No matter how grand and unforgettably poetic folkloric depictions of Hell are, there is little prose aimed at the Underworld anywhere near as horrifying as the theater of war among men. Intrepid punks were among the first to visualize the destruction on the battlefield but it’d be their not so distant relatives in extreme metal that’d begin to pioneer music capable of matching the actual din and the mayhem of modern warfare. With snares tuned to AK-47 and an unforgettable rasp it’d appear that Germany by way of Netherlands brutal black metal band Sammath had found their true identity on their second full-length ‘Verwoesting / Devastation’ (2002)– It was just above demo quality and featured a raw drum machine sound but the blueprint was more or less laid out therein. It’d be 2006 when the project fully realized its intended sound and ambitious pacing on ‘Dodengang’, an album with a ruthless style that continues to characterize Sammath as one of the more memorable blackened death/war metal acts out of the Netherlands. That reputation has been upheld with ‘Across the Rhine is Only Death’, a record that keeps pace with that of its predecessor while further emboldening its Angelcorpse and Marduk influenced machine-gunfire sound.
Poignant as its finer details could be construed, ‘Across the Rhine is Only Death’, immediately communicates its presence as a brutal, immediate, and severe megaphone for the mayhem and torment of war. This sheer battery from start to finish is one of the most endearing qualities of Sammath but it does make it troublesome for folks looking to define exactly what style the bands mix of thrashing, grindcore influenced war metal is. The addition of drummer Wim van der Veek (Inquisitor, ex-Centurian) finds the trio in top shape in 2019 thanks to his precise and brutal style influencing, but not drastically changing, the approach established on ‘Dodengang’ and perfected on ‘Godless Arrogance’ (2014). Back in the day I’d have compared Sammath‘s grinding black/war metal to a band like Vassago but today the experience is more-or-less their own thing that manages to fully escape the doldrums of modern war metal. I cannot overstate how important the percussion is to the success of the album as it manages a natural and punkish abandon; The last couple of minutes of “All Lay Dead In The Slit Trenches Of Calcar” illustrates this insanity best and I guarantee those blasts will bring you back for many listens if you’re at all into the violent side of black metal.
The lyrical themes are fairly clear at a glance, the Rhine was the most damned variable for either side of World War II’s conclusion and an incredible mountain of death flowed from the operations that made up the Rhineland Offensive. The bloodshed would be unimaginable today if there weren’t so many pictures of the aftermath in an era where over forty thousand men would die in a single day. ‘Across the Rhine is Only Death’ isn’t a narrated concept album so much as a tour of brutalities set to the carnage Sammath creates. Each side of the record illustrates battlefields of not-so-impossible carnage as they draw inspiration from the absolute horror that it was to have the great river at your back when it was time to retreat. Though my education on World War II is limited in specificity beyond its impact upon the history of science leading into the Cold War, I am generally well-versed in black metal and I’d discover Sammath‘s debut ‘Strid’ around 2005 as I began looking for (the good kind of) melodic black metal. It was probably ‘Dodsang’ that’d felt like a first ‘proper’ and wholly realized album from the group and I didn’t hold much regard for ‘Strid’ until later. So, what is new today if ‘Godless Arrogance’ was such a height five years ago? Bass guitar tone is laid back in the mix, drums have a much more natural recording sound, riffs kill constantly, and detours into slower pacing make for some death metal influenced sidebars (i.e. the title track) on this otherwise murderous album.
There isn’t a great deal of depth to apply to an experience that is so driven by brutal ‘caveman’ blasted rhythms but I’ve definitely understated the grindcore and death/thrash influenced riffs that end up characterizing ‘Across the Rhine Is Only Death’ most. Guitarist/vocalist and founder J. Kruitwagen‘s guitar work has always been visceral but over the years it has taken on a more textural quality that is surely where all of the grind accusations stem from. I’m all for a brutal black metal band that doesn’t under-perform guitar work for the sake of a frantic war metal sound and in this case Sammath make a strong value proposition with big and somewhat memorable riffs. The duo of “Savagery” and the aforementioned “All Lay Dead In The Slit Trenches Of Calcar” offers such an exciting introduction to the album that I’d found myself skipping back to the start and sitting with the details of each song for a while longer before I’d ever made it to Side B. I appreciate any LP that can grab and hold my attention like that, though it is yet an onion without many layers to peel. Moderately high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest jumping in at the start with the first two songs as they show the general range of the full listen.
A riotous glance at annihilation. 3.75/5.0
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