Record Swap: W. Vs. Leif Bearikson
Today, Record Swap turns best friends into bitter enemies as former president W. finds himself hunting the most dangerous game: Mustachebear. Will the death metal loving carnivore have to clean patriot blood from his mustache, or will the former world leader make a new royal robe from the bear’s white fur? The rules are simple. No research. No foreknowledge. No mercy.
W.’s Assignment: Desecrator – Subconscious Release (1991)
It is well known that my good friend W. likes his death metal on the outer limits. He appreciates his skronks and sprawls as much as the power of the riff. I knew there was no way I’d be able to find a band that skronks that he hadn’t already heard of, so I thought I would try to appeal to his love of riffs with the lone and seemingly forgotten LP from UK’s Goldar fronted death metal band Desecrator. — Leif Bearikson
Before I say anything about the music, I need to acknowledge how rad the artwork is. It looks like the lovechild of Venom and the T-1000 without egregious Rob Liefeld pockets. Plus that one glowing red eye! Perfect album cover for the music contained within.
Okay, now that I’ve already temporarily moved Leif’s suggestion to the “win” pile purely on the basis of cover art, let’s actually talk about the music. Technically speaking, I’m not supposed to do any research on the band or have any clue when and where it was written. However, the YouTube link Leif sent me listed the release date of 1991 right there in the title, boldly waving an old school death metal flag. That’s fortunate, too, because if this album wasn’t released in the heyday of death metal, I’d probably be quick to write it off as another OG imitator, albeit a highly competent one.
As it stands, though, Desecrator released a rock-solid death metal album that clearly stands neck-and-neck with some of the best offerings the original scene ever spawned. All of the traditional elements that keep purists pining for the glory days are in full display here. Like any good old school death metal record, Subconscious Release is chock-full of riffs. Fast riffs. Slow riffs. Mid-paced riffs. Rocking riffs and weird riffs. All kinds of riffs. If you love riff-heavy death metal, you can probably stop reading here, because you have learned everything you need. If you want to press on, though, you’ll find that, much like their contemporaries, this style of riff-craft could easily sound dated in 2016. You’ve heard almost all of these riffs before, either played by Autopsy or Obituary or Malevolent Creation. That isn’t to say that the band writes bad or even bland riffs, but rather that there isn’t much novelty on display.
Where this album does shine, though, is in the few moments scattered throughout where Desecrator let their freak flags fly a little. The bass guitar swells and flourishes in various tracks, at times invoking either Atheist or Blind Illusion, at others getting even weirder and almost laying down a Primus-esque groove (just listen to the intro to “The Suffering” and tell me it doesn’t remind you of “Southbound Pachyderm”). At other moments, like the midpoint of “Subconscious Release,” the rhythm guitar takes a break from the endless parade of riffs to pair up with the bass guitar and twist through some alien notes to add a little ornamentation to the whole affair. These little moments are never distracting and instead add quite a bit of panache to the whole endeavor, staving off the potential monotony that could result from mid-paced death metal riff overload and making the next riff assault that much more exciting.
The other elements of the album are perfectly practicable and never detract from the final product. The drums never do much more than swing between that Obituary stomp and the standard OSDM-double-bass pattern you’ve heard a million times, but the performance is never distracting or offensive. The vocals remind especially of John Tardy, but with this style of swamp-trudging death metal, those phlegmatic, gut-wrenching growls are just perfect. The pièce de résistance of this ossified treat is the tasteful use of leads. Flashy solos can easily distract from excellent compositions when overused, but Desecrator measures out just the right amount of lead wizardry to keep the pace fluid and to whet your appetite, leaving you craving more. It’s a balanced, nuanced approach that seems to reject much of the outright indulgence the death metal scene would embrace while still enhancing the little flourishes the band makes here and there.
Ultimately, Subconscious Release is a solid old school death metal album that deserves a home in any collection of genre classics. It rarely insists upon being more than it is, and even when Desecrator do dabble a little in atypical song construction, the final product still sounds familiar and endearing, like that quilt blanket you always snag when you’re visiting your parents. As a death metal fan, you’ve spent countless hours with this kind of blanket before, but you’ll always find a warm familiarity and nostalgia in its embrace, even if you notice a few new designs on the quilt you’ve never seen before. — W.
Leif’s Assignment: Amphisbaena – Amphisbaena E.P. (2015)
My sweet friend Leif Bearikson, though a proud and noble bear, is a still a freaking bear, and as such is prone to outbursts of violence and carnage. Taking this into account, I knew I had to pick something both savage and majestic, so I turned my eyes to the great white north and the terrifically intemperate black/death metal scene in Canada. Unfortunately, I soon realized I had already sent him links to debauched bloodbathery from both Rites of Thy Degringolade and Axis of Advance, so I instead had to set my sights on a lesser known monster of the frozen wastes. Enter the two-headed serpent Amphisbaena and its weird, off-kilter take on black/death extremity. — W.
Dubs knows what the ladies like, so as one of his main ladies he knows that the way to my heart is quick bursts of Canadian blackened-death fury. As soon as I saw the tag for Canada on their bandcamp page, I had a general idea of what to expect. Canada has created quite the metal empire with bands like Gorguts, Forteresse, Chthe’ilist and such after all. Without a moment’s hesitation I hit play.
I was immediately greeted with the swarming and swirling of of distorted feedback, not unlike the start to Raining Blood. Slowly the swarm ramps up in volume before mid tempo guitars kick in, backed by some thunderous double bass. Much like the noise at the song’s start, the music itself slowly begins to ramp up in intensity and before you know it we’re off and blasting. Unfortunately as soon as things really start to take off, I feel my face scrunch up as if a cat had pissed right in front of it. Something most unpleasant had entered the threshold of my ears and all I could say was “…are those really that guy’s vocals?”
This proves to merely be a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things as the vocalist rarely uses his lolbuttzy, throatier growls and tends to stick with much more respectable gutturals as the album progresses. The second track, “Chthonic Macrophagi,” has a bit more room to breathe than opener “G.O.A.G” and is allowed to sprawl out, taking its time building up riffs and breaking them down with sections not unlike what you’d find from some hot new band from Iceland. Following “Chthonic Macrophagi” is a veritable banger of track closer in length to a grindcore track than blackened death, but not lacking any of the dynamics or riffs of everything that has come before it. Seriously, there is a ton jam packed into these 2 minutes and change.
The grand finale, “The Devouring Will,” keeps the momentum going while reminding me a bit of Nile. There are subtle phrasings and background guitar leads that remind me of the middle east and help add a unique flavor to something that otherwise sounds distinctly of the Canadian scene. The track eventually slows down to a much spacier crawl, offering but a moment’s reprieve and something just a tad bit prettier than what I’ve heard to this point. The song finally blasts its way to a satisfying conclusion featuring a stop/start riff that had me jamming right along before it faded into otherworldly sounds and then… nothingness.
I quite enjoyed this one from W. but expected no less from our resident former President. I can’t say how frequently I’ll revisit it, but I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for anything else from Amphisbaena. — Leif
Just as Dubya closed in on the cuddly polar bear, the ursine beast turned around and offered him a delicious Cocal-Cola. I guess this means bears and men are nature’s best friends after all. Want to get involved in Record Swap? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.