Monday, May 17, 2010

Dismember - Where Ironcrosses Grow

Dismember - Where Ironcrosses Grow
2004, Karmageddon

Why do Dismember still exist? Do they still keep the band together just so they can say, at the end of the day, that they've been together longer than most of the other bands around them? Does Matti Karki really work in a subway? Do they admire Autopsy as much as they claim to and - on one song here, the third, called "Me-God" - seem to want everyone to perceive in their songwriting? Is Dismember really only - at this point in their career - a guitar sound desperately searching for a song?

How many bands release albums only so that they can stay together as a band? So that they can keep their "reputation" and live in the metal scene? How many metal musicians play music only in order to justify the lifestyle?

Always in the shadow of Entombed (and seen historically, this may be more of an accident than anything else - what real criteria of precedence can one feel between the two bands?) and seen by most as a sort of more stubborn, stalwart, loyal stepbrother to those media darlings, Dismember have languished in relative obscurity for over a decade now. Greater renown and "success" (that word is really meaningless in this context, but I'll use it anyway out of spite, with an ironic twist) have courted them at specific times, most noticeably when their music (or at least the cover art) was banned after their second album for the utterly innocuous, cartoonish, and hackneyed "themes" put forth. Who banned it? The UK? Maybe they did so just because it was so clich├ęd, that seems laughable today. I wonder how much it helped or hurt Dismember's record sales, in either direction...

Anyway, Dismember has been courted by notoriety and higher sales, as I was saying above, and if those slatterns didn't beckon from the same room backstage they at least nodded from afar. I wonder how Dismember really reacted to that sort of thing - personally, as individuals, clustered together, hiding in their beds or groaning with hangovers at rehearsal. Any excitement, ever? Any sudden relapses into conscience-stroking or memories of younger hardcore days and dire warnings from the unconscious of "selling out"? Musically, they faired poorly. The material after "Indecent and Obscene" (which could have been titled "Imprecise and Obtuse" as it tripped and fell short of the genuinely entertaining debut album) was lackluster. Dismember seemed unable to forge an identity free from Entombed associations. Which way could they turn?

Ultimately they had to wait for Entombed to move away from the Swedish Sunlight genre before they could be left standing holding anything approximating a "genuine" sound. Dismember have not changed. Yes, there are "elements" (I'm being generous) of other death subgenres on this new album. The aforementioned Autopsy references (they appear again on the ninth song, "Children of the Cross"), the hints of In Flames (or Iron Maiden) forms of guitar melody on the fourth song "Tragedy of the Faithful", other segments that call to mind Edge of Sanity, etc. For the most part, however, this is just pure Dismember, pure Swedish Skogsberg death metal the way they were playing it back in the early nineties. It's their bread and butter, their main staple, the cane they can lean on...they're not going to leave it behind. I don't know if it's even fun for them to play anymore, or if they get any kind of satisfaction out of it...I hope they do. Personally I think it's amazing that they had three or four years between the last album and this one, and this is all they came up with.

As an experiment I would love to hear some of this material played with a different guitar sound altogether. What would it be like?

While not as overtly or obviously terrible and loose as Unleashed's "comeback" album, this is not what I really want to hear from this band. I like it (just a personal bias) when bands progress in some way throughout their career, or at least try to reach for something that would expand their musical capabilities and melodic language. Dismember have not done so...or, to be more accurate, they have not done so in a manner that is pleasing to me, subjectively. So much of this album just quotes other bands (Slayer in the fifth song "Chasing the Serpent") and doesn't bother to take those melodic ideas and fully integrate them into Dismember's own style. Is that because Dismember, if you want to get down to particulars, doesn't really have a style of their own? I'm sure this gathering of songs will please their longtime fans and friends (who are these people?) but I'm not tempted to add this album to my collection next to my copy of "...Like an Everflowing Stream". That recording remains the only production of this band that I consider to be important enough to warrant repeated listenings. The depressing thing is that I think Dismember recognizes this..."Where Ironcrosses Grow" is an utterly typical, bland, middle-of-the-road release from this veteran group. Solid filler, but nothing memorable.