Bread & Butter Metal: Vol. 1 - EXPUNGED, CENTINEX, FUNERAL LEECH, IMPIETY
Among the many promos I comb through and listen to, there's a good deal of music out there that, to be quite frank, isn't doing anything new. But why should that be a problem? Metal obeys by the riff, after all, and no need to fix what isn't broken. I find there's a lot of bands that probably take up a good portion of people's listening time - the "bread and butter" of our music playlists, as I call it - but they don't get talked about very often, because, well, there's no 10-minute flute solos or experiments with harsh noise or other things that are, well, notable going on - just chunky riffs with zero atmosphere.
Like a single slice of bread with butter on it, I wouldn't have a full meal's worth of a review with just one of these, but with three or four slices of bread you could at least do, like, a toast sandwich or something. Yes, that is a thing. Look it up.
These fellas hail from the same neck of the woods I do (Ontario), so I suppose virtual fist-bumps are in order. Looking at the bigger picture, this falls squarely into the Hells Headbangers style of vaguely old school and primitive black/death/thrash amalgamations - it's no wonder EXPUNGED was picked up by the label so quickly after putting out a demo. This self-titled EP is a sloppy, scratchy death/thrash assault with lots of punctuating tremolo and d-beats, broken up by completely a-melodic, turgid chords with the bass drum steadily going in the background. This isn't going to make you completely re-evaluate your life, but the band can write an engaging guitar line and put enough ideas into a song that it doesn't feel completely stale before two minutes has passed, which is a significant accomplishment when there are hundreds of bands who sound just like you and litter the shelves of bargain bin distros.
The Swedeath tone (mixed by Fuck the Facts guy) and guitarwork get me through the EP, but the drums and vocals hold this back from being a staple in my listening rotation. Although the songs tend to stick to between two and four themes per track, the drums frequently wander about with fills that sometimes mess with the pocket the beat was previously in. When the drummer's just hammering away, he's fine, but often his best moments are broken up with a lot of the same stripped-down beat (bass drum with a china every fourth hit) that puts a bit of a fly in the soup. The vocal tone also has a bit too much groan mixed with a roar, which is mostly my own particular taste, but a bit more Van Drunen style raspiness would have helped (not that there's many albums a Van Drunen shotgun screech wouldn't benefit). Decent enough, but only worth a look if this type of music really is your bread and butter.
The new kids on the block couldn't quite cut it, so what better way to quench my thirst for some no-frills HM-2 death metal than one of the unsung forefathers of the whole thing? CENTINEX deserve way more credit than they get, as they're generally passed over in favor of the heavy hitters like Dismember and Entombed, even though their 90s material is just as inventive and influential as anything else in the scene. They're back on the horse and quite productive, this being their third album in the last five years.
Right off the bat it kicks in with that filthy tone we all know and love, and all seems well. But a growing sense of disinterest begins to creep up...one thing that makes Swedish death metal so great is those sinister high-register melodies that creep in every now and then, almost a quasi-black metal sort of influence. CENTINEX doesn't use much of that (even though their earlier albums have a lot of it), and instead they decide to hammer down on the groove. It doesn't expand much beyond that, with most of the songs examining the same shallow well of ideas. Again, the vocals are a little too loose and moany for my taste, although I will say it fits the mix better here. The songwriting is tight and focused, and the delivery is professional, but I'd much rather hear a band try some weird things and whiff a couple of times than play it as consistently safe as Death in Pieces does. As nice as the tone sounds, the riffs fail to grab my attention and don't reveal anything that hasn't been done before over multiple listens. You're much better off listening to Demonical, the other band of Martin Schulman (the only current founding member in CENTINEX), as they execute a very similar style but do it with loads of catchy guitar parts and formulaic songwriting that actually leaves an impact.
It's time to slow it down a bit. While nothing about FUNERAL LEECH's aesthetic is extraordinary, it's a very meat-and-potatoes style of death/doom that uses steady repetition, somber riffs and gritty harmonies to get a real creepy vibe going on. Upon first listen, I didn't care much for this - it's got a common enough vibe that you can find in most good Finndoom. I suppose that's interesting given that FUNERAL LEECH are based out of New York, a cutthroat, competitive scene that has a lot of hardcore and weird influences running through it, but still, the atmosphere doesn't blow your mind.
That being said...after a few listens letting this grow and sink in I can't identify a clear weak point the same way I could with the two bands above. Each musician understands the vision and contributes to it appropriately, and the vocals have a nice tonal, raspy presence with some extra whispers and agonized punctuations that round everything out, and though I can't identify a single standout riff, the songs are structured well and demonstrate a very focused use of restraint, while some sections still give the drummer and lead guitarist the chance to show off their chops. Not an album you spin all the time by any means, but I doubt any fan of some slow n' low tension would mind having this on in the background.
Though they have a fairly distinct sound, hefty back catalogue, and are probably someone's favorite band ever somewhere in Singapore, IMPIETY are a great example of how to properly execute bread and butter extreme metal. There's an efficiency to Shayithan's songwriting and a tastiness to the riffcraft that this band never fails to deliver, with the steadiness of Krisiun (another great candidate for this list) and the gradual variation and evolution of Vader. IMPIETY has had their share of rough patches throughout their career, but they've never stopped, and the perseverance seems to be paying off on "Versus All Gods". The production is crisp yet chaotic, the drummer provides the appropriate amount of frenzied blasting with some really catchy start-stop moments (check 'Barbarian Black Horde'), and Shayithan's vocals, though grumbly and lacking in youthful bite, have aged like wine and give a distinct voice to the songs. Through countless trials and errors, Impiety emerged with maturity and only now seem to be fully realizing their musical visions. This is what every veteran musician wants for themselves, but it's something very few accomplish.
What's even more stunning is that I'm giving maturity points to an album that includes tracks such as 'Terror Occult Dominion', 'Inviktus Satanikus', and my personal favorite, 'Interstellar Deathfuck'. Dude's literally talking about boning Gaia and I'm treating it like high art. I don't know how that happened, but what I do know is that you should get this album.