There is some aspect of mental time travel involved in rescinding unimportant nostalgia and meeting a modern death metal artist where they land today, for better or worse. I can’t think of a more confounding experience than revisiting the host of brutal death metal artists I’d immersed myself in beyond my high school years as the new millennium began and computer programs enabling digital recording techniques became incredibly cheap and user friendly by the month. Deeds of Flesh‘s ‘Path of the Weakening’ was a tipping point for my own personal taste where the questionably stylized fidelity of (then) modern death metal was unclear as intentional or not. That ‘wild west’ of brutality came with the emergence of a more globalized and connected network of death metal in general but these tech savvy folks that were my age at the time came fast, and brutally hard with a suffocating amount of impossibly heavy death metal. A lot of questionable choices were in fact made between say, the drum sound on Vader‘s ‘Litany’ and the increasing prevalence of triggered drum performances meant extreme metal would reach a new level of speed, and technicality, that was absolutely tasteless and fucking stupid. Consider the rise of bedroom-born symphonic black metal trash and I’d hope you’d cherish the amount of quality and standards we’re inundated with today twenty years later. But what of the bands and fellows that grew up alongside us and kept going? In fact, there were hundreds of death metal bands that were fantastic back then and never actually mired in the specious tripe clattering out of PC speakers into the dorm rooms of thousands. Among them a long-burning love for death metal from Fgura, Malta in the form of Beheaded who’d undoubtedly reached their prime just as they’d signed to Unique Leader Records in 2004. They along with Odious Mortem and Vile represented a high water mark among the hordes but, how have they fared in the long silence beyond 2005?
There was some excitement after the Maltese group found a new main vocalist in 2008 and briefly a new guitarist in 2012 for their ‘Never to Dawn’ album but it had been a full seven years in waiting and left behind the gargling, thuggish sound of the mid 2000’s for a record that was typical fare for their record label at the time. Another five years later ‘Beast Incarnate’ (2017) would follow suit, modernizing and sloughing off even more of their more Unique Leader polished skin and working back towards a sound more evocative of their earlier Suffocation-esque days. I’m not the biggest fan of the ‘Recounts of Disembodiment’ (2002) and ‘Ominous Bloodline’ (2005) era where Beheaded were keeping up with the pots-n-pans drum sound and gurgling ultra-brutality of the times but it had sort of established a personality for the group that didn’t seem to re-land into something else until 2017. It was interesting to see the band more or less matching those more recent Suffocation records in terms of an approximation of style and production sound but, for a band with some lasting buzz around their name I wasn’t sure what connected any of their discography together at that point. To come from an era of gimmickry and have several gimmick-forward albums and then drop into the normalized space of festival circuit popular brutal death is an odd place to be, at least from the perspective of a fan who’d felt weirdly let down beyond ‘Perpetual Mockery’ (1998). A full twenty years removed from that album, it is safe to say it makes sense to have disconnected with the unpredictable ‘sound’ of Beheaded over the years and that sentiment continues when approaching ‘Only Death Can Save You’, their sixth album, today.
A heavy handed punch of groove-death and hardcore influenced brutal death metal informs this latest Beheaded album and it clarifies that the band are generally defined by what is most modern. This sound and style is excellently tailored to fit on a bill next to a band like Decapitated just as well as it might opening for Misery Index or whatever newly restaffed version of Suffocation is still going. The deathgrind progression of “Evil Be to Him Who Evil Seeks”, the easily intelligible vocals, and the mid-range saturated guitar sound will speak very clearly to the muscle-bound mosh metal crowd and though it might sound like a cynical observation, I’m not looking down upon it. I think this moshable, high speed and barking sound fits Beheaded‘s current line-up much better than the previous two albums which seemed to attempt some measure of balance within a style that is all about being completely over the top. It definitely sounds aimed at the market that eats up Hertz Studio punched-up production and of course, it actually was mixed there. Again, I think this is a good choice for the band and it allows for their tendency towards Suffocation-esque material to breathe a bit more on stage. I’d come in expecting a clear follow up to the fairly well received ‘Beast Incarnate’ but I’d say this begins to sound intentionally very different as it begins to lean into groove metal (“Embrace Your Messiah”) and deathcore (“Only Death Can Save You”). These aren’t blatant or tasteless changes but they are a bit unusual when attempting a retrospective of the band’s discography.
If there was a fantastic set of undeniable riffs and seriously memorable songwriting I’d probably have spent less time picking through the bands discography looking for some point of interest or reference to cling to. After about ten listens it did become apparent that there wasn’t any particular depth therein beyond blasphemic hard-moshing ‘fest death’. As a hard-hitting, screamy brutal death album with some deathgrind and groove metal influences, this is a fine piece of work that shouldn’t be balked at. Well-recorded, boosted by a strong mix, and full of heavy grooves that will be inspiring to mosh to. I did, however, realize that I’ve maybe not been the right mark for this band’s aim for at least fifteen years. There are some memorable tracks within the full listen and I would recommend checking out the pairing of “Evil Be to Him Who Evil Seeks” and “A Greater Terror” for their memorable riffs and generally brutal style then toss in “The Papist Devil” and I’d say there is an enjoyable spectacle there at least a third of the time the album is spinning. Moderate recommendation for this slightly above average but not exactly modern ‘brutal’ death metal album.
Horrors begat thy charlatans. 3.0/5.0
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