DEFEATED SANITY – The Sanguinary Impetus (2020)REVIEW

When German brutal death metal band Defeated Sanity‘s ‘Prelude to the Tragedy‘ released in 2004 it served as remarkable operant conditioning for the brutal death metal faith; Arguably arriving as a (then) biggest and most untouchable assault that sought to compound the barbaric extremity of Disgorge and the cutting rhythmic wanderlust Deeds of Flesh had attained nearby. Brutal death of this new era was truly underground in movement at this point and seen as jocular, over-the-top and fundamentally irreligious noise by standard of classicist death metal fandom until albums of that “even more ultra” style began to conjure intense followership. At the time you could count me in, well at least as the sort of fellow who could recite the lyrics to ‘Pierced From Within’ from memory as if some kind of degenerate Shakespearean bard, though keep in mind I still can’t name more than three Cannibal Corpse songs released beyond 1994. Hearing their roots beyond classic NYDM and recognizing they were as brutal as anything should be, Defeated Sanity would be one of few lifelines I’d sustain in connection to brutal death metal beyond their masterful second album (‘Psalms of the Moribund‘, 2007) where the Mark I songwriting formation had reached its peak, introducing new talented musicians and paving the way for alternating, and occasionally concurrent, waves of brutality and progressive death metal influences within each of their four albums since. The sixth and latest full-length from the project seeks to sew back together the unequal split personae of their fifth, where primal butchery (brutal death) and existential lament (technical progressive death) were segregated for the sake of… Well, I was never entirely sure why they did that but the path forward is fire-quenching nirvāṇa nonetheless.

The story of this Bavarian (now Berlin-based) troupe’s formative years has been well told over the years and it stands out for the sake of the inter-generational co-authorship between drummer, guitarist, and main songwriter Lille Gruber and his father, jazz-rock drummer Wolfgang Teske who was best remembered for this projects with German jazz musician Muck Groh in the 70’s and 80’s including Aera (see also: Neue Aera), Groh‘s single solo album, and their duo Grotesk. A few key things, well everything, came from their collaborations throughout the 90’s, starting with several ‘old school’ death metal demos that are a mix of occasionally gothic, prog-influenced death/doom that eventually begins to stir towards technique-oriented brutal death metal as Gruber‘s knack for brutal and precise drumming became more clear. The keen sensibilities shared between the two musicians unquestionably lead to the innovations found within Defeated Sanity‘s early work starting with several demos in the early 2000’s. These innovations are harder to see today simply because this band created a new standard that has been built upon for two decades since, the challenge hasn’t been so much outdoing themselves since but maintaining a steady line-up that could meet the demands of both touring and studio recording with ease. The Mark I era of the band wasn’t so much tumultuous as it was slow going in terms of finding the right parties, and when Teske left in 2008 and sadly passed away of cancer in 2010, a few months beyond the release of ‘Chapters of Repugnance‘, many folks (including myself) assumed the project was over before a Mark II formation was set. You don’t need this context to hear and enjoy the generally related string of skull-bashing brutal death created on those first three releases but it does help to separate the band into eras since the project would take some time to decide upon their station and footing beyond that point.

Even today ‘Passages into Deformity’ reads as if Defeated Sanity had finally landed on solid firmament. Big modern production, gigantic bass guitar tone, harried brutality and technical eustress throughout it was the first time the band had reached for something new and exciting since their third album and in some respects it is spirit the band returns to on ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’. Again, it wasn’t that I didn’t understand ‘Disposal of the Dead / Dharmata’ so much as I don’t know why they’d released it as one piece rather than two split EPs. ‘Disposal of the Dead’ was textbook brutal death metal pulled directly from the rotten crypts of 2004 and ‘Dharmata’ was well, some incredibly accomplished study of early 90’s progressive death metal from the odd streak of evolution amidst the boon of Florida death metal at the time. The pairing of the album’s two distinct halves made for an uninteresting duality in my mind, two hands that could not clap in unison. ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ isn’t just a plain meshing of those two styles, though it could be fundamentally parsed as such. The most jaw-dropping revelation arrives by way of longtime bassist Jacob Schmidt who wrote a great deal of the ‘Dharmata’ side of the last album, his performances here are world class and one mind-melting piece of an album that is a thousand leagues more technical than anything the band has ever done. Was he a virtuosic player before? Either I’m an idiot for not noticing prior to ‘Dharmata’ or a goddamned quantum leap has occurred during a long blink on my part.

