2000, Necropolis Records
I have to admit that I've always been halfway impressed by this band. Reliable sources have told me that their earlier material is actually much better than their later (a lot of bands are like this, though), and one day I would like to examine that for myself. Right now I just don't have the time. And even though this album was recorded at Nomad Studios in Carrollton (where Absu and King Diamond also record, and where the last Mercyful Fate opus was put on tape), about five miles from my house, I can not really inspire myself to listen to this more than the few times it takes to get a good impression of it for this review. I don't know how many times I'll be putting this on.
This band really stands out among the rest of the Necropolis roster, and even though that label seems to be leaning in a more 'retro' direction these days with their death metal releases, there just aren't that many bands out there that sound like Usurper. Usually this would be a good thing for me, as I like originality in bands, but there are times when 'originality', for all of its positive connotations, just fails to move me. Usurper are a good band, I don't think many would claim the opposite, but there are also many good bands out there, and what they have to offer, at the last reckoning, in terms of their sound, presentation, and stylistic force, is what it all comes down to: in other words, I don't care how 'good' they are, I just want something that opens up new doors in the listening space. This doesn't.
For most of this record Usurper stick to a mid-tempo crunch, staying close to their Celtic Frost roots, slamming out bruising simple riffs, pounding, crushing, pulverizing, blah...they sound more like Warrior and crew than ever: it makes you want to curse the people (critics?) who first drew this band's attention to the fact that they had a genre (that of shameless CF-abuse) pigeonholed and could expect to remain there relatively untouched by all the other starvelings of the myriad metal subgenres. There are some derivations: I like the eerie textures and bleak atmosphere in the second song 'Slaughterstorm', especially the exploding break that occurs at 1:17 into the song. This song also stands out because it starts and continues at a fast pace, and I noticed while I was listening to this that, contrary to the usual aesthetics for these kinds of bands (meaning mid-tempo 'heavy' groups) Usurper's sound actually seems to expand and grow more complex as they speed up - that is, it becomes fuller, richer, and (somehow) more contemporary. I've also noticed that their live sound is very different from their sound on disc. But this album left me wishing they would increase the tempo more often in the future...
So yes, their Frost 'influence' (it's not really fair to CF to call it that) is pursued here somewhat obstinately, doggishly, with a view to making it oppressively obvious to anyone whose ears are caught by even the opening chords. The vocals are the most extreme in following this: after halfway through this, you begin to really grow sick of the singer's burbling burped primitive death-grunts and his incessant shouts of 'heyyyyyyyy!'. Once in a song would have been more than enough. The vocal phrasing and guitar music is also very close to CF on certain songs, and on the last song they seem to do a little medley of take-offs on CF lyrics...alright, we get the picture.
But I also have it on good authority that these guys are honest, and that they just want to enjoy what they are doing: spreading the plague of 'true' metal, and flying the flag high. So I don't fault them for any of this - they obviously love what they are doing, love old school metal, and want to play what they enjoy. Most musicians should be so lucky. I might not be able to jump in the race with them, but I wouldn't be so pathetic as to shoot the legs out from under the machine they've become...I suppose if you like their earlier releases, you will like this.