Oath of Cruelty – Summary Execution at Dawn

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Death-thrashing savagery storms forth.

A recent strain of thought in a lot of death metal circles nowadays is that the genre isn’t fast enough due to so many bands wanting to be doomy, ritualistic, blackened or whatever else prioritizes atmosphere and aesthetic over savagery and intensity. I don’t think this is necessarily calling for a return to the days of Vital Remains and Hate Eternal (and thank fuck for that) but it’s been noted before that in spite of the “old school death metal” movement’s dogged allegiance to the ways of the late 80’s and early 90’s, there’s an unusual lack of the thrashier, often American death metal (as well as bands that existed between both genres) that arguably became the dominant style of the time. Works from relatively recent bands such as Ritualization, Orator, Ascended Dead, Coffin Texts, Nocturnal Torment, Oxygen Destroyer, Maligner, Praise the Flame, Perversion Flames, Scythian, Sijjin, Pentagram (Chile), and Ripper however make it clear that it’s far from a dead style and it might even be gaining traction slowly. Fatigue appears to be setting in over the various trends in the underground end of death metal and that opens the door for bands with the foaming-at-the-mouth savagery of Texas’ Oath of Cruelty to take the stage.

Formed in 2010, Oath of Cruelty is linked to a number of renowned names such as P.L.F., Imprecation, Morbosidad, Blaspherian, and Thy Feeble Saviour but always seemed to me to be in the shadow of their cultish popularity. However, with the announcement of a long-awaited debut album earlier this year and a few gut-ripping preview tracks, that thankfully has begun to change and for good reason. While Oath of Cruelty’s sound is not “new” in the sense of pure novelty, it is refreshingly, luridly, and ruthlessly aggressive and rapid-fire riffy in a way that almost seems to have gone out of fashion in 2009. It’s no secret that even in the early 90’s, the dominant American school of death metal did begin to downplay a lot of its thrash influence but they ask the question of “can you fucking not?” and decided to play as if that never happened.

Summary Execution at Dawn subsequently sounds like a lot of the frenetic 80’s intensity that was supposed to have faded into the background by 1993, summoned back from the dead and placed into the hands of disciplined musicians who were never fully on board with the paradigm shift. Much of the guitar work has the fast, fragmented approach of 80’s extreme metal that sat on the boundary between thrash when pushed to its furthest extremes and the still gestating death/black styles’ blizzard-consistency string-flaying. It transplants that into a formula of mixing and matching sharp contrasts in riffing shape and sudden changes in tempo, playing out its juxtaposing elements in narratives of clashing tension and explosively final resolution. It definitely sounds almost like something you could hear between 1990 to 1991, at times as much Altars of Madness and Imperator’s The Time Before Time as it is Necrodeath’s Into the Macabre or MercilessThe Awakening (the latter is coincidentally covered on this album).

In spite of the hellish intensity, there’re not really as many riffs as there might initially seem to be when you first put on the album. It’s explosively violent enough to put a lot of brutal death, grindcore, and war metal on high alert, yet it does this with a comparative simplicity that simultaneously avoids easygoing mosh-friendly retro thrash pitfalls as skillfully as it does messy barrages of dime-a-dozen, slapped-together scatterbrain blasting. This leads to what I like about the album the most—the clarity. They might not be putting too much in each song but every riff, blast, and sudden shift of the gears helps to make a very clear picture of a specific goal in mind. This is built up through the interplay of differing sections that repeat in order to build up tension for release or with sudden detours from established ideas into madly wailing solos with only a few select portions at speeds that elsewhere would be called “doomy.”

It helps that the riffing travels all across the no man’s land that stands between thrash and its most vile offspring. Straightforward tremolo runs made jagged and harsh by sudden fragmented notes, staccato palm mutes striking like a barrage of spears, and flashes of carefully picked but tastefully sparse melody—its arsenal might not appear to be too much but they do an incredible job of making every riff distinct in its form and viscerally satisfying so that it can be repeated long enough to be just comfortable enough that when it’s torn away from you, what takes its place is every bit as shockingly horrific to experience. There are moments of chaotic barbarity that would make the South American gods of old proud, but Oath of Cruelty are never distracted by what would easily become tedious background clatter in the hands of a lesser band; it’s this alliance between the insidious and the intransigent that puts this album so high above its competition this year.

A strong alternative to much of what we’ve come to expect in classic death metal today, yet a celebration of an often ignored facet, Summary Execution at Dawn is satisfyingly to the point and direct in a way that you don’t get out of much of their compatriots. It’s incredibly thrashy but without being another tongue in cheek opening act-tier band and its take on death metal avoids the usual punk/grind/”cavernous” oriented fare’s calling cards that many are finding increasingly stale. It doesn’t even come off as an album trying to be some paragon of eclecticism and avant-garde songwriting as much as one that has a commendably strong grasp of what made the extreme metal of old deserving of its classic reputation. Simply put, it rips hard from start to end and it never asks much of you beyond to simply appreciate the expertise with which it does said ripping. There’s really not much else to say; at most I wish the production was a bit beefier but that’s a very nitpicky nitpick. Recommended for fans of both the more violent end of thrash and the earlier, less advanced barbaric regions of death metal.

Summary Execution at Dawn can be purchased on the Dark Descent Records bandcamp.

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