JUNGLE ROT – A Call to Arms (2022)REVIEW

It isn’t that groove metal and post-‘Wolverine Blues‘ death metal visibility didn’t gel at first, only that the western world’s slow-growing up mainstream heavy metal headcases had no great reason to put up with unintelligible growling for longer than was necessary. The popular spectrum of hardcore and/or groove focused death metal never had the songs, the vision, nor the following enough to sink into public mindset beside the new mainstream aggro-metal standard found within a post-‘Vulgar Display of Power‘ market, a largely teenaged demographic saturated by increasingly vapid tough guy alt-chug music that’d slapped the mainstream meal outta death metal’s mouth by the time albums like ‘World Demise‘ could make their case for the continued stadium sized relevance of death metal. Of course I know that’ll sound absurd today in terms of visibility and widespread influential trickle-down ’til we consider the scale of budgets, tours, and actual sales in hindsight, those gigs dwarfing what gets put out today by a serious mile. Nonetheless longtime death metal fans can appreciate the additional focus upon of ex-thrasher grooves and hardcore-swingin’ riffs as the steady and long-grinding purpose of just a few underappreciated die-hards like Kenosha, Wisconsin-borne death metal quartet Jungle Rot and their nearly three decade long reign as an unbent workhorse and notable touring band. Their eleventh full-length album ‘A Call to Arms‘ doesn’t break formation or do the usual pandering fixation upon nostalgia because these folks don’t have to, they can be found sticking to their own standard here today just as they did way back when, plodding forward without compromise and sure, for better or worse depending on who’s listening.

Jungle Rot were essentially born from the late-to-the-party midwestern thrash metal uprising (see: Prisoner, Num Skull) that’d been left in the dust for death metal before the end of the eighties, picking up on a combination of riff heavy half-thrash, hardcore’s linear punishment (at the time) and the steady hand of death metal as the umbrella fusing their larger combination of forces circa 1994-ish. I can clearly remember loving the descriptions and cover art featured in reviews for their second album (‘Slaughter the Weak‘, 1997) but being discouraged from indulging due to the typically average scores given, usually due to the insistence at the time that this whole gig was somewhat unoriginal (see also: Skinless, Morta Skuld) having already plumbed the best of Obituary, post-1990 Napalm Death, and Bolt Thrower on those first two releases. This’d been both a mildly fair assessment for the time and an overstatement in hindsight as a return to Jungle Rot‘s first demo (Rip off Your Face‘, 1994) and debut album (‘Skin the Living‘, 1996) today reveals absolutely solid brutal death metal with heavy thrash metal influence found on most songs, each of their first three releases prior to 2001’s ‘Dead and Buried‘ still hold up brilliantly to the classic standard of 90’s death metal without any particular ambitions beyond that original focus. That’d somewhat change with the switch to Olympic Records as they angled more of a moshable hardcore influenced paradigm into their sound for the next four albums, eventually landing on Victory Records for ‘Kill on Command‘ in 2011, slowly bringing thrash metal riffs back into their repertoire by way of three more records since.

Right, I’d have to duck out of a full discography shakedown beyond 2001 because, frankly there really isn’t much of an evolution there to witness nor does their songwriting, vocal cadence or riffcraft change in any too-drastic way over the course of ten albums. Greater visibility beyond 2011 definitely helped Jungle Rot become considered a legacy death metal band rather than just a generic or obscure one, this includes a solid reputation as a live band, one that I’d always go and check out when they hit the western states. The major reason I’d choose to write about ‘A Call To Arms‘ today isn’t so much that they’ve shaken things up, though it certainly is the most thrashing record they’ve made in twenty years, but moreso because checking out their likewise Dan Swanö mixed/mastered self-titled release in 2018 (and a decent Kreator cover) had me realizing I’d taken their steadfast presence for granted over the years, having seen them perform a handful of times but given up on their discography around 2004 or so. With that said, it isn’t for posterity that I’d recommend giving this eleventh record a spin or two. The main agenda here is to take note of Jungle Rot expanding their horizons very slightly while maintaining a high professional standard that still reads ‘old school’ death metal circa the mid-to-late 90’s.

Still a brutal death/thrash metal band in spirit yet well-evolved into their own brand of crowd pleasing hardcore-chopped and moshable riffing, most of what you’ll find Jungle Rot doing on ‘A Call to Arms‘ won’t be a major surprise but they have incorporated a few Swedish death metal inspired tremolo picked riffs (“A Call to Arms”, “Total Extinction”, “Genocidal Imperium”) and an all-encompassing kick of speed to keep things lithe and fairly dynamic throughout a full listen. The hardcore stamping of the verse riffs on “Asymmetric Warfare” through the Bolt Thrower-amping “Death Squad” speak to Jungle Rot stepping out of their appreciably conservative box of tricks without perturbing their greater signature, a not-so-subtle death metal tank of a performance heaved upon the listener and renders a fair deal of modern ‘death metal meets hardcore’ groups tuneless, riffless and feigning finesse by direct comparison. The slightly glossier, yet overall crunchier render here helps these riff driven pieces stand out in the intended way, levelling the impact of the drum performances with the guitar and bass tones to the point that they all sit at equally low-slung ‘scooped’ levels, giving a more compressed yet propulsive sense of movement which is technically a Swanö signature that just so happens to suit vocalist/guitarist Dave Matrise‘s groove heavy style of rhythm guitar writing well. They’ve found the right balance here compared to ‘Jungle Rot‘ (2018) though it isn’t much of leap beyond tempering of the mids and not mudding out on slower pieces.

The best songs on ‘A Call to Arms‘ take their time developing a grand entrance, sling a few solid riffs and go somewhere with it just long enough to bark out a few choruses and leave a mark. The hooks are minor, the riffs are often thrash inspired or stomp hard and cut out quick, so, by virtue of their elaborate structure the standouts are obvious by my pick. “Population Suicide” is probably the big song on the album for my taste beyond the personality rich salvo of the opening trio but “Death Squad” was the one I’d gone back to most for a couple extra hits here and there as I ripped through the full listen several times, it being only ~34 minutes long and a pretty comfortable listen with or without headphones.

My recommendation isn’t all that complicated here, Jungle Rot have made their case well enough over the years and kept the quality especially high (with the whole package considered) on their last four records in general. They’re still doing their thing, mixing it up just enough here by pulling back into some of the thrash-heavy traits they’ve not explored much since they’d broken out into the 2000’s, and I’d definitely still show up for ’em live. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:JUNGLE ROT
TITLE:A Call to Arms
LABEL(S):Unique Leader Records
RELEASE DATE:May 13th, 2022

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