Spooky’s Halloween Trifecta Part III – Deaths To Remember
Harlequin – Origin of Suffering
This L.A. trio caught my attention end of last year with a small live comp on Transylvanian Recordings, and now this new full-length is coming home to roost in my daily rotation. Origin of Suffering has a lot of varied flavors getting tossed around together, and some tracks present a very distinct hybrid of their own, difficult to place precisely in the taxonomy of subgenres for its chimeric sections. I’d say that is one of the tasteful choices made by this record at the outset, that there’s a near 50-50 split of reliable death metal standards to more daring experiments with the sound, song by song, and none of them show their hand up front. It’s always a surprise.
On the more single-minded outings, “Feminicidio”, “3120”, and “Trapanrot” all power themselves with spatters of intense high-pressure blasting and string-sawing, riding on marathon drumwork and quick-cycling guitar passages. I get a lot of Cattle Decap stink off of these tracks, peppered impatiently with raw-nerve pinches and squeals. Also the double growls, can’t let them go unmentioned, pairing a parched, nasally rattle with jaw-set grunts, usually on top of one another. The structure plays well with its short riffs, which are not as one-dimensional as they might have been. The drums in particular often disagree, sportingly, with the pace of the guitars, only to switch places a few measures later. We stomp, we sprint, we stomp harder.
But Harlequin rage best when they plant a ratty boot in two graves at once. I won’t spoil everything, but this album had some surprising departure from the nasty deathgrind playbook that range into dark prog and more experimental flourishes beyond. “Sine Sole Sileo” makes a complete swap into wailing black metal, but still can’t resist throwing in a Hoglan-esque staggered-blast breakdown across the midsection. Like, I enjoy this album as a whole chunk of state-of-the-art death metal, but I fucking LOVE the mad science bass jam and Jacob’s Ladder guitar surges on “We Didn’t Planet”. Before the first riff has completed it’s journey, there’s a clean vocal harmony over the shrieks that gives me heart flutters, a choral accompaniment that weaves through the song and actually sounds as fearful and frantic as the guitar itself, a rarity in this sort of play. Also, a 30-second sample intro? What is this, Mortician?
Even with two acoustic interludes, I was honestly surprised at how fast this record went by despite paying such close attention. Harlequin is developing their sound along very promising lines, and with their range you will almost certainly find a slice that is your exact jam. I love death metal.
Best for: Undergoing mutagenic experimentation, and feeling an involuntary rictus cross your face when your captor realizes, too late, that the leather bonds fixing you to the operating table have burst.
Hussar – All-Consuming Hunger
From the starting shot, Hussar show they are fully formed, sound-wise, even if they choose to coyly delay the rhythmic legerdemain until the first break of track one. It’s a nice early trick, getting an earful of unbroken 16th note rumbling with a bit of drizzled leadwork above, a death-doom workhorse that suddenly twists its ankle at a sudden stop. Sudden stops are Hussar’s prize strategem, you’ll quickly find, across a record that delights in jolts of syncopation and hairpin pauses.
Maybe at the root it’s just a very well-punctuated rhythmic approach, light reinventions of the essential tools that create murmurs of the heart amidst the drowning doom power. But hearing it in action is like seeing a crack ripple up the side of a boulder, splitting it in two and letting the masses fall with tectonic force. It’s a totally headbangable but not by-the-book metric style. Even the straight-ahead charges are broken by full stops, like in the no-shit titled “Blind Charge Into Gunfire”. Lest you think Hussar lean on jump scare tactics a bit too much, note also the inspired push-pull bass break immediately afterward, crashing wavelike back and forth in a simple tonality crammed with ire. Just the contours of this record are so good, crisply chopped up and voiced with just a hint of stretched harmony. The dissonant elements aren’t overtaking the syncopated elements for attention, just accentuating them.
The runtime is muscled into shape by the two long-runners, making the most careful use of the atmospheric tools to hand. “All-Consuming Hunger” creates a broader idiom of itself, trudging and longing at the outside, and gorging in the middle with a marvelous thrashed up midsection. The bass gets a little nasty in “Hunger” as well, flying down full scale descents as fluidly as a lashing whip, while the guitar slides down for the fat texture between measures. The other lodestone, “Dissonant Weeping Of A Thousand Widows”, similarly earmarks some of its expansive time budget to spotlight the backbone instruments. A tastefully urbane drum simmer lowers the lights, and the bass in this break wears a suit vest with rolled sleeves, and could mix you a perfect Manhattan.
Hussar are coming out of the chrysalis with a strong sonic identity. They know their exact territory of interest, and damn if it isn’t a rich vein, at least for a band with the panache to sow it together so elegantly.
Best for: sinking into your designated cocoon-suit and realizing too late that you forgot your nerve-suppressant, as your internal organs stitch themselves into twisted parodies of organs that fight one another for control.
The Loom of Time – Grand False Karass
I’m kind of flabbergasted by this record. How dare these dudes? This is amongst the most challenging death metal I’ve ever listened to, structurally speaking, due to its diversity of styles and frankly eclectic ease of reassembling itself, but despite all of that, it’s just so listenable. I suppose I’m feeling jealousy? Not just jealousy of musicianship, but just the impression that this band could trash an entire scene in shame for its sheer energy and true commitment to progressive metal’s often overstated creativity and fluidity. It is apocalyptic, in the sense that it is revelatory, because now we know that such polymorphic progression is possible and that proves every other tech death nerd-o-rama is merely chasing their own tails. The Loom Of Time may actually be challenging Horrendous, my beloved Horrendous, for the best prog death band still kicking, and that feels like apostasy.
I’m raving now. Gotta step back. Grand False Karass is difficult to summarize, tempting one to reduce to the aphorism of variety being the spice of life. But moment to moment, song to song, it feels like this record can do anything. Hopping around between many distinct strains of death metal, black metal, rowdy hard rock, fluty prog, magnetic djent, and so many curving trails around these nodes, and finding, effortlessly, the perfect thread to unite them all in a dazzling tapestry. The structure of each track feels so spontaneous, so loose and improvised, but there’s clearly a solid grooving core of rising and falling emphasis, as shown in the drumwork. It’s like a Hieronymus Bosch painting or some shit. Just so much granular detail in all the little vignettes and encounters that make up the dizzying whole. The kitchen sink approach to prog.
First listen is mostly just reacting in bewilderment to all the most obviously ear-grabbing twists. Right there in the first track, “The Depths Of Hell Itself”, it goes all muffled potato production for a few bars just to sell the shapeshifting turn into classic black metal. “The Luxury Of Ignorance” gallops out of dissoblack murk into a stirring tribal drum and flamenco (?) type lead, capped off with an operatic soul singer from nowhere. And I have to admit that the solid statements of musical construction tend to evade me from there. I cannot parse in any deeper sense what these songs are doing so right beyond freewheeling fireworks displays of musical vocabulary turned loose by pure id. Grand False Karass is as bountiful as a king’s coffers. Swaying and majestic, harrowingly cold and biting, rambunctious and arrogant, like a one man show with a single actor playing every role and swapping character for every line of dialogue, and utterly selling it.
Best for: A trip to the art museum, compressed into a slideshow and blasted in your eyeballs A Clockwork Orange-style.