With a year and a half spent in the throes of rabid experimental songwriting and an impressive fellowship of collaborators reinforcing its realization, the second full-length album from San Jose, California death metal project Ripped to Shreds presents a fresh stretch of the road ahead where the anomaly inherent is embraced one league deeper. Their at-a-glance typical HM-2 buzzsaw driven ‘old school’ death metal throb was previously a necessity of tasteful conveyance, war paint worn to communicate intimidation and violence, and now it is wielded with a more studied and capable hand, broadening not only what ‘亂 (Luan)’ can say but how it is said. If tone is not the anomaly in question then it is surely the collective sensibilities of musician Andrew Lee (Azath, Skullsmasher) who brings a unique Taiwanese-American perspective, and some adjacent historical/mythological themes, to classic death metal forms that now stretch towards the extremes of grind and doom within each release. If last year’s ‘魔經 Demon Scriptures‘ felt too wildly experimental and the grinding slap of ‘Eight Immortals Feast‘ (2019) before it was too much of a departure in your ears no doubt you’ll appreciate them even more in hindsight as ‘亂 (Luan)’ makes good use of each step taken beyond straight death metal classicism for its greater good.
Manifested as a bolt from the blue after Lee had made his exit from promising death metal band Disincarnation, Ripped to Shreds‘ debut full-length (‘埋葬 (Mai-Zang)‘, 2018) was entirely deserving of its wild popularity when it released and deservedly ended up a critical and fan favorite, selling out basically each of its limited issues. What was the big deal? Riffs, a unique perspective, and the prevalent cynic in me figures any endorsement or involvement from Damian Herring is sure to excite big crowds and journalists alike. The drums weren’t exactly right and this made for an unearthly reverb-swiped sound while the render of the whole allowed for a cavernous reach somewhere between ‘The Chills’ and ‘Dark Recollections’ still, it was undoubtedly Lee‘s powerful command of the riff that kept Ripped to Shreds‘ debut flying off the shelves. It was still more or less a classic example of a death metal debut LP, the sort of record that excelled because of its strong linear focus and familiar sound. As ‘Eight Immortals Feast’ and ‘魔經 – Demon Scriptures’ bugged out into deathgrind, harder edged ‘Dismember-meets-Bolt Thrower‘-isms, and God Macabre-esque soured doom I’d felt like the project began losing some of its charm as soon as the direction of their newer material became unclear but these were largely experiments to see what’d stick and figure what direction to take ‘亂 (Luan)’ in. All lessons learned express in sublime balance as greater stylistic personification for Ripped to Shreds and with some considerable staff on hand.
Citing some particularly evolved influences this time around (Obliteration, Intestine Baalism, Funebrarum) along with some more obvious taste for early Swedish, British and North American death metal standard-bearers it is clear about halfway through ‘亂 (Luan)’ that Lee did not want to make ‘(‘埋葬 (Mai-Zang)‘ twice in a row. That said this second record doesn’t push boundaries as much as Ripped to Shreds‘ demo and EP in 2019 suggested a follow-up might. There are powerful blasted sections all over the place, some strong melodic pieces (“白骨精 (White Bone Spirit)”, “Opening Salvo”) and generally epic outros (“Throes of a Dying Age”) though these all express like an unreleased Dismember demo prior to the release of ‘Indecent and Obscene’. To be clear I’m suggesting that is a good thing. The tracklist is actually not too far from flawless and I love that each side is capsular but related and equally interested whichever side I’d land on. Certain songs feature guest solos from Takafumi Matsubara (Gridlink), and Damian Herring (Horrendous) but the one that’ll likely cling to your mind is Phil Tougas’ (Chthe‘ilist, Funebrarum) solo for “Opening Salvo”, a technical whip full of appropriate spirit and a meaningful addition to the intensity of the song’s ‘Anatomy of the Beast’-esque rip. As for the more prominent recording line-up the addition of Justin Bean from Trenchrot on drums is probably the best fit for Ripped to Shreds yet, without downplaying Kevin Paradis‘ additions to ‘魔經 – Demon Scriptures’ and the fine drum machines before him. Bean has a real talent for true ‘old school’ gleaned death metal drumming and manages to shine regardless of where ‘亂 (Luan)’ shifts.
Though there is little more to focus on than the freshly dense riffing and impressive new rhythmic dynamics of Ripped to Shreds on this relatively short ~35 minute death metal album, it is a sense of re-acquaintance that strikes me when taking stock of each of these eight banging songs and two brief interludes after countless listens. I’d never skipped a song, never stopped hearing the soundtrack to Final Fantasy IV when “Intro” played and definitely didn’t stop marveling at the profound improvement in sound design and capture this time around. These were all expected improvements, though, I mean if you’ve always got your ears in a pair of cans for this kind of thing the only major surprise is that “日月神教第一節 (Sun Moon Holy Cult Part 1)” or some variation of its ten minute psychotic wilderness didn’t make it on this record, in fact I believe none of the ‘魔經 – Demon Scriptures’ material made the cut while both demo tracks did. Otherwise the biggest surprise was that I found myself reading intently some of the historical subjects detailed within certain songs, such as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (aka Battle of Lugou Bridge) that is depicted on the fine cover art from impressive Chinese dark artist Guan Yang, as well as some references to the (more up my alley) Boxer Rebellion. Most of what I know about Asian war history and culture comes from Japanese media so it is compelling to consider a closer look at Chinese history when not diluted by a traditional enemy of theirs.
Any death metal record that gets me reading for days on end has proven some extra merit beyond its exciting slap and that’d be the right light to hold ‘亂 (Luan)’ in for now: An energetic, varied, unmercifully heavy and classically attuned death metal record that is smart as a whip but not desperate enough to overthink its riff-forward Scandinavian death metal influenced approach. Expectations were high and this one had to grow on me fast to keep spinning and thankfully all of it kills front to back. A very high recommendation for this second Ripped to Shreds album.
Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0
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