Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ton - Plague

Ton - Plague
2000, Seething Records, earlier on United Guttural

Immediately dismissing any preconceptions anyone may have about their name (I got caught in that for a second, even after I read an interview of theirs, thinking they were some girth-proud Crowbar-clone grunting out power chords) from the very start of this excellent album, Ton launch into the fray with a superb, highly-detailed form of technical, brutal death metal - all whirring, clashing, spinning, crushing guitar work, an overdose of bruising bass additions, and some seriously schizophrenic stop-and-start blasting skin play. Sounding at times like a combination of mid-period Suffocation crossed with Cryptopsy (although, for the most part, much more rhythmically dense - a tensile strength of cooling iron, here), this is easily one of the most impressive death metal albums I have heard lately rising from the underground, and it impressed me all the more as I hadn't heard of this band before at all. Where have they been? What is their history like? I don't know. All I do know is that I listened to this album about five times the day that I got it in the mail, and afterwards I felt like I had gone a dozen rounds with a prize is simply that overwhelmingly intense. Praise enough, Ton?

Like I noted above, the great strength of this band (and the production on this album really brings out this characteristic) is the amazing density of this material: the guitar sound is much heavier than usual with this type of music; riffs are begun, spun about, changed, variations are spat out only to sink back, screaming, into the main melodies, rhythms erect themselves, collapse, change shape, combine into new forms, and this band marches on, swirling, pointing, lurching about...through all of this there is the atypically studied guitar playing leading or falling behind, churning, grinding, the bass taking the initiative, pulsing, gurgling, and the drums sound like they are either trying to play catch-up or run far ahead - it sounds chaotic in this description, but believe me, it all comes together in the execution.

Also, contrary to my expectations, there are different elements in here other than what a death band's strict lineage (death metal is still a very conservative genre) would have you believe: song number five, 'In My Sickness', features some very nice dissonant riffing ala early Earth Crisis in its first stage, and throughout this album there are similar parts - the rhythmic intensity of grinding blasts giving way to soaring, echoing waves of distortion crashing in upon each other in abstract melodies. With only one guitar, this band creates an admirable range of suffocating atmosphere or malevolent 'ambience'...

Have I mentioned how much I like the guitar playing on this record? Some sections are simply inspired...

I wonder if this is the direction the entire death metal scene is going in now - there were enough warnings: Nile, Dying Fetus, the aforementioned Cryptopsy, Deeds of Flesh, and about a thousand other bands have shown that their way to escape death's inevitable collapse was to metamorphosize again and again, becoming always more complex, more technical, more self-referential - until their songs were labyrinths of cruel riffing, all thorns and barbs and fragments of tossing melodic fragments, a veritable whirlwind of shards, cymbal crashes, and muted downstrokes. Ton, like these other bands, is the kind of musical entity that seeks to mesmerize you within a maze of tornado riffage, lashing at you repeatedly from every angle until you sit rooted to your chair - stunned, lost, confused, hopeless. The effect of this kind of metal is perplexing, bewildering, and (at select times) exquisitely pleasurable...where black metal seeks to isolate and alienate you with its 'less is more' aesthetic, its freezing waves of abstract atonalism, this new form of death brings about the same effect by overwhelming you with its richness, by a simple melodic/rhythmic saturation past the boundaries of all extremity. Two different aesthetics, but the same result.

My problem, I am guessing, is that I just don't listen to that much of this type of music anymore, so I don't know exactly how 'original' this band is at this point in death metal's evolution/decay...and I just don't have the vocabulary to adequately describe this release. But to me, there is some stellar musicanship going on here at all times, and I think anyone could benefit from listening to a band challenging themselves. This will go on my CD shelves right next to Demilich, as I believe Ton are firmly in the tradition of that great band.

2000 lbs. divided by three excellent musicians equals 666 pounds of mayhem each...enough to crush your skull, I guarantee.