RIPPED TO SHREDS – 劇變 [Jubian] (2022)REVIEW

The once obscure, thousand year strong cult of the silent lantern-bearer, the shamaness in red, the clairvoyant maternal protector of the sinosphere receives a bolt from molten skies, braced between the sea and atmospheric cataclysm as we step into an era of great change, of human devolution and natural disaster. The frontispiece which marks the face of the third full-length album from Taiwanese-American ‘old school’ death metal band Ripped to Shreds echoes in motif of explosive fire, a heritage of adaptive resilience and fast bouts of extreme change likewise found within the classicist core personage of the band, who are willing to resort to extremes to survive. ‘劇變 (Jubian)‘ doesn’t necessarily push beyond the face value read of Swedish death metal traits just yet, though, and instead resembles a careful enough shove given to the more unique traits which the project now leads with, including some emphasis on exciting deathgrind aggression and emergent swipes at harder-edged melodic death metal.

Formed in 2016 by San Jose, California-based anime enjoyer Andrew Lee Ripped to Shreds seemed to be the result of the musician putting in the time and work to create death metal to his own taste, on his own terms, and with his unique Taiwanese-American perspective influencing the themes and art curation. Since I’ve written about every release from the band to date most of what I’d have to say about his discography would be repetition for repetition’s sake but at the very least it must be said that ‘埋葬 Mai-Zang‘ (2018) was such a big deal at the time for the sake of it being a remarkable riff-driven death metal album that seemed to truly understand what was great about the original impetus of Swedish death metal, amplifying those earliest tenets with proper energy enough to be well excused of its imitative qualities. This is pretty rare per my own experience, with bands like Entrapment and Pyre being the odd examples of groups finding distinction by sheer conviction and, well, riffs while still managing a similarly known realm of sound design. By the time his second album ‘(Luan)‘ (2020) hit shelves elements of classic grindcore and melodic death metal naturally creeped into the periphery after experimenting with those ideas on a couple of 2019 singles/demo tapes and this is essentially where ‘劇變 (Jubian)‘ picks up and runs with extremes, applying a somewhat reserved stroke of severity. There are a few fully left field moments on the record but it’ll be anything but an alien to their existing fandom.

‘劇變 (Jubian)‘ fires up with a couple of expected pieces which merge Swedish death metal guitar theatrics and the frantic nature of late 80’s grindcore and in doing so showcases a bit of looser, nuttier vocal delivery from Lee, particularly on opener “Violent Compulsion For Conquest”. Though past releases have been heavily stylized between the homebrewed yet distinct ‘Mai-Zang‘ and the crispier, most precise ‘Luan‘ this third full-length from the band commits to what I’d consider typical Boss HM-2 hijinks, mushing out the impact of the riffs at higher speeds and serving an electric buzz that leaves the brain thirsty for anything else after a few minutes of waffling between quickly darted hardcore hits and brutal blasts. We’re definitely getting a follow-up to the previous record in that sense, and I’d enjoyed that record quite a bit, but the kick-off kinda drags within expected digs this third time around. “Split Apart by Five Chariots” doubles down on this core idea, amplifying the vocals to goregrind bulges and echoing barks ’til it all just kinda works thanks to the brutal intensity of the song. Ripped to Shreds finds an energetic and inspired enough way to kick off the record and set expectations to fried-ass, grinding hard early Swedeath ‘tude yet I’d pushed past those songs hoping they’d go at it a bit harder sooner or later and start to slough off the typical Scandinavian drone of it all.

“獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt 3)” is a clear standout, not only for its 10+ minute length and placement right as the album hits critical energy but, for the sake of it showcasing what amounts to the full range of the project in a big dramatic chunk, allowing for dips into doomed pace and melodicism which we typically get in bursts or contained feature on the rest of the album. The opening riff will be enough to get most death metal fans on board for a full ride but the rest of the song goes places, providing an intensely detailed thread to follow. This is the real warm-up for the full listen and the piece to sell me on it to start. “漢奸 (Race Traitor)” finally flexes the melodic death metal (ah via later Dismember, early Intestine Baalism) muscle a bit, though the leads don’t really match the impact of earlier dabbling in this style and something a dab more harmonized might’ve stuck with me longer since “Reek of Burning Freedom” kinda edges out the rest of Side B by sheer moshable conviction. When I’d first hit the last few songs at the end of the album I’d initially felt like this would’ve been a better way to kick off the album, I mean mad-grinding fifty seconds of “Scripture Containing the Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render the Practitioner Invincible Throughout the Martial Realm” should’ve definitely ended Side A rather than the full listen, but I’d generally appreciated that both halves of the album kept the energy and the ideas up and cut it off before they’d overstated any of ’em.

Lee definitely understands what general ingredients work on a proper death metal album and how to mix it up enough that album number three doesn’t land as more of the same, the result is an album which reads as distinctly Ripped to Shreds and holds up for a solid number of spins, basically on par with ‘Luan‘. Though the songwriter is obviously a fan of many things I think it is a big deal that the conversation doesn’t necessarily end at comparisons to Uncanny and Nihilist nor do they indulge too heavily in the temptation of taking on gimmickry as a point of personae… as much as an “early Nasum does melodic death” record would’ve been a rad way to jump into the public ear. They’ll have to push it somewhere else, somewhere bigger, to hold my attention next time but for a first step onto a big label like Relapse this feels consistent, kinda aiming to stay on brand yet managing to entertain throughout. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:劇變 (Jubian)
LABEL(S):Relapse Records
RELEASE DATE:October 14th, 2022

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