Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Damnation - Reborn... (1995)

It's easy to pore over the Polish death metal scene of the last decade and admit it's one of the very best in the world, with acts like Vader or Behemoth or upstarts Decapitated having vaulted well beyond any barriers to underground legend status, even to penetrate into the mainstream in some instances and territories. But I find it even more curious to dial back the years and observe how such a 'scene' developed, and for the region that birthed the aforementioned there seemed a pretty solid expansion in the 90s when the influential Floridian, Dutch, British, Finnish and Swedish sounds were being intensified or outright upstaged by the emergence of more technical, extreme or brutal strains of death. Damnation seems a band long overlooked, along with peers like Devilyn, Dead Infection, and Atrophia Red Sun; a band who gradually evolved into a potential contender but just never broke the surface membrane of that scene to grow a large audience throughout the rest of Europe and beyond.

Reborn... was the first of the three full-lengths they'd produce, and for my ears, the shabbiest, but not for a lack of trying. The clear inspiration here was early Florida, with a guitar tone and riffing style not unlike veterans Deicide, slightly muffled in the mix on the tremolo mutes, but not enough to hide it's frantic pacing. They branched out a little further than that, though, with a more atmospheric use of the strings in tracks like "Maldoror is Dead", and also possessed an explosive edge on some of the faster tracks which will no doubt bring to mind Morbid Angel or Malevolent Creation. Leads and transitions are often rough spots on this recording, with the former occasionally nailing a degree of evil resonance, but more often a little awkward and undeveloped. The latter sometimes just coming off more sloppy than intended as the drummer throws out some brutal fills, or perhaps it's just the production casting some untoward attention in the wrong places, creating a bit too broad a gulf between the percussion and the guitars. That isn't a complete detriment, however, since I'll grant that Reborn... does gain a boost to its atmosphere thanks to the combination of clarity and crudeness.

Vocals are a voluminous guttural, punctured only by a few sparse snarls, and they too help to round out the mean and murky feel they're going for, spitting forth lyrics about darkness, sorrow, and the occult which were all fairly comparable to other early European death metal acts, with a little of the overt Deicide/Slayer sacrilege for good measure. Some samples and ambient sections are used to decorate the record's playtime, and these feel a little uncouth and undercooked much like their metallic counterparts...cool for the cheesy, ominous horror they allude to, but could have been better implemented to rocket off into the metal segments. All told, for its production flaws and lack of really interesting or memorable riffs, I have to hand it to Reborn... for at least sounding like one of those 'genuine' retro death metal experiences that you can place to the year of its own conception. If you're only seeking to thrust yourself back into that earlier 90s mindset, to submerse yourself in the morbid humours of that decade, then you could probably do much worse...however, I would note that the busier sophomore Rebel Souls is a superior album in most every way, the real hidden gem of their catalog.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (I trample the cross of hypocrisy)

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