Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deathrow - Life Beyond (1992)

In many, many years of listening to metal music, there are few albums which have left me so polarized or betrayed as Deathrow's 1992 finale Life Beyond. The brilliant Deception Ignored had me baited with anticipation for years, and to be truthful, I did not hear this right away. I simply had no access to it, and it was released through some small new label, rather than Noise. I'm not sure how you could let such a band go after hearing such a masterpiece, but then I am more of taste than purse, and the band were clearly far above the heads of most listeners. So it wasn't until the later 90s that I got to check out this long awaited beast, and man was I pretty disappointed. Let me qualify that this was partially due to be being a royal fuckhead, and expecting ANYTHING to live up to their 1989 work of obscure genius is like expecting to win the lottery. It was not going to happen. It's never going to happen.

Now, Life Beyond is still a technical thrash album. It's more of Deception Ignored than an attempt by the band to return to their earlier roots on Satan's Gift or Raging Steel. It's actually a more aggressive work than Deception Ignored, as far as the thick smear of guitars performing riffs at blazing speeds, but I feel like it's so much more American sounding, like the 90s Exodus albums or bands that were trying to adapt and modernize, maybe the later Defiance and Devastation records that came out in years relative to this. 1992, thrash was already written off, but people were still producing it, and Deathrow were just another band who fell victim to the changing tides. This was the end, so the band felt like going down thrashing at least.

The big issue I have with this is the relative dearth of quality, enveloping riffs, which the former album was loaded to the eyeballs with. Most of Life Beyond is a frenzy of showy, fast moving matter which impresses due to the bouncing fragility of the precise rhythms, but only for a moment once the listener is not recalled through any of the melodies. The vocals here are just average at best, Milo returning to a tone more reminiscent of Satan's Gift but with less of a standout accent. There are gang shouts and the vocals in general have a more urban feel to them, and that's just not what I want from the shadow of the band's former clinical, surgical brilliance. This is not the Deathrow of the asylum, but the Deathrow hanging on the street corner spraying graffiti on the local pimp's Cadillac.

What moments of brilliance occur here, generally do so because they bring back the 'feel' of Deception Ignored. One example is the intro to "Harlequin's Mask", which is graceful, fluid and melodic until the dumb verse arrives with corny sounding vocal patterns. For fuck's sake, if they just took off the vocals it might be a good song, but it sounds wholly moronic. "Homosapiens Superior" has some mighty riffing at around 2:00, and really the whole thins is pretty good, with less embarrassing vocals. "Reflected Mind" is fairly loaded with good quality riffs and I like the use of the keyboard atmosphere, but once again some of the vocals are a bummer. The namesake "Deathrow" starts with some dumb, plodding thrash but picks up into something almost worthy of the prior album, and "The Remembrance" is tight, just not exquisite. There's also "Towers in Darkness", which the band had released as an obscure single. The riffs in this one are pretty worthwhile, but the vocals are fucking silly and awkward, especially the lines about superheroes.

So frustrating! Perhaps Deathrow thought the cornier vocal approach would reap them a few distraught Anthrax/M.O.D. fans or encroach them upon a more groove-metal, urban audience, but the music is still far too tech/thrash to carry that supposition very far. Life Beyond has at least a dozen or so quality riffs buried about it, but these are too often spoiled by other elements in the songs. A few might pass for 'b-sides' to Deception Ignored material, and the guitar work is not necessarily any less technical, but I am left with a giant hole of disappointment in my conscience. One area in which the band has improved is the bass and drums, both are very well wrought here, in particular the better bass playing which some have cited as a flaw on Deception Ignored (though it's not at all). Most of the lyrics completely miss the damned mark, where I enjoyed them last time out. This is the least entertaining of all the band's records, and even though there is some pure, virile thrashing to make the neck sore, and an overall impressive level of musicality, it stinks of not only jumping the shark, but rubbing it the wrong way, until the wrists and palms bleed and you're surrounded by a whole school of the toothed beasties (aka the 90s) which sucks and slurps you down into oblivion.

Et tu, Brute?

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
(what we get is a piece of cake)

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