REAPER – The Atonality of Flesh (2021)REVIEW

When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive.” Anne-Léo Zévaès, Damiens le régicide

Give an inch of the knife to the plutarchy and they’ll tear you to pieces, burn your corpse, and erase your family name. Abrasive, piss-storming and performatively necro-overdriven Svensk first wave black/speed metallic duo Reaper haven’t drastically changed course in a matter of a year. If their ruinous riffs, doubly ominous tonality and shockingly punk fucked sound on ‘The Atonality of Flesh‘ is any indication, these unidentified fellowes clearly spent the interim huffing the gluey adipocere of well spunked d-beat corpses and in doing so now more heavily relay the primal energy of early 80’s hardcore punk/crust — Drawing lines between a classic era of songwriting edge in service of first wave black metal and adjacent early 80’s speed metal furor. How in the Hell they’ve managed this alongside a freshly viable punk melodicism and actually somewhat sophisticated-yet-simple guiding motif beyond the skull-shocking horror of their debut (‘Unholy Nordic Noise‘, 2020) is no wonder but, also nothing to shrug at.

Analyzed piece by piece, chopping every moment down to influences and with no consideration for their own developing signature songwriting it wouldn’t be hard to reduce Reaper down to a handful of influences and comparisons. I’m not above it, of course, but it won’t tell you a damn thing about the high capability of ‘The Atonality of Flesh’ to manifest as its own experience. As noted in a review of the previous album, the gist of their expression is essentially what Darkthrone had accumulated for ‘The Cult is Alive’, a raw and clangorous sound akin to German speed metal (“witching metal”) in its earliest demo stages which still takes into account the muscle memory that comes with a certain love for Sacrilege and Hellhammer. This translates to most all re-generations of first wave black/speed metal beautifully as the font of songwriting that essentially hits the gas pedal on evil Neat Records output, thanks to whichever Discharge drummer you’re prone to blame for the beat, has long proven to be infinite. I’ll be blunt, then, in suggesting that folks who love nods to these various eras have been saturated with options this last decade. At least enough that they (myself included) have largely accepted the missing ingredient, even when we vault up to the major label signees, is a glaring lack of songwriting talent. Where do Reaper hulk up their haunt that works so well on this record? I have my theories, including ‘Ride the Lightning’ and ‘Beat the Bastards’ to some degree, but a quick rub through the ~38 minute grit of it all should reveal more detailed compositions, strong lead guitar work, and an understanding of where mid-80’s speed metal and the anthemic quality of UK82 meet in accordance with the cold horrors of classic Bathory.

The songcraft irons are up and the outrageous, scathing atmosphere is all their own but you might need to be ass deep in classic punk music knowledge to appreciate their use of technique, vocal patternation and energetic attack. There are modern equivalencies out there for this sort of thing but, I feel like these guys are speaking a dead language better than most. We’re first treated with the development of what I’d consider a motif of doom, an ominous riff that plays beneath an echoing quote from one of countless powerful scenes from Peter Brooks’ Marat/Sade (1967), not only does the grisly account prepare us for something horrible but Patrick Magee’s characterization of Marquis de Sade is somehow perfect in tone to precede a black metal album. Throughout the albums length a few instrumentals expand upon the pattern of this riff both directly and indirectly almost forming their own piece if the four are strung together and the reprisal of another part of that scene for the outro piece helps to not only bookend ‘The Atonality of Flesh’ with theme but maintain the general mood of the piece no matter how bewildered the listener might be by the evil-yet-anthemic quality that persists throughout the running order. Reaper immediately shove their stench under both nostrils as the duo of “Dogs of The Crumbled Firmament” and “The Sweetness of The Wound” both lead-in with this punk riffing d-beaten energy I keep rambling on about and if you’ll wheel back to their debut album it is worth noting that this is a far more effective grip of the ear than the harsh clobber of ‘Unholy Nordic Noise’. I wouldn’t say I felt like I’d been transported outside of my body until “Come Nature, Come Cruelty, Come Death” where the hissing and noxious nigh Norsk black metalpunk side of the band expresses as loudly as the now sweetly prominent bass guitar tone and mohawk groove-heavy opening moments collide with inhumane vocal scourge and a fried static burst throughout. ‘The Atonality of Flesh’ hits its stride here, interrupted by a few necessary moments of rest.

We’re served the first minor ‘Beat the Bastards’ namedrop justification with “Raid the Heavens”, as light as that characterization is made the greater focus on these thrashing/d-beat moments only compounds itself louder as we progress, and without mucking up the clear first wave black/metalpunk goal of the band. Likewise the first hints of ‘Ride the Lightning’ seem to arise on instrumental “Saturn Devours” before this is more directly reprised on “Me, You and The Juices of Death” and the start of “Outro” a bit later; I only frame these deeper cuts on the second half of the album for the sake of suggesting there is more life in Side B here than there was on Reaper‘s debut. The album goes somewhere and although the extra layer of early Discharge-esque grinding is still relevant here they’ve made sure each song has its moment. Most of these songs are easy to like for the sake of their up front nature, each is typically over within 2-3 minutes ’til the closer “Piss, Bile and Violence” suggests they could explore the depths further if needed, the six minute run of this song doesn’t drag for a moment. I’ll have to emphasize again that the listening experience that ‘The Atonality of Flesh’ could be interesting for its influences and smaller references but this was a record I was happy to just let do its thing and in just letting it rip it should become apparent these guys are trying, putting on a good show and focusing intently on writing songs that have the right attitude, a hook around every corner, and their own crazed and extreme approach to sonic excess. I hear a unique voice forming beyond aesthetics and stylistic crossover that may be having a good time but still takes the whole situation serious enough to write repeatable, heavy and still foully black metallic songs that stick. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Atonality of Flesh
LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions
RELEASE DATE:March 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [March 5th]
GENRE(S):Black/Speed Metal,
Black Metalpunk

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