Monday, May 17, 2010

Deeds of Flesh - Reduced to Ashes

Deeds of Flesh - Reduced to Ashes
2003, Unique Leader Records

This album took me completely by surprise. Deeds of Flesh are one of those strange [and rare] bands that just keep getting better as they age, and they keep delving deeper and deeper into their own style: solidifying, shoring up breaches, repairing cracks, smoothing cement over rough parts, tuning engine parts, repairing, improving, renewing. Evolving miles away from their first anti-hook style [displayed on the "Gradually Melted" EP and their first album "Trading Pieces"] and slowly, ever so slowly, altering in form, Deeds is now at the enviable position of being able to write songs that are both catchy and extreme [bewilderingly so at times] technical masterpieces. They have worked very, very hard at developing their own style, and it shows. While there are a hundred bands that try to sound like this one, none of them quite match this trio's sheer power and instrumental virtuosity. When it comes to the straight notion of their sound, their aesthetics, their inner core or seed, their essence as a band, none of their clones even come close. Deeds are now one of the institutions of death metal, having carved out their own place in the genre and spawning an entire subgenre on their own - you might as well call it "technical brutal death metal", that name fits as well as any.

I'll admit…when they first started, I wasn't exactly into what they were doing. It was too pure, too cerebral, too [I thought] unfocused, it concentrated too much on the technical side and seemed to scoff at or scorn any "mainstream" notions of songwriting or song craft. Their first few releases, up to and including their second album "Inbreeding the Anthropophagi", are absolutely uncompromising whirlwinds of technical display; dizzying, numbingly complex barrages of riffs, riff fragments, comments on riffs, asides, sallies, thrusts, rhythmic bits and pieces, and a perverse unwillingness or inability to ever write a song that was in any way straightforward or traditional. Deeds of Flesh create a labyrinth with every composition. There are times [especially upon the first few listens] where their work can abuse and isolate based on its sheer demonic unwillingness to allow the listener any kind of "safe" path through the song, any steps or stairways towards meaning, comprehension, or structure. It is colder and more alienating than industrial noise because it takes upon itself the outer appearance of traditional metal only to corrode it from the inside. The forced march of ironic stylistic dissolution and self-dissolving is uneasy and uncomfortable. You hear the guitars, bass, drums, and death vocals, but beyond that you are lost. There is absolutely nothing to hold onto, nothing to grasp and keep track of in your mind in order to determine your position within the song. The riffs come at you so fast and furiously, they are so multifaceted, so complex, that you are rendered dizzy and disoriented almost immediately. Only over time [for me it took a long time] does your memory come to your aid and begin to place an invisible structure over the chaos. There is a structure, be sure of that, it is just very difficult to perceive. Over time, after repeated listens, it begins to assume a definite shape and the songs then assume a "meaning", as is traditional. Is this meaning self-imposed? Of course. And that's the whole point.

While all of this was impressive and I certainly admired it from a conceptual point of view, as a sort of musical-philosophy-made-flesh, a manifestation of compositional principles, the songs themselves were never completely rewarding. They stunned, but they didn't engrave themselves in my head. That was…until Deeds' last album, "Mark of the Legion". All of a sudden this band was technically proficient, in the avant-garde in their genre, and writing good, memorable, extremely violent material. They had matured.

This album begins exactly where the last left off, except that Deeds has put their best foot forward with the first four songs. If this had been an EP, with only these first four songs, it would be one of the best EPs in the history of metal: not only in terms of progressive intent, songwriting ability, etc. but also because of the overwhelming amount of creative energy that is expended/released on those tracks. As it stands it is the best "A Side" in the history of brutal death metal. There are enough riffs, melodic fragments, ideas and transitions in these songs to fill up two albums by other bands. The fluidity, expressiveness, flexibility, range, and power of the rhythm guitars is amazing. All the worlds that they open up, dissect, lay aside, close, twist, turn, create and destroy in front of you stun with their beauty. The ways in which the guitars and drums interact, play against and with each other, and then meld into one repeating fist of insanely high speed blast articulation and phrasing is just sickening. I concentrate on the first four songs because they are the catchiest and because they were the first ones to really hit me when I started listening to this album some time ago in mp3 form. The entire record is unmatched, though. What the later songs lose in terms of melodic cohesiveness and hooks they gain in simple intensity. The tradeoff is fair.

--> Well, that is something of an overstatement. The sixth track, "Banished", is, I believe the second best on the album next to the opener. As this album continues to grow on me I see, actually, how the songs are balanced between the more straightforward [for Deeds] tracks and then the convoluted ones. It is the songs that are the most complex that really draw my attention. Maybe that is unfair of me, but it's just a personal bias. Other people might like the simpler ones. [Added 20/09/03]

All of this is mainly disturbing, to me, because Deeds have evolved this catchy, melodic [in their own pattern], memorable style out of something that used to be almost pure musical chaos. Even at this point novices, I think, will be overwhelmed. The songs are still extremely technical, rigorously complex [they get "worse" in this way as the album progresses, until we get to the last song "The Endurance", which is a tour-de-force of technical composition lasting almost twelve minutes long], and so utterly, devastatingly vicious that they feel like personal attacks.

--> I can't think of many other "one guitar bands", or trios, that can maintain this level of songwriting, this much material flying by one's ears at such an impressive rate. Most trios intentionally dumb down and simplify their songwriting. Why? [Added 20/09/03]

The production matches the material. As other reviewers have said, it takes the recording values of the last album and cleans them up a little, improving the band's sound in the same way that their style has evolved: towards clarity, a distinction of structure and compositional parts. While the bass is mostly drowned out [it still peeks through at points] you can feel it backing the rhythms and some of the simpler melodic figures. The drums are crystal clear, especially the snare, which is hit over the course of this album about 1.5 million times. The guitar sound is perfect. Not overwashed in distortion, not swallowed up by low tones, and equally full and dynamic whether being sent through rapid picking or frenzied palm muting. Some might find it a little dry, but I think it's better that way rather than swallowed in clouds of sewer overdrive. This album should set the production standard for all technical brutal death albums to follow. It is obviously a digital recording.

What else can I say about this thing? If you are a Deeds fan you have it already. If you have heard of this band and their reputation but have stayed away until now, you should definitely give this rabid beast a spin or two. It is bound to make an impression, of that I am sure.

It is quickly becoming one of my favorite death metal albums.