Monday, May 17, 2010

Drawn and Quartered - Extermination Revelry

Drawn and Quartered - Extermination Revelry
2003, Moribund Records

It is easy enough to draw ties of influence between this band and others in the death metal scene, but I wouldn't want that statement to overstate their stylistic allegiances or to draw too much attention away from their idiosyncrasies. One could easily say, offhand, "Oh yes, Incantation, Deteriorot, Amorphis, filtered through Autopsy", etc. but I don't know how much that would really tell you or how much closer that would get you to understanding what this band does. Let's set down what should be cast in stone or made concrete, permanent, first: an early '90s death metal direction without even a taste or merest twinge of brutal death, New York or California style, no, a sound much closer to Scandinavia than it is to that late-American derivative. A guitar sound and general production [for the album overall] that reminds me of "Severed Survival" and "Mental Funeral". Excellent bass presence and an adequate bass sound, full and distorted, not rumbling inexpressibly or ineffectively. It might just be the EQ setup that I am listening to this through, but one can almost make out the bass riffs most of the time without straining too hard and that's a definite improvement on most metal album productions. I always welcome a generous bass presence, especially when the bassist is suitably skilled and/or imaginative enough to add to the music, as he is here. I would have actually turned the bass up even louder if I had been the mixing engineer on this album, just to make a point, but in any case the guitars and bass combine very well, with the distorted white noise of the four-string melding with the crisp Coralles tones of the six. I am trying very hard to pierce through the low resolution of the band member photos on the back of this promo to see whether or not the bass is actually a five string. I can't tell. I can see that the drummer is wearing an old Manes shirt, though, so that immediately prejudices me in this group's favor. Such is subjectivity.

The guitar playing is excellent: original riffing [without ever getting too eccentric, to the point of detracting from the flow of the songs or distracting the listener], a beautiful medium, well-managed tone, nice use of echoing/repeating second guitar harmonies when they are called for, and superb, tasteful solos that remind me of the emotively lyrical yet obscure work of Petr Ramus [?] on Avenger's "Shadows of the Damned", one of my favorite metal albums. The drumming is also a standout, without typical blasting or overtly technical fills. I would have liked the drum sound to be a little better, a little higher in the mix, a tad bit clearer, but that's just me. For the most part the drummer expertly backs the guitars with his own brand of rhythmic creativity, and the tight lock/accord between the two instruments appears as the real strength of this band. For example, on the fifth song "Necrophile Decapitator" [I know], there are a lot of percussive pulsings in the main rhythm riffs and the drums have to back up the guitars adequately as their combination is the bridge upon which the entire song is based. The drumming is really a highlight here.

There is a definite break in song quality on this album, and after one has listened to it a few times it becomes obvious. I think the first six songs are the best, in all ways: in terms of song writing, the playing on the tracks, the amount of energy displayed in their performance, the catchiness and beauty of the melodies, etc. Strange. After the sixth song the album just kind of drops off...the songs are still good, much more than adequate [better than most bands], and yet...something seems to be missing.

My favorite slices of this album, though, are the slower segments, especially the principal doom part that enters at 2:08 in "Worshippers of Total Death", which is set up and anticipated expertly by a series of two faster melodies, beginning from the straight blast of the intro riff. This five note [or chord-four note-chord reiteration] dirge with backing doom ride cymbal ticks manages to evoke second album Incantation as easily as it does the first three note death knell of Black Sabbath's eponymous opener. The little Iommi trill halfway through only completes the equation of influences. I especially like the way the bass rings out here and fills up the listening space the same way another guitar would with open chords. This riff also ends the song, as one would guess from the traditional song structures on display here [but also as one would want] and the atmosphere the rhythm guitars spread forth like a gray fog is an ideal background for a simple, evocative solo to shine across. Well done. Another comparable Sabbath segment appear in the song "Abyss Behind My Gaze", but that band's touch is felt throughout this record. That is in no way a detrimental effect.

However, to be honest, I just do not like the vocals on this album. Why? They are too conservative, too flat and mid-ranged, too inflexible. The staid vocalist only recites and repeats the lyrics as he is called upon to do [by his basic function in the band] and does not add anything of his own. There were many times during the playing of this album where I would want to place long, drawn out screams, high terrorizing shrieks, etc. to balance out and counteract the unidirectional impulse of the bass and guitar, and instead I am greeted with the same monotonous [in all the senses of that word] death grunting from the nameless throat on this recording. A pity! While I listen to this record I have to add my own vocal parts...and while the other instrumentalists are being noticeably creative and/or emotive the vocals are a black hole of stoic impassivity. Another vocalist, or another approach by the same vocalist, could have made this record much less traditional, and much more effective. I do not know exactly what line of attack the singer was contemplating before the recording and in rehearsal, but I hope he changes his mind before the next album. Please!

"Extermination Revelry" is ten tracks of dark American death metal, written and performed with an eye towards the past of the genre instead of pushing the music beyond all expressive boundaries in a Pyrrhic victory of extremity-for-extremity's sake. A concentration on flow, world-building, song writing, and strong, memorable melodies is displayed with a firm sense of purpose and a masterful instrumental presentation. Very, very good material here...