take the spotlight. While black metal reached its creative zenith in the late nineties and early oughts, many slamming death metal bands seem to be hitting their creative peak right now, which is very cool.

The newer material was the best material from the majority of the one hundred and twenty slamming death metal bands I surveyed. In some cases—like with Dysentery, Kraanium and Begging for Incest—bands made big improvements over their previous material and have even brighter futures.

This essay is in three parts, progressing from the worst stuff to the best.

Part I

Slam Albums that are South of the Quality Equator.

(Stuff that I didn’t like.)

I found some of the most beloved slam bands and albums to be kind of boring. As with black metal and power metal (and unlike epic metal and doom metal), quality and popularity have no real correlation. Some of the best known slam bands left me cold, though I felt that a few of the bigger names were deserving of their status.

1_devourmentI didn’t get into Devourment. Their riffs just don’t stay with me other than a few of the slow slams. I checked out both their oldest and their newest stuff (the latter is a little better), and their busy arrangements just don’t make any kind of sense to me—a lot of these tunes seem like two or three songs just lumped together. In the older material, the vocals tend to be way to playful—mimicking the riffs or singing on all of the beats. I realize that Devourment was an early band in this style, but I have been a long time champion of Pyrexia’s Sermon of Mockery, which is older and reeks in a good way, and I also like Afterbirth’s creepy house of crust, Psychopathic Embryotomy. So sure, Molesting the Decapitated is important to the development of this subgenre, but there were other important bands (like the aforementioned, and of course Suffocation) and “importance” doesn’t make something a good listening experience. Glad I heard it, but it’s going in the CD dump box I ship to Marty every so often.

2_condemnedI don’t in any way understand the popularity of Condemned, who have a thick, evil ambience, but usually sound like they’re randomly moving their fingers at a tempo, and they don’t really slam as much as I was expecting either. I bought their recent album (Realms of the Ungodly) and didn’t like one single song on it. I listened twice and absolutely nothing stuck, almost as if they are relentlessly churning damp air.

 

3_gutturalengorgementAnd then there’s Guttural Engorgement, who are sort of like a slamming, squealing, apoplectic Gorguts, but they are ultimately way too dissonant for me. GE are definitely interesting in spots (and also terrible), but there is a strength in a properly harmonized chord that is lost when noise chords are used. Ultimately, noise chords aren’t any more appealing to me than out of tune music, though here it is obviously intentional. Not for me.

4_gutturaldecayGuttural Decay resembles a smaller scale Devourment in that the songs don’t really sound like songs but riff assemblies, and although I prefer their more restrained vocal approach to that of their antecedent, there is a certain upbeat peppiness to the riffs on here that occasionally sounds like mainstream hardcore or punky thrash music, regardless of their forays into uglier chords.

The bands named Bodysnatch and Pighead have lots of good riffs, but are hampered by vocalists whose choices are way, way, way too playful and bouncy, kind of like Corpsegrinder at his worst & least creative. The Bodysnatch album in particular is crammed with good material and great musicianship, but the vocalist sounds like he is singing nursery rhymes and limericks with a death metal voice and just shits on their cake.

6_humanrejectionAnother waste of quality riffs can be found on Human Rejection’s Decrepit to Insanity, a title that sounds like a botched Google translation. This album is really creative and has a lot of successful slams, but the vocalist’s pig squeals resemble the noises you hear when you accidentally call a fax machine, which render the entire album sonically irritating, if not totally unlistenable. Making things worse, these fax noise vocals are mixed front and center and although the rhythmic choices Alex makes are a bit too obvious, it is this bad fax machine timbre and their dominance in the mix that ultimately hobble what would be a good album.

And I almost forgot the Ezphagothamia album, which is an ephemeral experience that I can barely remember. As with tons of these albums, it has cool Jon Zig artwork.

I bought all of these albums and spent time with most of them, but they didn’t catch. With lots of other bands, I listened to a cut or two on youtube and decided not to continue my investigation. Playful, limmerick or rap-like vocal approaches turned me off of well-regarded bands like Short Bus Pile Up, Blasphtized and Vulvectomy. I’d rather hear one note gurgled at random than some dude squealing jubilant nursery rhymes.

Part II Slam Albums that lie on or near the Quality Equator

(Stuff that interested me in some way and was almost or partially good.)

