The stench of the rotten living was the earliest whiff of death that’d stun my senses as a child visiting a poorly funded hospice facility in the late 80’s. Plugging my nose and doing everything but running away from the horrendous cloud of feces, the ammonia-like gas of failing organs and suppurated flesh was impossible to adapt to. It stuck to my clothes and nailed within my mind death’s reeking presence in motion, out of sight out of mind until the crushing blow formaldehyde brought within my first full body dissection. Leveraging my body weight to snap open a knee-replacement surgery for study, spraying bone fragments and months old formalin onto my face, I had visions of that hospice visit stench as I vomited into my mask. Mushing my bile-infused breakfast into my nose was a goatee of relief from the old woman’s preserved corpse. It isn’t mortality or fear of its realization that’d blown my guts but a primal instinct that toying with the dead and an unnaturally preserved body was a fearsome, dangerous and potentially sickening act. Ghastly as that’d seem to the sensitive, it’d be a few weeks before lunch breaks were spent eating next to pickled and flayed corpses. As the stench of death and corporeal remains become tools of inquiry so empowered human beings become against the instinctual fear of mortality, sickness, and poisonous remains. So rises the equity of death music, that immersion breeds normalization and extremity becomes a place of solace a physical and mental exertion most primally necessary for some and wildly repugnant to the uninitiated. Cleveland, Ohio’s Embalmer have long been the spray of formalin into the face of Midwest death metal, an aggressive point of underground entry into the brutalist thought and deranged gore of the region since the late 80’s. Their irregular presence only rises when is reasonable and with them comes a most exemplar form of death metal that is distinctly American and bullshit-free.
When I’d happened upon this body first its smirking rigor mortis had risen without warning with ’13 Faces of Death’ (2006) and was sold to me as a redemption story for a band that’d fizzled out in the late 90’s just as brutal death erupted most visibly beyond the underground in the United States. Their sound was well preserved but leaned towards the brutal direction they’d taken in 1995 with their infamous ‘There Was Blood Everywhere’ EP. With key guitarists out by 2006/2008 it’d seem that revival was dead in the water once more beyond that point but, original drummer Roy Stewart would keep the project alive with a steady dedicated line-up starting around 2012. A second and far more brutal record would hit us a few years later and ‘Emanations from the Crypt’ (2016) set their sound somewhere between the mania of Engorged and Fleshgrind with the gut-wrenching push of early Broken Hope. Instead of waiting ten years for their next release it appears a new album will be in the works soon and to sate the void between Embalmer entered Brainchild Studios in 2017 with the intent of a ‘live in studio’ set that’d essentially serve as a capture of their live performances and provide a quasi-‘Greatest Hits’ in the process. The product of that session, ‘Embalmed Alive’, makes perfect sense as fan service, an introductory session, a document of their professional and well-practiced set, and ultimately comes across as a pretty damn respectful treatment of their classic material.
Much of the demo material from the 90’s would find its way onto ’13 Faces of Death’ and various compilations since so the already initiated aren’t going to find new cuts but a clearer and stripped down presentation. The old songs are still beasts and I’d go as far as saying ‘Embalmed Alive’ holds the best versions of their 90’s material to date. Embalmer have also included versions of “Taxidermist” and “Projectile Vomit” in the set and these will be new to most folks as they’ve not appeared in professional form to date. The brutal death metal aficionado will probably miss the bass heavy cluttered mix of the first album, as was the style but, I appreciate these versions a bit more if only for the balancing of the guitar tone that allows for an audible bass performance. You might not think that’d matter with a Mortician-esque neck stabber like Embalmer but the bass tone here has just enough gritty stink on it to really add something ‘new’ to each song that I’d missed on some of their earlier recordings. “Emanations From the Crypt” kind of riled me up in this regard and that extra presence reminded me of early Drawn and Quartered as the songs intro developed toward intensity. The balance of the live recording is almost too well done and I’m sure newcomers or folks just digging around the internet wouldn’t know it was a live document; I’m sure that seems obvious for a ‘live in studio’ recording but there are -no- rough edges here and I appreciate both how tightly the band play and how solidly this was engineered.
Whether or not you’re new to Embalmer‘s exemplar brutal death metal sound or their history I can confidently say that ‘Embalmed Alive’ is probably the best sit-down experience I’ve had with any of the bands retrospective releases. Their songwriting, old and new, is strikingly consistent and by putting each era of the band under the same roof (so to speak) Embalmer have created a solid greatest hits, rarities, and live-in-studio retrospective all in one with a completely honest and impressive performance. I’d highly recommend this to any brutal or ‘old school’ addicted death metal fan especially if you lean towards NYDM and Midwest death brutalists. For preview I’d go straight for one of their most inspiring hits “There Was Blood Everywhere” if you’re a brutal death nut, “The Coroner’s Report” if you want something even more unpredictable, and “Rotten Body Fluids” if you’re a classics addict.
Waiting for death, on the table. 3.75/5.0
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