Review: Garroted – Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors
Our resident arthropod drops in to talk about Garroted’s upcoming death blow.
I remember once having a chat with a death metal musician about the every prickly issue of genre classification as it related to their band. We agreed on all points more or less; while they were accomplished musicians, they did not focus on this aspect of their sound as Archspire or Defeated Sanity would. While I could understand why some might group their unusual sound with Gorguts and Ulcerate, there was far too much melody phrased in a variety of forms to easily put them in such a category. Even their dissonance was far from skronkiness or the bending inverted tonality where that term is commonly used today. We came to the agreement that the description “progressive death metal” was best suited. It brings up an interesting observation about this term. Namely, that bands who inhabit it and genuinely live up to the namesake more or less aren’t so much a unified lineage with a distinct history and sound as much as more or less stylistic outliers united by overarching concepts rather than technical specifics.
However with time I’ve grown to see these bands as something else entirely; not modern, dissonant, oldschool, psychedelic and so on but simply “eldritch” (though the term “New Wave of Surreal Death Metal” was floating in my head for a bit). The sound after all didn’t seem not only of established convention but of this world. And in the case of a band like Garroted, that appears to be the full intent. Formed initially in 2011, they debuted in the already jam packed year of 2016 with their four song demo, In the Court of Nyarlathotep and became a cult sensation quickly with their four hellish micro-symphonies of otherworldly horror. Two years later and Garroted return almost as a reimagined band, replacing the raw barely contained madness that characterized their beginnings with a sharply coordinated approach showcasing impressive growth in personal capacities and songwriting ambitions. From its crispy clear production to slightest stroke of each drum roll, it was difficult at first to recognize them with how much the improvements have not only upgraded them as a whole but also opened up new options that they explore in this four song 24 minute demo.
Garroted’s sound is technical in its execution and spiralling in how its scope. Guitarists Ray and Jerry demonstrate a wide range of technique and a sound that travels across a wide variety of technique and practices, weaving moments of carefully picked upper register harmonies among spiked rows of barbaric chords in one of the most versatile EP’s of recent times. Rather than solely focusing on one or the other, they utilize dissonance to set the stage for what will become melodies that explore and conclude particular riffs before they are distended and deformed into ambiguous, amorphous mutations. Under their chaotic sorceries lies Steven’s highly involved drumming, cleaned up considerably finding any space he can to colonize with shifty cymbal accents with blink-and-miss-it fills counterpointing and matching the guitar work in the raw variety present. KJ’s bass shadows these frenzied movements with all the finesse of a camouflaged predator, somewhat buried under the raw quantity of vicious material that comprises their sound but the mix. Finally, vocalist Dan displays an impressive degree of versatility and character, ranging from semi blackened Azathothean demon shrieks to wraith-like subterranean gurgle, emanating in the depths with an ominous bassy quality.
The four tracks on this demo travel across a plethora of subgenres and stylistic variants, showcasing them at their most creative. Opener “Otherworldly Subversions (Part I: The Crucible)” begins with a stomping plethora of disjointed riffing with fragments of eerie melodies spiking out at uncomfortable angles against impetuous percussion before fragmenting into a kaleidoscopic framework of unfurling, spidery harmonies. There’s few “normal” riffs here, utilizing many mid to upper register lead fragments, articulately picked and slowly coiling and twisting in almost abstract arrangements. Each piece relates to an overarching melody that condenses into sharper forms as the song nears its end, homing in on dense crushing chords that resolve its tension wonderfully. On the other end of the spectrum, “Pandemonium (Otherworldly Subversions Part II)” shows a drastic shift in tempo into death/doom territory with its zombie march tempo and hefty downstroke thundering. While they retains the narrative format for structure, they implement it through broad strokes as titanic riffs grind and crash against one another like collapsing towers, the ensuring domino effect creating both a funereal ambience native to doom but with death metal’s geometric arrangement. Lead overlays demarcate transitions and important intervals while crushing sledgehammer chords state dominant ideas, altering phrasing with additional melody to generate motion in a theme’s development or concentrated crushing to augment raw impact and simply make the track viscerally satisfying. However the last minute shows them unleashing a sudden torrent of melody tremolo picking and a gorgeous solo, somewhat reminiscent of Cartilage’s The Fragile Concept of Affection in execution.
The EP’s biggest surprise however is also its shortest. While the others are six or eight minutes in length, “Crimson Thirst” is only three but is far from rushed. However it demonstrates their skill at making shorter impact-oriented numbers, sending forward a minigun barrage of splintering riffing with the rate of fire of Angelcorpse. Even in such a setting they’re able to draw out a fair share of melody from a wide range of disciplines, utilizing breaks in raw activity to work in nuanced lead discursions that flesh out its ragged edges, both mirroring an varying its relentless onslaught and dynamics but without making it lose any of its killing intent. However for most I imagine the most distinct track will be the eight minute epic “Into the Shivering Forest” where their eclecticism is at its most prominent. Sudden turnaround rhythmic shifts supported by rapidfire blast beat bursts mingle with semi shred metal neoclassical lead work, showcasing both Ray and Jerry’s virtuosity particularly well during a sudden clean break around its midsection, perhaps even hinting at a chilly arpeggiated black metal undertone with its melodic sensibility. However the final two minutes of the song might be divisive; at this point the band drop the melody for a kind of elongated instrumental outro that normally might be relegated to an entirely separate track or even the arsenal of an “extreme prog” band like Opeth. However it does allow them to demonstrate their ability to work even outside of a metallic context. If you listen closely, it’s based on an earlier melodic motif around a quarter into the track, gradually working it through sparser subdivisions of its original phrasing until it finally reaches a quiet if foreboding end.
It’s not often that a band not only improves on their sound but straight up reimagines it without losing the core spirit that defined them. From their crispier production down to their impressive musicianship, Garroted effectively transformed from a chaotic void of malformed riffing and malevolent blackness into a highly intricate and layered evocation of supernatural terror. While it isn’t quite as heavy as its predecessor due to the production job having a somewhat thinner quality that emphasizes higher pitches, it does work well for the additional layers of unbridled complexity that work their way into their sound, making each of their four experiments in sorcerous knowledge all the more vivid in their extrapolation and subsequent obliteration. Much of the material here demonstrates the myriad directions they could head in for future releases, whether it’s funereal dirges or high speed rippers or something beyond but not wholly detached from what they have achieved here. Personally I would like to see all of these concepts merged into a singular storytelling form, casting their tales of demonic incursions and horrific violence into an epic multi-chaptered scope but that shall have to wait for the future. This is easily one of the best non-album metal releases of the year and cement Garroted’s place as a band to be very, very hyped for where they might take death metal in coming years.