Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus
Torn apart in time signatures not native to Earth.
Brutal death metal to many represents the logical conclusion of death metal intensity and the antithesis of its old school roots. In essence a sort of genre ubermensh taking grind abruptness, enhanced musicality, and brutish chugging action to new levels, it represented at once both the strengths and flaws of death metal as a whole in all its vile infamy. It could be said to be part of the genre’s new normal, an end stage in developments towards extremity, and perhaps the most exemplary and modern facet of death metal as a whole in spite of having existed since the early ’90s. In spite of this, fragments of death metal’s early days appear in a number of subgenre practitioners whether it’s Deeds of Flesh with their lengthy tremolo melodies, Melektaus playing Sadistic Intent style riffs with the intensity of Cryptopsy, or Nile having outright doomy to midtempo songs at times bereft of blast beats on top of epic post Morbid Angel Phrygian riffing.
Defeated Sanity could always be said to have been in this category even if they hid it well behind layers of staccato slamming and spiralling arcane musicianship. Yet those with a close ear would be able to pick out choices in riffing and pacing that were less Disgorge or Suffocation but inspired by groups such as old Atrocity, Gorguts, Monstrosity, and even Watchtower! With their background in progressive rock and jazz fusion, this fusion of the brainy and the feral has informed this band’s sound since the late ’90s but as the years passed it became more and more apparent, culminating in 2016 with the second half of the Disposal of the Dead/Dharmata album wherein they morphed into an early ’90s progressive/technical death-thrash band in a shocking change in sound even winning the respect of those who normally deride such a band.
Many thought that after such a venture Defeated Sanity would return to a boneheaded norm but after a 4 year wait this has not been the case. In a strange sort of way this is a very “old school” album for Defeated Sanity. This is not in the sense you’ll hear midtempo Bolt Thrower style riffs jogging alongside steady double kick or lengthy Incantation or Demigod style tremolo patterns illustrating creepy melodies but something more idiosyncratic and specific. Those who know drummer (and on this album guitarist) Lille Gruber are likely aware that he is a huge fan of the original wave of proggy tech metal like Mekong Delta, Psychotic Waltz, Toxik, and most importantly Watchtower. The influence of that last band in particular informs a massive part of The Sanguinary Impetus resulting in a sound that at once is rooted in the most advanced ideas in the genre to date but also hearkens back to the original innovators of laser-precise chops in metal as a whole. Reaching back into the past to find inspiration for a new future, the sixth album in the career of these German death technicians takes the promise of their early days to its furthest heights in the most fleshed out expression of their core ideas to date.
Like many brutal death bands, Defeated Sanity also crosses over into technical death metal but this isn’t really expressed by merely playing their chugs-n-chunks faster and better. What quickly becomes clear is a very unusual wide array of tones that sound almost like some sort of modern classical or serialism but filtered through the sonic cruelty of the New Standard Elite roster. Even more unusual are moments of sudden musical whimsy—sudden outbursts of higher register guitar noodling and jazz fusion-like rhythm section intensity, breaking out from behind a lattice network of harshly interlocked jagged riffing, give this album a character at once both playful and eerie. Brutal death metal is a genre associated with dense bottom end and Defeated Sanity were never truly lacking in it. This time around the expectedly dense rhythmic bludgeoning is juxtaposed with nimble shimmering guitar lines threading around themselves into intricately knotty patterns.
This more dynamic sound results in a lot of fragmenting guitar lines and frequently interrupted rhythmic patterns and strange riffs that don’t always hammer away at the listener as much as they chip and dig away, full of all kinds of deft finger-work and flurries of fretboard fury. It’s by and far some of the most unusual in brutal death metal not so much in a purely avant-garde manner or that it has a lot of skronky Gorguts riffs. Some of these techniques are more likely to be heard in a late ’80s to early ’90s brainy thrash band, a genre that’s nearly as far removed from brutal death as possible. Yet here their alien fluidity and spidery patterns find their way back into contemporary extremes, giving this album a range of tonal colour oftentimes rare and a deftness to its myriad motions that follows a very different, almost obtuse past compared to the usual blast beats associated with the technical end of this spectrum.
Backing up his own symphony of guitar terror is Lille’s most demanding drumming yet, at times nearing a Malignancy level of beehive activity, as he appears to basically counterpoint every single riff with some level of arachnid limb movement. He can blast with the best of them but finds all kinds of little crevices and crannies in the flesh of these metallic structures to cram a whole music course’s worth of tightly executed and compact fills. Not to be outshined, bassist Jacob Schmidt emerges from behind the impaling vortex of riffs, matching their future warfare precision assault with a performance filling out every corner with a satisfyingly resounding, dense attack. He weaves in and around these labyrinthine patterns with a dense low register response to every wild motion the band constantly cartwheels through. He doesn’t often “take the lead” in bassist-dude-shreds-here sections but he doesn’t really need to given how much he already does that already sticks out amidst all of this.
