SENTIENT HORROR – Rites of Gore (2022)REVIEW

Though this third round isn’t at all a case of diminishing returns for New Jersey-based death metal quartet Sentient Horror it’d be fair to say that they are entirely comfortable set within this groovy mid-90’s Swedish death metal zeitgeist. The cranked Boss HM-2 inspired saturation of their guitar tones roar forth in an easily read, still patently modulated universal language and though this denies them an exacting signature of their own at face value the honing of such an unwieldy, textural guitar medium is yet a righteous enough place to stand out via compelling taste. ‘Rites of Gore‘ reads as a sub-genre release up front, a record that is out to entertain and pique interest in the moderately discerning ‘traditional’ death metal listener without needing to create a new, or, at all challenging platform and, well, it’s successes rightfully lie less in the shape of the headstone and more within the chiseling of the epitaph.

Much as the world hasn’t hurt for moshable, semi-melodic Swedish death metal noise since the release of ‘Massive Killing Capacity‘ the need to stand out within the crowd rarely revealed any sort of competitive insight these last two decades beyond the general audience appeal of “big dumb fun” supergroup trash and the undeniable strength of a very loud, kinda over the top rides through familiar territory. This is less a complaint and more a lead-in to compliment the early uptick of Sentient Horror who’d arisen beyond the ambitions set by precursor act Sentience by way of founder, vocalist, guitarist and general producer Matt Moliti (ex-Dark Empire) in conjure of big, loud, and satisfyingly rabid Swedish (as in late 80’s/early 90’s Stockholm) style death metal. Bold cover art, slick and super loud production values, huge guitar tones and a sort of raw vocal attack arrived in the exaggerated spirit of the form and found a sort of natural top-of-the-heap statement on their third release/second album (‘Morbid Realms‘, 2019). My review at the time tucked into the details and perceived intent of the band up ’til that point in well enough, it seems, as I struggle to find much to say about ‘Rites of Gore‘ that wouldn’t offer the same observations in different words.

In fact three years later and with literally a few thousand more records crammed into ear since my notes were undaunted, eh, for the most part: “It doesn’t go progressive, atmospheric, technical, or even particularly brutal and the only real ‘angle’ that Sentient Horror ends up taking on ‘Morbid Realms’ is a very light melodic edge that often buddies up with rock guitar leads a la their suggested influences“. If we press on to consider songcraft beyond style, perhaps a level of depth many death metal listeners don’t touch upon reveals the greater interest beyond said observations. In terms of reading the lyrics, getting the whole story and appreciating the dynamics that Moliti and crew are setting up in draft of each piece we find the value ‘edge’ they’ve long presented. Opener “A Faceless Corpse” while not lyrically, uh, cryptic kicks things off as if they’d resurrected those old Sunlight Studios versions of ‘The Ultimate Incantation‘ dooming its whammy-swinging waltz into view before bullying out a few thrashing tremolo riffed stabs. While that might seem like pretty normal death metal behavior it is notably something new enough for a kickoff into a Sentient Horror record which have tended to simply nuke hard for a few songs in a row before cutting into their melodic edges. Around ~2:46 minutes into the song we get another hit of the fast stuff for the solo and its following verse, and while this might again fit into the greater Swedish death (Dismember strains especially) spheres of movement beyond the flood of (dull) comeback crews in the 2000’s the point is yet set that these folks are yet doing more with their traditional sound than most and you won’t have to dig too hard for nuance.

The title track’s ‘Where Ironcrosses Grow‘ level heft and Obituary-stomped middle section, the harmonized leads atop the thrillingly chunk-sawed rhythms of “Splitting Skulls” and host of well-set pieces round out a very strong Side A experience that most of the second half kinda caves under to start. The werewolf transformation felt on “Descend to Chaos” sorta brushes on past and “The Grave is My Home” feels like the type of run-of-the-mill piece you’d get from a bad Rogga side project wherein a pair of guitar progressions swapped back and forth is the whole record. The savior of the end lot ends up being the well-chosen single “‘Til Death Do Us Part” which eventually swings into the speedier early 90’s Carcass-esque verses we’ve gotten in various shape from Sentient Horror‘s guitarists before. As they lean into slower, moshable pieces more often on this record than ‘Morbid Realms‘ I found myself preferring their faster, more engaging rhythm guitar work overall, likewise finding few leads that’d really stuck with me by the time closer “The Eyes of Dread” rolled around. Though the full listen was technically somewhat uneven for my own taste the first half of the record does successfully carry the experience well enough.

You won’t find me writing about a ton of records in this style this year, or the last few years, simply because the standards which Sentient Horror operate within are so rarely met. There is plenty of the rabid-fanged buzzsaw delirium any Swedish death metal fan would want here and in that sense it should rightfully be a crowd pleaser, but it counts for something in my book that they’ve achieved this writing somewhat tuneful, mostly solid riff-heavy death metal songs without operating within a rushed, dime-a-dozen work ethic. Dunno if the record will stick with me over time but I’ll continue to hold my thumbs up for these folks ’til next time. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Rites of Gore
LABEL(S):Testimony Records,
Redefining Darkness Records
RELEASE DATE:April 22nd, 2022

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