RETRO TUESDAYS: Convulse – Reflections (1994)

Formed in Nokia, Finland in the late 80’s as a short lived rehearsal only thrash metal band named Seven Death’s Sin, by 1990 Convulse would explode with formidable potential as soon as they decided to refocus their efforts onto death metal. They would quickly release a legacy-cementing thrall of Finnish death metal classicism in ‘World Without God’ (1991). Most fans stop right there without even the slightest curiosity as to what happened next as original guitarist Jani Kuhanen left the band sometime in 1991 and then died in late 1992. At that point the band had been to Tampere with fellow hometown heroes Purtenance‘s guitarist and recorded ‘Promo 1992’ (1992) which would get them signed to Relapse Records with the promo releasing as ‘Lost Equilibrium’ (1993) EP soon after. Curious as to why there is little buzz surrounding this step in the band’s history among the most steadfast Finnish death metal elitists? It was death ‘n roll. In fact it was some of the best material the awkward death ‘n roll trend had to offer to date and ‘Reflections’ is the realization of a curiously successful marriage of stoner metal, hard rock, and death metal that few remember.

For so many folks the death ‘n roll sub-genre isn’t worth remembering and largely appeared stillborn after ‘Wolverine Blues’ in 1993. While I will concede that it lead to some unfortunate records in the long run, albums like ‘Reflections’ show that it could, and can be done with substance and riffs. In fact fellow Finnish bands Pakeni, Disgrace, and Xysma were among many Scandinavian musicians who used it to launch very successful careers after the odd trend had died. What Convulse were doing on ‘Reflections’ wasn’t necessarily a convoluted conjoining of rock influenced songwriting with death metal rhythms as their peers were attempting; Instead they wrote a very strong, bluesy stoner rock/metal record and injected rotten death metal into every possible crevice. Frothy death metal growls, a ripping guitar tone, and proper Finnish death metal crustiness were all applied to a production overseen by Relapse co-founders Matt Jacobson and Bill Yurkiewicz, who were also responsible for the sound of true classics from Amorphis, Deceased, Incantation and many huge releases since.

There is no true equal to this record’s songwriting (in terms of death n’ roll’s diluted future leaders) outside of some brief moments from fellow Nokia upstarts Lubricant and some haphazard tunes from Swedish adventurists Carbonized. The difference comes with references to classic Finnish death metal style throughout. At no point does ‘Reflections’ resemble Demilich, or even Demigod in the details but the ‘edge’ and terror is felt alongside an energetic and excitingly dark stoner metal skeleton. What is most striking in hindsight is how seamlessly vocalist/guitarist Rami Jämsä and guitarist Toni Honkala (Purtenance) managed to integrate the aesthetics of death metal within a record that was perhaps more exuberant and driven than the bulk of Scandinavian heavy rock of the era. Jämsä’s guitar work and phrasing appear influenced by that concurrent stoner metal era of Trouble as well as his more recent past playing in hard rock bands.

From the first verse of opener “The Rite of Sunshine” it should be clear that Convulse were investing in a different breed of death n’ roll than their peers that didn’t pander to the squeaky polish and flabby rhythms of Swedish forms. If you consider the landscape of stoner metal separate from doom metal up until 1993 when ‘Reflections’ was recorded there is little comparative in that sense either. The closest parallel would perhaps be Mindfunk‘s self titled debut in ’91 or perhaps Kyuss‘ ‘Wretch’ from that same year but progressive thrash metal, late 80’s doom metal, and late 70’s Black Sabbath appear to be the most key ingredients for these compositions. The lead guitars offer hooks and melodies that exist in a world apart from the soggy grave-crushing work found on ‘World Without God’. Some of this likely impresses me based on some light ignorance of what Finnish stoner/hard rock was at the time but at the very least none of it could have been this heavy; I will likewise concede that I don’t factor in Carcass, Amorphis or Furbowl‘s output into my thoughts simply because they are so different and appear repressed by comparison.

‘Reflections’ was a remarkable and interesting release that never had any impact upon the world simply because the ears for the death ‘n roll trend would quickly die a horrible death thanks to melodic death metal’s meteoric rise. Label support for acts dwindled beyond 1996 and Convulse would be officially over before the end of 1994 until a resurrection in 2012 that persists today. Despite Relapse‘s support for ‘World Without God’ there is no evidence that a market exists worthy of reissuing or remastering ‘Reflections’ and I feel this is a shame. Not only does the album hold up beautifully with its big raw guitar tone and loose-jammed feeling but, it could benefit wildly from a modern remaster to boss the bass guitar performances and give the drums more space to breathe in the mix. That said ‘Reflections’ absolutely holds up better than most death n’ roll releases because it has its own damn style. Convulse‘s second album can and should be appreciated if seen as a gloriously heavy stoner metal record in addition to being a remarkably confident and spirited death metal risk.

Artist Convulse
Type Album
Released June 1, 1994
BUY/LISTEN on Relapse Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Convulse on Facebook
Genre Death n’ Roll,
Death Metal,
Stoner Metal

Guilt creeps like thieves in the night. 4.0/5.0

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