Ruin – Plague Transmissions Vol. I (2017)

Ruin from California released one demo back in 1991 before disbanding. This compilation contains recordings of those tracks as well as new music released by the band on various splits since reforming in 2015. The style here is death/doom but don’t let that by-now prosaic description chase you away: the two components are perfect counterparts on these songs, the death metal grinding in irreverent Impetigo fashion while the doom straddles the chest with claws around the throat. This is truly punishing extreme metal, at home in the rumbling low end, with each motion carrying the bite and spite of the flagellant’s whip.

There is a refreshing unambiguity about these songs. Chord changes traverse discrete intervals across the spectrum yet retain consistency of dark, dissonant tone throughout. Never shy of breaking into an impromptu skank beat when the muse calls, Ruin hearken back to the the early 90s when bands like Impetigo, Hideous Mangleus, Phantasm, and Hemdale bled the edges between death metal and punk to present a specifically gruesome vision. Liberal use of audio clips from macabre horror and 911 telephone calls might make the overly serious listener dismiss the band as parody, but to the vast majority of the underground that came of age with horror cinema and metal as constant companions, these flourishes are joyous relics of a time our music has unfortunately forgotten about and genuinely add to the depraved atmosphere Ruin strive for.

It never ceases to amuse me when newer, politically “woke” listeners try to drag extreme metal into the realm of social conscience by equating it with ethical notions like justice. Singing pro-this and anti-that lyrics over randomly distorted music that only tenuously borrows tropes from death metal and black metal does not make it so. Through all the years of listening to this music, I can honestly say that not once have I associated extreme metal with issues of social import. I have been empowered by it, certainly, but at no time has it made me feel like extending that empowerment to others or taking up cudgels on behalf of those that are “oppressed”. I have considered it an intensely private and individualistic music, advanced by an unremittingly bleak view of mass humanity that is almost Darwinist in tone. The virtues I have detected and interpreted in it have been founded on contempt for others’ existential turpitude. One might say that I am merely feeding my own personal misanthropy into the music and drawing false inferences, but I turn that observation around at the musicians in Ruin and the many other true death metal and black metal bands of history, and ask: is that not really so?

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