1_katalepsyKatalepsy Musick Brings Injuries. The critters of the realm vocal approach of the first three songs on this is cool and spacious. This is heavy and strange and seizure-inspired slam, but the amazing thing about this album—something no reviewers I’ve read seem to care about—is that it goes into the toilet after the first three songs. Track four is a nonsensical Mortician cover, and then tracks five and six are both shitty rehearsal-caliber tracks with terrible, terrible sound and a really inferior vocal approach. Here’s a loud request to bands like Katalepsy, (the superior) No One Gets Out Alive and (the very cool, if a bit sloppy) Ancient Necropsy and others: DO NOT INCLUDE DEMO LEVEL TRACKS AS PART OF A FINISHED STUDIO ALBUM. Make them “Bonus Tracks” or put them online or on a split or a stopgap compilation, but don’t put shit recordings alongside polished stuff and call the sum “An Album.” It isn’t. Katalepsy’s Musick Brings Injuries is a short EP that they padded out to (almost) full length with crappy material that does not match the first three cuts. But “Gialo” is truly top notch slam, and I’d like a full album or EP of stuff like that. A real album.

Sadly, their newest song seems to indicate a shift toward more deathcore style vocals and less slam, so these two Musick songs might be the brief career highlight for their Russians.

2_CephalotripsyThe California slowchuggers known as Cephalotripsy are too riffless for me, though I really dig their overall sound and the dripping wet vocal approach. Their debut, Uterovaginal Insertion of Extirpated Anomalies offers a cool mood, an endless supply of very average chugging, a good sound and some pretty sloppy blasting sections. One cool lick per song would sell it to me, and I do like their newer 2011 material, so I expect to be on board with the next full length that they release.

 

3_cropmentCropment has some good ideas, tricky riffs and a vibe that’s closer to the rich darkness of Obituary, but the execution is a bit too loose and there is a bit too much garage band happening to make this album (Dead Soil) as powerful as it should be. Pretty much every song has a few parts too many—digressions or breaks that dull the impact of the overall tune. I look forward to their next effort, and hope it’s a bit tighter, both in terms of playing and arrangement.

4_chordotomyChordotomy’s album The Precious Ideal showcases a lot of sinister tremolo riffs that recall Swedes like Dismember and England’s glorious Bolt Thrower (listen to the tune “Human Derangement” for an example of the latter), but their slamming sections are mediocre without exception.

There are some other problems here. Such as the sampled nightly news intro, which is way, way, way, way, way too long. Also, for the most part, each song is too long, though I do like that they’re at least trying to make bigger, more expansive songs in this sub-subgenre. And then there’s the sound itself of The Precious Ideal, which is muddy—a lot of clogged-up midrange where the layers of guitar don’t fully line up, which further obfuscates things.

Despite all of this, The Precious Ideal works to a modest degree and might appeal to classic death metal fans who generally don’t go for slam, because this outfit seems like an old school death metal band that uses guttural vocals and plays in a contemporary slamming style, despite their natural old school tendencies and talents.

I expect that this German outfit will get better—maybe even become top notch—since they are young and have a very good sense of sinister melody and already write more patient music than a lot of these bands, but their arrangements are a bit off and the slam aspect seems like an add-on at this stage, not yet as good as their classic death metal material.

5_putridityThe well-regarded band Putridity has an album called Degenerating Anthropophagical Euphoria that bears comparison to something like Nile in terms of blasting ferocity and boiling riffs, but the album is a bit too homogeneous for my taste. The first cut and track eight have some cool slamming moments, but for the most part this is fast, fast music, an unrelenting barrage of okay riffs that are not quite catchy enough call me back, nor is the overall experience insane enough to marvel at like Nile or the no-time-signature madness of Infested Flesh. Very well played and well produced, but a rather indistinct album that has a few slams and is barely on topic for this article.

Disfigurement of Flesh & Cerebral Incubation & Epicardiectomy. These bands all deliver solid, but ephemeral music that doesn’t outlive the listening experience. They have good sounds, but no riffs that spring to mind once the album ends and not much in the way of an identity, other than the overlong comedy samples of Cerebral Incubation (whose first LP is better) and the clever, very alive drumming by that occurs on the two Epicardiectomy releases I have, which are really just very, very slightly catchier takes on Cephalotripsy’s sparse debut. These three bands are meat and potatoes slamming death metal that need some seasoning.

Part III

Slam albums that are North of the Quality Equator

(Stuff I like and will recommend)

1_beggingforincestBegging for Incest’s Orgasmic Selfmutilation is loaded with the best slamming death metal riffs I’ve heard, not just chugs with harmonic pinches—though when they do chugs with harmonic pinches, they are in idiosyncratic spots. Nobody is putting the pinches where these guys do. The arrangements for most of the songs on this album are surprising, but still flow, and the overall sound is strong and uncommonly clear.

