TOUGHNESS – The Prophetic Dawn (2022)REVIEW

Apocalyptic conscription brought us these killers of mankind, their resting rites preemptively read with the stink of dread-worn and distended teeth in every wretched syllable. Behind the fearsome eyes of the soldiery the madness of instinct drives their scrambled-thick brains to see through the acts of the false oracle, a deranged shamanic trance to topple the peaceful farce of civility back to the poisoned dirt it’d been built upon. Eyes filled with relentless visions of upheaval in otherworldly realms and heads swimming with ancient indoctrination eastern Polish death metal quartet Toughness arrive upon their debut full-length with an already accomplished approximation of period-specific progressive and surrealistic craft, perfectly jagged and irrepressibly morbid in purpose. ‘The Prophetic Dawn‘ offers an exceptional study of arcane relics, dangerous intersections of kosmiche horrified literature and intuitive psychic magicks applied to a tradition of irrational yet readable death music. Theirs is an atmosphere which hangs in the air as a noxious ozone of war-burnt soil, drying ichor and fuming disarray.

Cut from a cloth steeped in the blood of progressive thrash precision and the gnarl it’d imbued into classic death metal’s more abstract and progressive (but still dirt heavy) ventures Toughness formed in 2020 as a second wretched, bent spire from members of prog-death trio Conveyor an underrated project which is naturally a prerequisite in approach of this group (see: ‘An Incarnated Abstraction‘, 2018). The major difference in terms of line-up is the addition of a second guitarist and well, this makes sense as the great distinction made between the two projects is that this is quite a bit more focused on the interplay between the two guitar spots. It’d taken a couple of years to get up to speed with a second guitarist who was the right fit for writing/touring but this meant their first demo (‘Prophecy‘, 2022) was a proper item with three well considered pieces that represented an impressive if not familiar ambition. I’d found the vocalists register especially impressive, disgustingly low and perfectly bellowed into the vortex in the way an ancient Convulse or Rottrevore demo would’ve been while the music itself wasn’t far off, leaning into aspects of early 90’s progressive/technical death out of Europe with a Demilich-esque streak in all three of those initial pieces. These folks aren’t quite as interested in doomed rushes as Mvltifission or the avant-garde/art metal space as Diskord are but they are building upon a similar foundation of taste in weirding, guttural and impossibly thick death metal atmospherics.

In expanding upon this font of irregular motion and deranged, aggressive forms for ‘The Prophetic Dawn‘ there have been two key additions made to this purposefully off-kilter, off the grid sort of riff-focused avant-garde ‘old school’ death metal sound. Toughness have brought in some of the more abstract but linearly achieved movements of ‘Here in After‘ and the more rounded, aggressive stability of the more staggered rhythmic voicing Morbid Angel had introduced on ‘Covenant‘ as two major points of interest which pull the mind away from the obviate “Ah, here’s a Demilich-esque band” thought that many listeners will have ’til they’ve pushed past the first three or four songs on hand (see: “Misanthropy Within Transcendence”). The full listen eventually warms up into a unique, aimless and toxic brand of stewing death metal which features frequently congested riff ideas, pleasantly varietal rhythms and a focus on the urgent blasted quality of pre-1993 death metal and its thrashing-mad mannerisms.

Surrealistic madness. — The first thing that stands out to me as I attempt to pull a handful of highlights from this record is that I’d really need to cover an armful to properly convey the long-term value of ‘The Prophetic Dawn‘, an album rife with great ideas, grotesquely ‘old school’ tonality, solid if not deranged songcraft, er, riffcraft… and plenty of riffs at that, even if it does ultimately all bleed together if and when the listener loses focus on the moment. To be fair it won’t be all that unnatural a response to let the mind wander outside of itself while listening yet most of the time Toughness are conscious of injecting proper brutality into each piece, never throwing away a chance to pulverize the active-brained wriggle of their attack. The fumbling-in-the-dark clean guitar tone trailing through the second half of “The Infernal Travelings” appears to almost intentionally distract from the task at hand, generating an atmospheric disarray which is both unique to the song but also clearly related to their general modus throughout the full listen. The ‘Jar of Kingdom‘-esque freely scribbled leads and burst of effects-drenched bass soloing on “Forsaken Entity” eventually takes this secession from reality a bit further. This is where I’d felt these folks had their brightest spots of personal derangement informing their style, even if it will become a bit much for some listeners — the weirder Toughness got the better rounded the full listen became in terms of varietal expression, sustaining a serious dark tonality while conveying a series of unimaginable horrors one after another.

The herky-jerky stamping of “Other Insalubrious Beings” feels like an absolute struggle, a performance which requires a slightly broken gyroscopic motor sense to pull off with precision and I’d found it to be one of many pieces on this ~45 minute record that’d presented a staggered hypnotic sensation, an uphill battle from a band putting in some serious work into their rhythmic values without resigning themselves to random splashes of notes or any sort of fusion to build interest. Rather than pick through the rest of the running order I think it’ll suffice to generally suggest that Toughness are able to go somewhere with this sound, develop it much deeper than any face value assertions of the casual death metal listener will imagine. The more time I’d spent in the trenches of their sound the more at home I’d felt within the mindflaying streak manifested within this first, and quite substantial portal. I don’t doubt fans of cryptic, imaginative and surrealistic death metal will enjoy the barge and blast of it all as the more subtle variations disentangle in the mind, it only grows in statement within successive listens. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Prophetic Dawn
LABEL(S):Godz ov War Productions
RELEASE DATE:August 9th, 2022

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