Last but not least, new vocalist Josh Welshmann fronts the assault with a harshly hollow rasp sounding as desiccated as a corpse left to rot in the desert for a week. His gurgling inhuman and rigid, he might be the least flashy musician here but it adds a distantly human air to the proceedings. One watching unfazed by the disorienting violence on display yet emotionlessly partaking in the carnage before it. I wouldn’t really say this album checks the boxes you’d usually associate with “atmosphere” but Josh’s performance adds a visceral nature to the album that makes its eerie, skittering, insectoid activity come off as all the more disturbingly direct and vile. On all fronts, the band is armed to the teeth more than they have ever been and they’ll struggle to top this level of technicality and tenaciousness for album 4.
Technicality and brutality are not in short supply for either subgenre bearing their namesake. Where many bands tend to feature both, Defeated Sanity has always had a cleverness to their compositions that concealed an unusually good ear for stringing together a number of interrelated themes into lengthy chains of riffs across a wide variety of riffing shapes, complex percussion, and wildly varying tempos. This album pushes that to its furthest extreme, cutting down the song lengths and kicking up the speed not just at which the album plays but how quickly songs shift and mutate. Songs open up with a particular theme and pattern such as a more tenacious riff fracturing into sudden shred sections or a chunkier atonal one working in more consonant phrasing and use this fundamental conflict in their constituent parts to work through a variety of themes that erupt out of it swarming and hungry. And boy are there a lot of riffs, at times sounding more spiral staircase confusing than even Suffocation!
These themes serve as the blueprint for the songs to follow, letting them put them through a dizzying number of variations over wildly shifting tempos and rapidly fluctuating guitar and bass lines while Josh’s vocals fight to maintain order in these stampeding songs. However with their Jarzombek-ian chops they weave in sections of contrasting semi-consonant phrasing to give a more overt sense of direction often just as these songs teeter at the edge of formless mayhem, cleverly playing around with genre expectations as they insert little pockets of breathing room before tossing you back into the hurricane. “Straightforward” moments are few and far in between here with even the slower, occasionally slam sections featuring unusual lead guitars hanging overhead or ending their riffs with malformed, revolting guitar licks. Defeated Sanity make sure nothing feels safe and give you fleeting hints of accessibility only to cruelly pervert and deform them to their own sinister needs.
The end result is an album absurdly punishing even if it’s not even their heaviest for which 2010’s Chapters of Repugnance takes the crown. Defeated Sanity’s brutality comes almost entirely from their demandingly intricate songwriting, the strangely mocking and unusual tonal nature of their riffing, and the bizarre contrast between inhuman, misanthropic pounding aggression and a resonant palette of technique. A lot of these ideas seem contradictory to one another and in a lesser band’s disposal this would just be a sloppy and nauseatingly tedious mess. Much of the focus will be on the technicality but it’s a technicality that rather than sounding sugary and sweet instead indulges in the nonchalantly arcane nature of many classic progressive and technical metal acts before those terms would be codified in the late ’90’s and early ’00s.
Its own ominous, unearthly nature benefits a large part from the seeming clash of the past and the future in this strange new normal that sounds like an attempt to rewrite brutal death history, keeping an unusual amount of ’80s influences present that had practically died out by 1995. It’s of course not exactly the works of Morbid Angel or Autopsy they’re trying to honour but the brainier previously listed bands who existed in their heyday and who themselves laid down the foundations for much of the early progressive, avant-garde, technical, and even melodic death metal acts. It refuses to truly fall into brutal death norms while simultaneously raising high the flag of a genre beloved and scorned, at once ruthlessly hammering but insofar as it plays into a larger and more intricate picture of grotesque experimentation and flourishing swarms of cluttered, frenetic notes.
In a way, you could say this is an “old school” album. The brutal part of its deathly conception is based on the originally early ’00s part of its history when it had just finished codifying itself with bands like Disgorge, Wormed, and Severed Savior exemplifying this era as well. Meanwhile its technical half has more to do with bands inspired by classic prog/tech thrash such as early Pavor, Monstrosity, and Sadus than it does Necrophagist, Spawn of Possession or Decapitated. Lille has made it clear that as much as he loves the world of hyperspeed blast beats and skull-pulverizing riffs a large part of his listening goes back to the original wizardry of metal’s unusual late ’80’s and early ’90s period.
With The Sanguinary Impetus, we’re gifted with truly an awe-engulfing series of anachronisms and renegade ingenuity, drawing from all over tech-metal tradition to deliver something that could only exist in the late 2010’s to 2020. It is by and far Defeated Sanity’s strongest work to date, taking ideas that many might first remember from 2004’s Prelude to Tragedy and bringing them to an enthralling conclusion. The band is in an odd spot now; Christian Kuhn has left after an amazing stint from 2005 to 2019 yet with what’s on display here their future is even brighter than ever. For those who feel this style is too obnoxious about its seeming normalcy and those who want to explore the more sorcerous and otherworldly end of the original tech-metal movement, The Sanguinary Impetus stands as a gateway to dimensions rarely explored in metal today.
4.5 out of 5 insect-ridden toilets.
You can preorder the album on the Willowtip Records bandcamp.