The main reason that this isn’t my flat out favorite in this sub-subgenre is that the vocals are too playful, and by this I mean they the vocalist Meik sometimes overdoes it with silly & oinky phrases in the pig style (see also Vulvectomy), especially during the second half of the album, where they become a bit tiresome and annoying. Like most metalheads, I prefer growling over pig noises, but if a vocalist is going to deliver a porcine performance, it needs to be dry and not as playful as it is on songs like Gutted like a Pig. I’d pay $100 for this album with vocals from an evil growler like Shawn from Insidious Decrepancy or the classic dutch devil, Van Drunen. With better vocals and slightly more cohesive arrangements, they could deliver something that is the slam equivalent of Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious.

3_pathologyThe Pathology album I heard, Awakening to the Suffering, is solid, well-played death metal that has the guttural vocal approach of slam and a moderate amount of slow slamming sections, though for the purposes of this slam centric piece, I should point out that they are closer in spirit to a band like Suffocation that uses slam as a breaking tool rather than as stylistic nomenclature.

The opener Dissected by Righteousness does slam and is very strong, while songs like Humanity’s Cesspool almost have the fist-pumping revelry of a band like Behemoth. Overall, Huber’s vocals are fine, though not very artful, and his gurgling lines cover a bit too much of the music. I’m getting other albums by them and enjoy this one, though the random sweeps sometimes makes the album feels like tech guys having fun playing something simple.

5_abominableputridityAbominable Putridity. So this is a highly-regarded slam band that does deliver. Both full lengths are cool, though very different. The new Anomalies of Artificial Origin is a bit overdone—it’s vocally smothered and a bit too technical, though pretty good. (See my review elsewhere on this site.)

There are many hidden charms on the first album, In the End of Human Existence, which I have come to prefer and not just because of the drier, creepier vocals. The chugging songs of the debut lurch and shift, fluid, but inscrutable, and tend to yield one or two really memorable hooks, such as those heard in the concluding portions of album highlights, “Blindfold Surgery” and “Sphacelated Nerves,” either of which are perfect examples of the slamming death metal aesthetic, though they are not as catchy as most of the bands I dig.

Overall, the album is not very accessible, so don’t it expect it to grab you straight away, but to gradually reveal it’s own subterranean logic. There’s so much muted chugging and rhythm shifting on this thing that whenever a riff with a sustained chord appears (or some weird melody), this anomaly feels luxurious by comparison. Very controlled and worth spending the time to understand, though it’s easy to see how people could listen a couple of times and write it off. Patient listeners are advised to explore this one.

8_pyrexiaPyrexia. Sermon of Mockery. This is the album that opened my ears to this form of lurching and obscure subterranean death metal, and although I am not a fan of the subsequent Pyrexia releases, Sermon of Mockery is a dank, noisome and inscrutable gem. Smell the abominat.

 

10_kraaniumKraanium. Post Mortal Coital Fixation. Good grooves and progressions and filth. Although there is a bit too much singing, the mucus is appreciated. I wish the bass drums sounded real, but good stuff overall. A pretty big step up from the stuff they released before this one, though I dig their dirty material on the split with Epicardiectomy.

12_putridpilePutrid Pile. This is good stuff lumped in with slam, but I’m not really certain that it is slam. Sure, there are some slamming moments, but not many and not even in most songs. Mostly, this fun and catchy onemanband project embraces the thrashier side of death metal, albeit with guttural vocals and some high grindcore screams and occasional punk metal riffs. Shaun LaCanne is a talented guy and a good performer. Blood Fetish and Collection of Butchery are equally good albums, a bit better than the more ambitious House of Demntia, which has some great material, but calls out for a real (and rockin’) drummer, since he sits on the material for a much longer period of time. And I have a similar opinion of the darker, more serious, but nearly slamless “Extirpating Omniscient Certitude” by Shawn Whitaker’s onemanband Insidious Decrepancy, which is a step up from his decent but scattered Viral Load project.

13_dysentaryDysentery. Internal Devastation. They rock and stomp the hell out of these riffs. Every song is memorable and this album is fun the first time you hear it. (I reviewed this on earlier on wormgearzine.com.) A good gateway into slam and a huge step up from their previous album.

 

15_Afflictive_EmasculationAfflictive Emasculation. Another not very memorable band name and drum machine release that is quite a bit better than you might expect. Some thoughtful grooves and the patient development of memorable lines—see the oscillation to and fro in the Against Omnipresent Meekness and the hypnotic swirl of Reduced to Atoms Part II. Since repetitive songwriting calls even more attention to the drums, I really hope for a real drummer on the next one. Still, good as is.

 

16_noonegetsoutaliveNo One Gets Out Alive. Like a Lamb to the Slaughter. Good and varied riffs (slam, classic death metal and thrash) and a fair amount of variety, highlight this album. A strong animal rights agendum makes the presentation a bit more menacing than the buckets of gore, but who knows what’s being said on this thing ever—the vocals in NOGOA are creakiest cricket chirps I’ve heard and function almost entirely as décor, excepting a few guest spots. The singing is subdued and inhuman—which is probably the point in the animal rights polemic—and they work. I’m looking for more stuff by this strong act.

