Sunday Sesh: The Gutter Instinct Episode
My favorite Swedish death metal band is back, and in a big way. Today we’re talking Gutter Instinct‘s new record Heirs of Sisyphus and reflecting on the evolutionary leaps this band continues to make! Get in here for a horrifying ride into your ruin!
Longtime readers will likely note that we’ve been big fans of the death metal chimaira since (almost) the beginning. I breathlessly declared them my Band of the Month back in 2015, opining that their debut EP (their first demo dropped just before this blog was born), The Insurrection, featured “riffs and songs [that] are head and shoulders above those penned by the majority of throwback old school death metal acts and derivative revivalists.” It was a radical little work of HM-2 violence that grabbed me by the throat with both its inventiveness and its ferocity.
I didn’t spill much ink on the band’s first full-length, Age of the Fanatics, but Joe and I both thought it was just darling; I even threw it on my list of honorable mentions of AOTY in 2016. Not much had changed internally for the band – guitarists Oscar Persson and Hannes Hellman were still fusing the classic Swedeath sound with a crusty oomph and a heady flare – but the addition of bassist Simon Isaksson helmed round out Ola Håkansson’s rhythm assault with some welcome depth. The end result sounded more like a definitive version of The Insurrection: fast and feral Swedish death metal loaded with baffling (and addictive) riffs.
Having perfected their particular brand of death metal, it would have been easy for Gutter Instinct to rest on their laurels and just phone in another album of killer riffs and subtle variations. That nuance wasn’t good enough for the creative masterminds behind the band, however, and the group parted ways with both Prosthetic Records and vocalist Thomas Ernemyr. In the throaty Simon Fridlund they found a replacement, but even greater changes were afoot for the Swedes.
If you hadn’t been listening closely, the group’s newly released sophomore effort, Heirs of Sisyphus, could easily be mistaken for the work of an entirely different band, and in the best way possible. It’s an incredible leap forward in terms of both songwriting and artistic vision; it’s a wholly unique reimagining of everything that made the band great in the first place, giving space to the band’s wide range of influences without ever sounding anything but earnest. Heirs of Sisyphus is an incredible rejection of the sophomore slump.
Heirs of Sisyphus sees Gutter Instinct infusing their own take on Swedish death metal with trace DNA strands of black metal, dissonant death metal, cavernous death metal, and even trad metal. The blast beats in “Satan Within” roar and batter with a ferocity unheard of in the band’s prior works, making even the ugly opening riff, with its distortion cranked to 11, even more scabrous by proximity. “The Abyss Speaks” finds the band slowing down the pace, working within a seemingly conventional song structure to create a little syncopation with the booming Malthusian-style note bends. That mercurial throughline of atypical songwriting resurfaces in “Tip of the Spear” with a much welcome melodic solo section; you can almost hear the fun Hellman and Persson are having indulging their classic influences in such an incongruous track. The risk pays off big, making”Tip of the Spear” one of the most banging tracks on the record.
Lest fans of the band’s previous sound fret and falter, take heart, because there’s still plenty of HM-2 worship and D-beat violence across this record. The riffs are still there, and the cymbals still crack with a leading furor. The song structures are still deceptively familiar, with choruses you’ll no-doubt want to shred your throat trying to sing along to. The band you love is still around, but now they’ve indulged those little intricacies they’ve always hidden away in their songs. This is Gutter Instinct fully realized, giving free rein to their creativity and passion, and it’s a hell of a thing to hear.
Earlier in this article I remarked that fans may not immediately recognize Heirs of Sisyphus as the work of Gutter Instinct if given a blind taste test, and I stand by that. This sophomore banger is a mammoth of a death metal record, loaded with far more intricacies than I can unpack at the moment; it’s the kind of release that’s going to take me the rest of the year to uncover all of its little secrets and mysteries. That said, the band’s panache for riffs and clever songwriting is as strong and present as ever, and if it was the driving force of Hellman and Persson that brought you to the table initially, you’ll definitely want to stay for this latest portion. In that way, Heirs of Sisyphus is perhaps a band reaching full maturity and coming into bloom rather than losing its own identity in an effort to recreate itself. And because of this, I can’t imagine any fan of the band being dismayed by what the quintet has on offer here.