This brief EP from foundational Nepalese death metal band Ugra Karma is so elementary as to seem out of place in the current time. That might read like an inconsistent statement; after all, a good chunk of death metal bands today make it their lives’ calling to be retro. But the accustomed ear can invariably detect a thread of self-referentialism in these attempts, where the entire reasoning behind the music is to be a faithful rendition of something else. Through this, a constant comparative relationship is established between new and old; the new justifies its existence based on the old but in the process also loses nearly all semblance of meaning and expression for itself.
Ugra Karma come from a time in Southeast Asia when death metal was still a frightful apparition, subversive and alluring to those already on the fringes of the musical counterculture. Since the internet had not yet become ubiquitous, a standard platter of speed metal and death metal – with a near-fanatical devotion to Slayer and Cannibal Corpse – became sacrosanct to the most intrepid fans; however, unlike the West, where so much of this music developed organically as a natural response to what had gone before, where fans had had time to absorb and process the many textures seeped into their awareness and then tentatively build a new musical philosophy around themselves, there was no real gestation period in these parts. Budding listeners were hurled overnight as it were from Guns N’ Roses to Iron Maiden to Deicide, and this sudden shock to an insular mindset shows in the first attempts at writing original music by death metal bands from this time. Subtlety and narrative heft are rarely found, but a sentiment to be as brutal as possible pervades all.
In this limited ambition, Mountain Grinders is distilled enough to become uncriticizable. Rhythm sections – there is no lead guitar on these songs – are carved out violently from three chief influences: the galloping near-grind of Into The Grave, the slightly more elaborate hacking of Butchered At Birth, and the apocalyptic groove of Once Upon The Cross. And yet those references are just that; the vocabulary of these musicians is too small to permit clever asides and flags in the muck proclaiming renovation of an old paradigm. That is no insult: what you hear here is what Ugra Karma understand death metal to be, primal, uncompromising, and a blow to the skull. No, Mountain Grinders, though a few decades after the fact, is the old paradigm itself, its spirit assuredly the same that inspired this music in the first place. It can’t be faked, it can’t be manufactured in a studio, it is not something to be self-consciously desired even; it is nothing less than a gift to be accepted, where and when you find it, without greed or complaint.