17_urogenitalmacrophageI am saving my favorite for last with the debut offering by the Chilean band Urogenital Macrophage, which is called Perversion and Sickness Destroy the Human Race. I would like to have been at the meeting when these Chileans decided upon this band name. And certainly, if any members of this band read this article, feel free to post the other names that were in competition with Urogenital Macrophage and lost out to the name Urogenital Macrophage (though I actually like this name more than something like No One Get Out Alive or Begging for Incest which don’t even create much of a mental image).

18_urogenital_CDIf you can get past the drumming that somehow sounds too fake to be real (eg. the cymbals) and too clunky to be fake (eg. the bass drums), this album is at the very top of the slam pile. The vibe is dirty—Goatlord dirty—something that is arguably enhanced by the loose drumming—but as with all slam bands I like, these guys can write distinct riffs (not just pinches and chugs), musical vocal refrains and most importantly, songs that go somewhere.

The album opener is a bit more ambitious and longer than most UM songs, and it’s also the only one that loses my interest—I think they tried too hard here and (in what seems like the Devourment mode) just packed too much stuff in an effort to impress, rather than do what they do best—pummel, pinch, rock and develop strong main ideas. Still, the song Aberrant Hemophilical Menstruation proves them capable of navigating multiple ideas and tempos—including a brief foray into rather chaotic blastbeats—while keeping things cohesive and grooved, though they shine most with simpler tunes like Colitis Cocktail, which culminates in deep-pocket headbanging (excuse me…slamming) glory at its end.

Singer Hector Medina is one of the most musical vocalists I’ve heard in this style, not because he changes things up from growls to croaks to squeals—which he does quite capably—but because his ideas are musically interesting—rhythmically and in terms of timbre and pitch. And he don’t smother the music, as do so many of these guttural guys. Take note, Bodysnatch and Human Rejection vocalists—this is the right amount of singing for this kind of music.

Overall, the vibe here is somewhere between Kraanium and the aforementioned Goatlord and at least half of the album is devoted to slams, midpaced and fairly slow, though UM refrains from the super slow stuff. If you can tolerate a little bit of sloppiness, this is top tier filthy, headbanging slamming death metal. Seek out!

I encourage interested metalheads to crawl through the slum of slam, starting with the bands listed in the third section of this article. An often derided sub-sugenre, I believe that slamming brutal death metal is reaching it’s creative zenith right now, emphasizing heaviness, groove and mood over heartless technicality.

Note: I purchased most of these albums from the slamlords at Comatose Music and Sevared Records. They put their time and money into tons of these releases, making these albums a tangible reality, and unless you are buying directly from the band, these underworld champions (and their sibling labels) deserve your support.

S. Craig Zahler is fifty percent of the doomy epic metal band Realmbuilder (currently signed to I Hate Records of Sweden) and the death-tinged black metal outfit, Charnel Valley, whose two albums were released by Paragon Records.

He is the screenwriter of Asylum Blackout and the author of A Congregation of Jackals, a brutal western novel nominated for the Spur and the Peacemaker awards in 2011. Recently, he sold his new horror western book, Wraiths of the Broken Land to Raw Dog Screaming Press:

rawdogscreaming.com/wraiths.html

To learn more about him, including his upcoming directorial debut and assorted film projects, please visit his website:

scraigzahler.com

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~ by martyworm on January 1, 2013.

3 Responses to “Slam Grande – An Opinionated Investigation of Slamming Brutal Death Metal by S. Craig Zahler”

  1. Mr. Zahler,

    This genre was one that I had previously ignored for quite awhile. I recently picked up the Urogenital and Dysentery releases and have been enjoying the heck out of them for the last couple of weeks. Looking forward to checking out a number of other releases here. Thanks for the write up. It has gotten me back into death metal, as a number of the “techier” bands generally leave me cold.

    Peace!

  2. Cirkus,
    Glad to help.
    In addition to the stuff I recommend here, check out the new 2013 Craniotomy album as well— pretty terrific stuff that compares to the very best of the genre. And the collection of Embrionic Death releases is recommended, as is Saprogenic’s The Wet Sound of Flesh on Concrete.

    Hail!

  3. Devourment should be ATLEAST in the second part of this, but it’s opinion so i cant complain. their new album conceived in sewage is a really nice change though, if you haven’t heard it yet. I totally agree with what you said about Abominable Putridity’s first album being the better one, their second one sounds waaaay too tech death for a slam minded fellow as myself. Nice article though

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