Formed in 1990 and full-length ready by 1996, German death metal band Disbelief were initially notable if only for the oddly global ‘on trend’ prospect they presented in an era of where the underground sustained by their countrymen was yet very focused on their own evolution of progressive extreme metal. Those first several albums had increasing elements of dark metal, the chugging insistence of groove metal, and even some of the sludge metal tonality that follows Disbelief to this day; By writing moderately accessible and unchallenging mid-to-late 90’s death metal at a mid-pace the band had sustained themselves for their first two decades by virtue of their adaptive capability rather than any sheer artistic monolith. That isn’t to say those first nine records weren’t meaningful or didn’t leave a mark but, a few of them do reek of necessity that’d keep the touring cycle/festival circuit pushing onward. Frequent shifting formations over the years might’ve kept things somewhat fresh for some and indistinct for others, compare ‘Spreading the Rage‘ (2003) to ‘Navigator‘ (2007) and see what a difference a guitarist can make, though it’d seem swapping in (or between) a new guitarist every few years would lead to some roadblocks by ~2010 that’d see Disbelief shrugging off the momentum of the last twenty years.
If you’d only ever heard the band’s notable 2017 return, ‘The Symbol of Death‘ it’d be a wonder that they weren’t better known prior to landing such a solid tenth record. Was it a fluke? Though the band had always leaned towards the groove metal influenced side of classic death metal, taking some more obvious cues from Bolt Thrower and Obituary when it counts but, it is the accessible ‘modernity’ and perceived trendiness of past records that keeps Disbelief off the lips of the die-hard death metal kids. To quote a good friend back in 2005 “Yeah they’re interesting but man, no riffs.” It’d be fair to say the same of album number eleven, ‘The Ground Collapses’, as it really isn’t an album defined by stylized riffs so much as its heavier modern sound design and well-directed vocal work. There are some thrashing moments (“Depth of Sorrow”), some austere ‘For Victory…’ styled leads (“The Ground Collapses”, “Hologram for the Scum”) and much more groove metal influence than the previous album perhaps due to the second guitar position being filled by Verdict guitarist Marius Pack. I wouldn’t say that ‘The Ground Collapses’ is inferior to ‘The Symbol of Death’ but it is definitely a miserable experience, a spiteful mourning of the Earth and a call for humanity’s demise so that it might repair itself. So, I love the theme but the “no riffs” is a major barrier for own own tastes.
The stellar first impression of the opener/title track sets such a brilliant tone for the album with its triumphant leads and grand rhythmic movements but as soon as Disbelief drop into the second track, “Scaring Threat”, I feel as if I’m right back in a record store in 1998 trying to find a soul within all of the computer generated artwork and bland half-thrash metal bands of the era ending up with a band that imply thrash, and resemble death but express as a factory made product. This isn’t such a bad thing if you have nostalgia for it, or if your tastes lean towards very clean and loud production values with simpler downtuned rhythm guitar work. “Killing to the Last” is really where my mind glazes over and the mosh metal defense mechanisms kick into gear, it is a straight chugger and that has long been what Disbelief are best at — Those ‘simple but effective’ pieces that surround some of their more ornate ideas.
Taking a step back from my own preferences for ‘old school’ composition there is some certain intelligence to what ‘The Ground Collapses’ presents at face value, a blend of many ideas unified into an easy listen. Though the production flattens out some of the dynamic impact of the songwriting, these are uncomplicated songs to. There are a few interesting surprises, well, if you’ve skipped over much of Disbelief‘s past work the throbbed out basslines of “Colder Than Ice” and the pseudo-melodeath of “Soul Destructor” will bring some unexpected vitality and memorability to the otherwise dirge-like quality of the full listen. I’m about 65% there with this album in terms of liking its vibe, purpose, and the general movements of the listening experience but the guitar work lacks a certain something that would keep me coming back repeatedly, something I’d felt was there on the previous album. A moderate recommendation overall, and even higher for folks who enjoy the more straightforward nature of groove/death metal hybridization.
Moderate recommendation. 3.5/5.0
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