MAUL – Seraphic Punishment (2022)REVIEW

An attitude borrowed from canned journalistic tradition and made dull trope by way of quickly scribbled blogs and various tics of feigned cuff-born formalism over the years still persists in the form of the awful “take” that insists interesting forms of music don’t normally, or, naturally come from places perceived as mundane, such as the midwestern United States. Yet anyone born in the relatively steady, quietude of the suburbs (or, the fringes of poverty nearby) understands exactly why those are the most common roots and realms to give rise to the weirdest pits and whackjob scenes of underground extreme metal. Boredom, alienation and frustration with the status quo have long been the ingredients for the best sorts of freakery in heavy music. Keep this in mind as you’ll undoubtedly bump into a ton of coverage for Fargo, North Dakota-borne death metal band Maul suggesting they stand out for the sole reason that they’re from such a place but, in fact they’re not at all out of place within the realm of nowadays ‘old school’ steady-creepin’ death metal out of the United States today. Their debut full-length album ‘Seraphic Punishment‘ might appear on trend with what is selling tickets these days with its emphasis on hardcorish grooves, a few kicks of scatterbrained psych’d doom/sludge and all of it at a terminally mid-paced jog but they’ve angled in reason(s) enough to appreciate the bigger picture, or, just how out of step with the world their growling carnival of groove is.

Formed in 2017 and not afraid to push hard at this whole next generation of mid-paced bro-type hardcore-enjoyer death metal thing that has been persistent since the mid-2010’s (at the very least) Maul are one of several fresh-ass “fun” death metal bands popping up today who’ve understood that in order to hang out in consumer’s heads with any persistence means treating them like the hyperactive attention-deficit Amazon Prime-spoiled babies that they are and releasing something new every few months, or, as often as possible starting with three demo tapes in 2018 (‘Midwest Death‘, ‘The Serpent’s Tongue‘, ‘Soaked in Penance, Solicit the Torture‘) and a split in 2019 as they’d geared up for what largely appeared to be fragments of the writing process of this first album from that point on… including a couple of 2020 EP releases ‘Monarchy of Mold‘ and ‘Deity Demise‘ followed by a live album (‘Extractions of the Tomb‘, 2020), a compilation, and three split releases otherwise. To most folks gigging around the states this reads as the proper way to start getting noticed nowadays, forming professional relationships and having something to tour with. From the point of view of a listener looking to be charmed into fandom by riffs I’ll be honest none of their stuff hit all that hard for me, the sludged-up lean of ‘Monarchy of Mold‘ being the clear enough rhythmic blueprint of the band made concrete at that point and the rest of the weirdness they’ve injected since then is largely for the sake of standing out from the crowd.

If you’re not familiar with the pre-debut LP context available a song like opener “Of Human Frailty” may very well prove a stunning event, a doomed King Crimsonian slur of a riff with Cathedral-esque electric organ bracing its slick mid-song captivation to great effect. Yet as we press on with the full listen and roll into the danceable walk of the title track it becomes clear the simple plow of their Jungle Rot adjacent death grooves intend to persist as the main attraction, and for my taste to the detriment of the listening experience and despite their evolving use of atmospheric gilding. If these pieces weren’t so insistent on their tightly wrapped songcraft and reasonable enough use of repetition (pace changes, rather than true variation otherwise) they’d honestly read dunderheaded, slow and thoughtless for the most part. Most of ‘Seraphic Punishment‘ manages an accessible charm as it chips away at a handful of novel, uncomplicated songs/riff ideas otherwise.

My ears wouldn’t tend to perk up and pay attention beyond the opener and the bop of the title track ’til this reworked version of “Monarchy of Mold” began to get weird a little over halfway through, pulling on their sludge/post-metal pants a bit and cranking up the swamp noises before they ride into a particularly fine yet momentary bout of sludge/death metal aura. This’d end up being the most natural evolution of the band’s sound, or, at least a small window into what might come of things if presenting mosh metal weren’t their primary gig. Once we’ve hit “Oracular Burial Grounds” I think it’d be fair to say that for most early 90’s death metal snobs the riffs just aren’t there on this album as most of them land with simple non-directional purpose until we begin to get in gear with late album pickup n’ chunk’er “Infatuation”, a real last gasp of energy from the band before “Carrion Totem” kinda outshines all but two or three pieces that’d come before it. The full listen lends itself well enough to repeat listening but doesn’t necessarily beg for attention on the ride through, only picking up with any real conviction a handful of times. In this sense Maul might not seem like a laid back moshable crew up front but this debut doesn’t end up giving or demanding any energetic exchange with the listener, riding in and rolling off into the sunset leaving a groovy slug trail behind.

In the space of five years Maul have worked up to an appreciable modern standard and obviously enjoy what they are plugging away at and in that sense ‘Seraphic Punishment‘ delivers a bouncy enough groove-focused good time and solid enough full listen to please the less discriminating tastes of the average ‘new old’ school death metal fandom today. In terms of making their argument within the greater ocean of ‘classic with a modern twist’ death metal forms the result here is average if not occasionally inspired when stepping away from its core idea of what death metal should sound like, the weirder the better they go there more-or-less. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Seraphic Punishment
LABEL(S):Redefining Darkness Records,
Gurgling Gore
RELEASE DATE:July 15th, 2022

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