TRIBAL GAZE – The Nine Choirs (2022)REVIEW

The hierarchy of nine angelic psykhopompos, which the Catholic catechism insists are an essential part of faith, exist as antiquated examples of exemplar devotion and service to ‘God’ which’d originally served as divine intervention, or, deus ex machina to help pluralize the common storytelling device shared between the cultures assimilated during their conquer of Europe wherein deity serves a heroic moment through the vessel of man. Nowadays it rightfully reads as a primer for class/caste structure for an elaborate tabletop role-playing game, a corporate sort of hierarchical inanity where we step from lowly shitwork done in the presence of humans up to lording over them in dominion, eventually fighting versus demonic forces. The worst part of this ladder is eventually finding that the highest of the higher-ups, the Seraphim, do the least work in terms of literally just staring at the blinding aura of ‘God’ in marvelous ponder. The message to the reptile brain is clear enough, an impossible standard imposed upon the population of easily skewed idiotic masses which insists that we not ‘good enough’ as is, that there will be more work to do in the eternal wars of the afterlife. Somewhere in the midst of exploring the entirely plagiarized falsity of the greater Christian mythos one should eventually strike upon the thought that all of these imagined higher powers mankind have spent the bulk of modernity obsessing over, killing over, have always presented ideas which were degrading to the human animal. For their debut full-length album Texas-based death metal quartet Tribal Gaze mull over the skittering ratrace of faithful terrestrial warriors and their long-held delusion that slavery to ‘God’ might impress their imagined higher power. ‘The Nine Choirs‘ appears to mock and rebuke the horrors such scum create on Earth in the name of a poorly written, heavily altered fantasy novel. Also, they got chug riffs for days.

Tribal Gaze didn’t form all that long ago, honing in on a regional death metal sound and a hardcore groove circa 2020, a familiar and replicable sensation made flesh within the space of about a year for their debut mLP (‘Godless Voyage‘, 2021) which’d soon see release after catching the ear of Desert Wastelands Productions. Oddly enough the band would ‘remaster’ and reissue that debut release in 2022 after signing with Maggot Stomp, though there wasn’t anything majorly different about the second version beyond the inclusion of one extra track. It was light on variety, low on guitar solos and generally still working out the tempo map in a few spots but what was there on that mLP eventually made waves in the popular chug metal circuits we know and love. The loose-necked, brutal and off-kilter sections of ‘Godless Voyage‘, brief and scant as they were, would end up being the best parts of the full listen as it’d relieve the toxic tension of their structured, slower chug-heavy side. In aiming for a more professional, tighter presentation and serious-faced take Tribal Gaze have ensured ‘The Nine Choirs‘ reads as a bit less fun and frantic as it’s predecessor, an reeled-in feat which mostly pans out.

I’ll leave it to the doldrums of shithole internet message boards and pure garbage pail kid comment boxes (see: RateYourMusic) to suss out the apples and oranges meritocracy of Entombed-core versus ‘Gateways to Annihilation‘-core and who has the leg-up in terms of riffs but there’ll be no denying that for such a new, still pretty green hardcore influenced death metal band Tribal Gaze have found a reasonable balance between late 90’s death metal downtuned-to-Hell sledge-tones and the heavier side of that same era of popular metallic hardcore (‘Breed the Killers‘, ‘For Those Who Were Crucified‘) at least in terms of aiming for thicker, overdriven guitar tones in presentation of their knotted, loosely repetitive groove-and-creep riffcraft. Their influences likely line up closer with the modern death metal cave troll trend of late which for most bands means setting generic slow to mid-paced brutal death metal rhythms up for success with a ‘Nightmare Logic‘ production value. The catch is that these guys have riffs, sound like an actual death metal band and make good use of the tension which chug-core brings to ‘old school’ death rhythmic influences. It is entertaining stuff for the most part and ends up being worth repeating even if it isn’t bringing anything all that new or insightful to slow-kicked mosh metallic death.

Without intending to be reductive, the big deal here with this band is that they do one thing and do it pretty well: Chug, thump, roar, groove, repeat. Though you can catch the odd push for variety on ‘The Nine Choirs‘, a few solos, a funky bassline, and all that these folks have a one track mind and a shit-ton of chugs to get out of their system before these dense and stomp-ready ~36 minutes are up. That means their presentation is no more elaborate than your average nowadays mLP sized idea set to an LP sized record, you’ll find a few themed samples set in between songs, a very driven rhythm guitarist aiming for what he does best, and the rest is really up to the drummer to salvage in terms of keeping the energy up and the spank of it all readable as a fully physical act of violence. It is a nowadays rhythm guitarist’s record first and foremost, unconcerned with the speed metal influence on true ‘old school’ death metal and girded by brutal death metal inspired ‘in the pocket’ riffing where extremity comes in condensing down to the most essential and redeeming points of form (in terms of riffcraft) and then expand into a very singular vernacular.

What does that mean in terms of songcraft? Well, expectations aren’t high right? It makes for a relatively sluggish bout of riff salad which rarely presents songs so much as it kicks out a few memorable and retainable events wherein most all of it lacks differentiation. Tribal Gaze do a fine enough job providing in-the-moment grooves and impressive twists, turns and churning moments but that is pretty much all they do and it creates a moment but, not a lasting experience. To be blunt as possible, sure man you’ll remember how cool the record is, how hot-amped up it sounds, and maybe learn to play a riff or two but there ain’t a “single” on here that’ll stick with you past next Tuesday. That’ll be fine enough work for most death metal hobbyists, and shouldn’t be a big slight against its value.

There are a few moments worth highlighting for my taste, the most of ’em landing within the introduction of the album. One of the more involved pieces from the band yet “Cold Devotion” opens the record in style, suggesting they’re going to be going -in- on this record, I mean it isn’t 2000’s Dying Fetus but we do get a bigger, louder and less predictable gust from Tribal Gaze up front. The opener turns out to be the full unlock of the album, the whole season in summation, all the tricks of their trade condensed. Sure, the real grooves and the actual style of ‘The Nine Choirs‘ hits right after on “And How They Wept For Eternity” with its morbid angular opening and absolutely slick groove n’ blast verses but you’ve pretty much gotten the idea of where this thing goes right there. The dynamic of the running order doesn’t take a dip or a hike from that point, and in terms of the classic heavy metal album experience we’re basically stuck on that second song on the album feeling for the next ~25 or so minutes. If you’re not keen on following the guitar action from that point on the whole gig may not impress. I’d found it a solid enough listen for roughly 5-6 full listens, always avoiding more than 1-2 listens per day, and slowly losing interest in approach of a week’s worth of listening.

While these folks are onto something that makes a big first impression, checks all of the heavy guitar music boxes, and seems to have its own mind they’ve only just hit a point of “Ah, cool” with me here on this debut. ‘The Nine Choirs‘ hasn’t yet shown just how ambitious Tribal Gaze could be with such a strong sound and synergy in hand, it reads a bit like a band running in place and figuring their organism out as they go rather than a point of sheer mastery. All things considered it is a pretty normal place to be with a debut album but a generally impressive showing for a group who’ve only been poking around at the possibilities for a couple of years. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Nine Choirs
LABEL(S):Maggot Stomp Records
RELEASE DATE:September 16th, 2022

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