Monday, May 17, 2010

Deicide - Scars of the Crucifix

Deicide - Scars of the Crucifix
2004, Earache Records

Deicide did not have to do much in order to secure a "comeback" album in Scars of the Crucifix. All they had to do was travel into the past, listen to Legion, the debut, and parts of Once Upon The Cross, and then filter the inspiration from those close-listenings (and their attendant remembrances) into something that supposedly could frame Benton's newfound enthusiasm (borrowed from his experience with Vital Remains?) for his own vocal experimentation. All record label hype aside, this album is not the wondrous effigy of return and renewal that pundits would have you believe it to be. Deicide will never, ever match the intensity, songwriting prowess and (above all) hunger of their first two albums again. They don't have it in them to do so, nor (I am thinking) do they even want to.

Deicide seem to want to remain exactly where they are now, while (at the same time) expanding their range just a little in order to remain contemporary. What we have here is the same cycle of growth vs. stagnation that all long time bands go through, and Deicide has reached that career point where they are strongly tempted to rest on their laurels and collect royalties from a growing back catalogue of filler. Their first three albums were very good, the first two being excellent (Legion being one of my favorite death metal releases), while the third showed signs of wear and boredom already under its self-imposed aesthetic/burden of "simplicity for its own sake". Once Upon The Cross, while being good for what it was, a solid (if unspectacular) middle range death metal album, the kind of release other (lesser) bands could build fanbases around, just did not live up to the promise of Legion in my opinion. Yes, Deicide committed creative suicide (as the story goes) by pulling the plug on their own technical preferences and affinities for abyss-riffs and labyrinthine arrangements (I'm exaggerating to make a point) and coughed up a completely prosaic genre release in the third record, whose success saw them following the same blueprint for the next few albums, all of which were terrible. Uninspired, emotionless, dull, listless, restless, ennui-ridden. Bland. To their own surprise, I hope, they continued to reap the rewards of relative commercial success while the critics panned the music flowing forth. If I was in Deicide by the point of In Torment In Hell I would have been seriously depressed. They must have lost all respect for their own audience. "What? We can produce this dreck and you still eat it up?"

The Official Story now, or at least the Official Hint at the backstory, is that Deicide were just "biding their time", releasing substandard material to stick several thorns in the side of their hated label, Roadrunner, a justification and excuse that to me seems ludicrous. It sounds good until you look at it for more than a second at a time, and then it just wilts away - which is why I think Benton has just been suggesting it in interviews or "hinting" at it, as I said, letting the asinine press fill in the requisite hype holes. What I think is much more probable is that Deicide got lost in their own creative sterility, realizing (as I said above) that they could just coast along releasing the same boring album over and over, until things hit bottom a few years ago and their reputation was starting to suffer to the point where it was hurting sales. Now on Earache Records, Deicide engineer a miraculous comeback and pull great songs out of nowhere, etc. Etc. It's good press, but does the reality of the situation match this?

Not really.

First of all, these just aren't great songs. They're good songs, and of a real quality compared to what other bands are producing now, not just measured against what Deicide have done over the last few albums...which set a very low standard. At this point a typical meat-and-potatoes filler album from them would have been greeted with praise of genius, with sycophant critics hailing their great "return to form" from every shore imaginable. Thankfully Deicide managed to write something that is better than just filler. This is an entertaining record.

Why?

Well, for two main reasons: Benton sticks with some of the vocal techniques and technology he used on the last Vital Remains album, injecting his performance with more enthusiasm and emotion than he has displayed in years, and there is a return of real riffs to this band, actual Deicide riffing as you will remember it if you are an older fan of this band: dark, malevolent, filled with energy, catchy, and fast. The songwriting is not exactly up to par, and a few of the songs sound as if they were shunted and cobbled together in the studio (especially the last two), but the pervasiveness of so many head-nodding riffs makes up for that. When all is over none of these songs really stick in my head except three of the first four (especially the second, the excellent "Mad at God"), but that's probably just a measure of my own jaded nature at this point, not an actual register of their overall catchiness - and it's a matter of the songwriting as well (which is completely by the book and unadventurous), not the quality of the riffs themselves. To be honest I expected more from Deicide as they originated from a time in the metal scene when songwriting skills were more important than they are thought to be today, but I suppose I should be satisfied with the fact that they were at least able to come up with strong material, if they couldn't shape it and press it into a pleasing final form. Better luck next time?

I sincerely hope that this band continues...and on their present path, back towards the potential they displayed on Legion. It would be so completely against the grain of the usual careers of metal bands for a group like this to return from mediocrity and embrace a former aesthetic, a form of originality that would make the accomplishment something really worth talking about. I can only wish that Deicide are setting their sights that high and that the next album will be even stronger.