This all works as a Defeated Sanity album because the subterranean presence of the album hearkens back to ‘Psalms of the Moribund’ while both technique and brutality reach diabolic proportions, a level of detail and savage aggression that is mania-inducing. It is the intended expansion of the core Defeated Sanity sound but also an impressive display of excess that feels inhuman as it first presents itself. I don’t think I’d made it past “Entity Dissolving Entity” without a headphone break until maybe the fifth listen. Not because of the render, if anything this is the clearest most natural recording the band have ever been graced with (via Colin Marston), the overwhelm of it all primarily comes from the information overload that is presented with such brutal violence and prog-death noodled precision. Rolling back to the subject of what the original songwriting sessions in the 90’s/early 2000’s had instilled into the project, a continued emphasis on collaboration, strong work ethic, and ever-open arms to change and improvement appear to still inform the path forward. In the competitive world of technical death metal those traits aren’t necessarily enough get anyone listening but these compositions could only come from minds that know the skill ceiling well enough to begin to burst through it.

One more circle back in time, this one to 2007. Why did I fall off of brutal death metal? As technical death metal and brutality combined into ever increasing one-upping and trendiness it really became a matter of self preservation. I don’t care how proficient a player you are, I don’t want to buy lessons or a guitar, and if you can’t write a song worth a shit I might as well be listening to the sound of a toaster dragging along asphalt. Theory doesn’t write good music, it enables one the communication skills to craft with knowable expression. This is where I acknowledge the songcraft inherent to ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ when viewed as a piece that resembles an improvised progressive death metal eruption honed into one unfathomable chasm of technique. If it is emotional music then chaotic anxiety is a major point of tension, if it is machined and calculable music then very little of it relies on more than reactive exercises, those reactions are the thrill in hand when approaching the full listen. ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ is ultimately knowable, entertaining, and pure adrenaline as a physical experience but that is going to be the basal depth of it for most listeners. A thrill, an impressive feat, and an endearing entry in an impressive career. Where does the soul of it lie in reflection? The sixth Defeated Sanity record ultimately redeems as a corridor of discovery, a feat of twists and turns that rewards with smaller treasures along the way.

The staggered increase that kicks off the impressive self-collapsing intro riff to “Phytodigestion” is immediate in its implication of a superior technical death metal product yet it all doesn’t truly take a turn for the unreal until “Conceived Through Savagery” begins to set the tone beyond the familiar with peak (and better) Cryptopsy-esque bass runs and a shuddering core guitar progression echoed beyond the first minute of the piece, expanding in menacing yet surreal form. “Insecta Incendium” pushes those surrealistic buttons even more, expanding Schmidt‘s vocabulary while introducing a number of sharp turns that begin to define the verve of the full listen from this point on. This is maybe a point of spiritual succession beyond the previous album in the sense that things appear to grow more chaotic, intense, and unpredictable as the album progresses. “Arboreously Transfixed” is the peak of this, completely gripping as a violent piece of technical/brutal death metal with its shuddering, blast-galloping main riff and its countless variations. You won’t have forgotten that this is a “mosh” heavy extreme metal band at this point but the technical capability on display here becomes transfixing on another level at that point. Each track carries water for some reason be it sheer brutality, advanced technique, or imposing simpatico between those elements yet the ‘groove’ of the full listen is rarely satisfying. “Drivelling Putrefaction” is a fine example of everything that works on the whole of ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ as well as the few smaller quirks of it that I don’t wholly enjoy, such as the heavy emphasis on moshable, plain brutal death metal riffs with a fair amount of stop-start motion. The only song that goes hard without even a second of the “eh, uh… Oh!” rollercoaster of jaw-drop n’ side-eye is probably the implied second single “Imposed Corporeal Inhabitation” a true showing of skill, coherence, and flair specific to Defeated Sanity circa 2020.

Even if there are a few sections that are a bit plain and the technical side of the performance can be stymieing to any coherent thought process (“Sounds like a personal problem, bro“) the sense of discovery, rediscovery, and the ever-unrolling textural reveal of the performances within does lend itself to infinite spins. Treat it as a grotesque flesh puzzle or as an entertaining wallop of brutality, either way you’ll get it without fulling ‘getting it’ right away. This is the main reason I’d give a high recommendation of this latest Defeated Sanity record, it blooms and grows in the mind until the fungal rot of it is irreversible. For fans who are well in the know, it will undoubtedly feel as a great leap of progression as the band push beyond the solid, safest ground they’d found back in 2013. A high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:The Sanguinary Impetus
LABEL(S):Willowtip Records
RELEASE DATE:July 24th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRES:Technical Death Metal,
Brutal Death Metal

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