Having talked about brutal death metal in less than glowing terms previously, I am now about to plump for what is widely considered as the quintessential brutal death metal band. Disgorge from California pushed the Suffocation template to its extreme, stripping away whatever melody may have been concealed in the interstices of that pioneering band’s music and doubling down on grinding brutality. Liberally thrown in, at least on the assortment of demos known as Cranial Impalement and then to a lesser extent on the She Lay Gutted full-length, were the sort of elephantine grooves that have come to be the hallmark of much American brutal death and especially its bastard derivative slam. These sections in Disgorge music however never seemed like a piss-take geared towards the dancing, half-peeled banana man regularly witnessed at Obscene Extreme; much like Suffocation themselves, Disgorge simply happened upon these irruptions in rhythm in the course of writing riffs rather than making them the centerpiece of the song. That same riff-writing ethos otherwise shared far more in common with dark American death metal, abidingly violent and transgressive, and an experiment in just how rhythmically expressive death metal can possibly be.
Consume The Forsaken, the band’s third album, generally sees a divided fanbase. There are those who lament the departure of Matti Way and his impossibly low take on the death metal belch; nor is this camp overly enthused with the less catchy nature of Consume The Forsaken. Gone is any obvious allusion to the crushing groove that made the band its name; Consume the Forsaken is almost impenetrable upon first encounter, such is its densely clustered mien and that at near-constant blasting tempos. But that same inaccessibility also makes this album something of an apotheosis for abstract, instinctive, hyperaggressive death metal. Few records seem more apt for repeat listening than this, and by that I mean really concentrated, obsessive listening; which is curious indeed considering the almost total absence of identifiable songwriting tropes and the overwhelming brutality on offer. And yet, through that mist of violence, Consume The Forsaken initially tantalizes and eventually mesmerizes, subliminally hinting at something a little more substantial at play under its uncompromising exterior, compelling the listener to return time and again, and giving up its secrets under only the most willing submission.
This strange dance of opposites goes further. A.J. Magana’s vocal delivery is a percussive instrument in its own right, but it is not designed for clear enunciation of the deviously blasphemous lyrics written by Ricky Myers for Consume The Forsaken. By chance, the listener reads the lyrics sheet and discovers a concept of sorts: “I have no son and no mortal being shall ever be worshipped by the theft of my name“. The jealous God of the Old Testament concocts a plan to arrogate all privilege over creation to Himself, by destroying His own misbegotten son, usurper to Godhood and middle link of the Holy Trinity. He turns Christ’s apostles against their savior, nay, not turns but plants them in his presence from the beginning as veritable cat’s paws, convincing them that they are doing the bidding of an imagined adversary, when in fact He who is the store of all potentialities, from whom both good and evil arise, who has indeed created blasphemy, now actively orchestrates it.
Magana does not make any of this lucid through his efforts, but he doesn’t have to, you see; once the listener has grasped the delicious irony in Myers’ perversion of the Bible story, everything – Magana’s grunts, the brutal symphony accompanying it, and lyrics – comes together to achieve a gestalt effect, and Consume The Forsaken transforms verily into every bit the oppressive equal of more noted anti-Christian genre landmarks like Dawn of Possession, Legion, and Onward to Golgotha. Of course, this runs counter to the notion of absolute metal; music should not have to depend on the written word and vice versa, but once done isn’t to be shunned, and who can be curmudgeon enough to detract in the name of misplaced idealism from an altogether more potent experience?
Guitarist Diego Sanchez has some of the most malleable wrists in death metal; his transitions are breathtakingly fast, but more pertinently have this vaguely fluid quality where riffs practically fall into one another, seemingly speeding up at the fag end in self-immolating anticipation of the next change around the corner. Illusion or not, this I reckon can be thought of as the guitarist’s version of the drummer’s swing, and therefore has an innate understanding of rhythm built into it, but it becomes even more impressive considering the intensely syncopated and offbeat nature of this music. Then again, syncopation might be integral to this playing technique; a spinning coin inevitably loses energy and slows down because of friction, but it appears to gather an illusory momentum all the same in its death spiral to the horizontal. Taking the analogy further, what then is syncopation if not friction, induced by both picking and fretting hand, when juxtaposed against conventionally smoother tremolo picking?
Dave Mustaine used to claim proprietorship over the spider chord technique that allowed him to transition between closely grouped power chords seamlessly at fast speeds. In addition to conventional power chord fingering, the spider chord also calls into service the middle finger and pinky. With the requisite dexterity, the two fingerings can be alternated to play power chord movements with next to no “drag”. One wonders whether Sanchez uses something similar, because it is inconceivable that power chords have ever segued into each other in such a blaze, or in such intricate combinations, before or since. He goes over and above the role of the power chord as placeholder in death metal; to him it is that but also virtually anything else he can will it to be. To the extent of exercising that free will, broken riff sequences as first heard on Legion are found in abundance; this means that any two successive bars of a riff have equal likelihood of mutating in texture or playing technique from the previous run. The result is restless and palpitating but not without a sly logic of its own after the manner of the best percussive, structural death metal.
Consume The Forsaken is brutal death metal alright, hence sometimes automatically consigned to being called dated. This niche sub-genre gradually took a turn towards a direction that while being no less fast certainly became less nihilistic and lost itself in technical-melodic excess and frivolous party-grind. Consume The Forsaken, however, still works because it reminds us of what death metal, above every other impulse to intellectual masturbation, should have always been: dark and terrorizing, and complete with internal quality checks to keep at bay the kind of crowd now ruining metal at large.