Friday, May 21, 2010

Severance - What Lies Ahead

Severance - What Lies Ahead
2001, WWIII Records

When it comes to being the editor of a magazine, there are really good days and really bad days, and the scattered mediocre, mundane days in between. What determines this? Well, for the most part, it's what the mailman brings. If you edit or write a fanzine or magazine and are used to receiving promotional material from labels - some of which you admire, some of which you would just like to test out or try once - mail time at your house or apartment is always an apprehensive time. At some times you can be rewarded with a surprise package, filled with good music, at other times your mailbox is stuffed with a few pounds of detritus, CDs which are just going to be turned into coasters beneath cups of coffee, or playthings for your cats.

Cats love to claw at CDs, by the way.

When these big packages come from WWIII music for me, it's like a mix of all three kinds of days: I'm excited, as I know there's probably a pretty cool album within, an average one, and one that will be soon holding up the short leg on my dinner table. They have the entire range covered [yes, that was sarcasm], which is not surprising as right out of the gate they have signed so many bands - or have agreed to fund the re-release of a lot of older albums. There are just that not many really good bands in the scene, it's a natural law, and when a label signs forty bands at once, there's going to be a few dogs that sneak over the border because they look like more attractive breeds. Severance aren't exactly the latter, they're more of an average band, fitting nicely into that middle category: the kind of group that sells a lot of albums because of the big push their label (hopefully) gives them, they end up in all the stores, their stuff is released at the same time as some of the higher profile stuff, etc. Having said that, this is not a "bad" band, not at all. The problem is that in the style of music they play (sort of an old school-referencing brutal death metal) there are just so many other bands already in this scene that it becomes very, very hard to distinguish one from the other.

You want to know what Severance really sounds like? Listen to Coffin Text's last album - the one that came out on Dwell, who these guys from WWIII records were formerly associated with. Listen to any other album in this genre at random. Why not? They're all the same. I can understand bands like this: they have talent you can depend on, their guitarists can shred, they really have fun playing the kind of music they broadcast, and the entire thing must just be an enjoyable, relaxing thing for them, something for them to do while drinking beer and kicking back every once in a while. Why not? Their excitement is palpable here, the energy from that is probably the only thing really holding this album together. Being in a band is good, right? It beats watching TV. At this stage in the history of music there are so many guitarists in the world it's kind of stunning if you really think about it. Do all these people have talent? Sure. I think that everyone has musical talent - this is something I was taught very early on when I was forced into choir practice and music lessons when I was nine years old - it just needs to be developed. Of course there are those who are more "gifted" than others, but the fact of the matter is that almost anyone can pick up a guitar and learn how to play music in a little while, if they stick with it. Death metal - the most rudimentary form of it - is extremely simple to play, and the distorted guitars and rough productions supposedly hide many mistakes which you would catch in more "mainstream" bands. Therefore there are many bands like this - that is to say...operating on the same guiding principles we find here. For a group like Severance, they have talent to spare, and once you penetrate into the depths of this album, cutting through the first track's clich├ęs - really getting to the meat of the matter, where they're just writing for themselves and not trying to impress anyone - you'll hear that talent coming through. This is good, solid, dependable, meat & potatoes death metal - but like I said before, it is the kind so many other bands feature. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that there are probably five hundred bands in the world that sound exactly like this one, but these days you can walk down the street throwing stones and you'll hit a few death metal guitarists. Try it one day. It makes originality all that much more important.

There are some monumentally heavy moments on this disc - listen to the end of the title track and the beginning of the next song, "Without Light", for example. The issue is not talent so much as...direction, a matter of style. The riffing doesn't really travel anywhere other than in basic song-building cycles and structural segments...they serve to hold up the pulpit for the vocalist, but that's about it. The guitarists don't really have the ability to form a narration with their music, to allow it to lead them to a different place other than the inevitable end of the song. Listening to Severance is like spinning in a circle, kicking up's fun, sure, but I'm in the same place when it's all over, with a lot less energy, and if I'm not careful I might dig a pit which I can't get out of. This is the kind of writing that killed death metal in the first place, you know, all of these bands who might not exactly be trying to copy another band (usually they are just trying to replicate moments of enjoyment they had while listening to other music), but who write predictable, silent (in that it doesn't really say anything to me) metal that appears on the scene, sucks the money from a few stupid working class enthusiasts or teenagers, and then disappears again. Music like this is a virus: it convinces other people that they, too, can form a band, and the sickness spreads. Some may like it, but I think it's really only for the truly dedicated, the diehards. However, at least it's not goregrind! If this band would listen to me for one half of a second, I would only say to them: "Please write more original music next time, you're on the right track!"