Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Revel in Flesh - Manifested Darkness (2013)

Last year's Revel in Flesh debut Deathevokation couldn't be counted among my favorites of the incessant Swedish-style death metal revival of the 21st century. Textbook on all fronts, it concerned itself more with its production values and authentic derivation than stronger songwriting that could distinguish it among the dozens of comparable albums coming out. Just a short year later, they've fired up their sophomore LP Manifested Darkness, which is likewise another throwback to the early 90s, but it does possess a tendency to branch out beyond the expected triangle of Entombed, Dismember and Grave. Here, the Germans seem to be struggling on the precipice of self-identity; casting a wider net to reel in manifold old school influences and see what sticks.

A few of the titles confused me here: "Revel in Flesh", the band's namesake, is not a cover of the Entombed cut they were named for. Likewise with "Warmaster", which is not a rendition of Bolt Thrower. One might think that a band so obviously inspired by these bands wouldn't directly ape their song titles, but originality is apparently quite distant from this group's modus operandi. That said, while the Germans draw upon both of these in terms of compositional structure, they don't sound precisely like a xeroxed copy. For instance, the deeper guttural vocals are a mix of Karl Willetts and classic Chris Barnes grunting, and there are voracious Carcass snarls used to complement them; and speaking of Barnes, the chorus to "The Maggot Colony" definitely recalls a particular Cannibal Corpse tune from over two decades ago. The rhythm guitars carry a groove redolent of Dismember, Entombed and Bolt Thrower, with a deep, fat bottomed Swedish tone, but the chord progressions don't often feel like ripoffs of anyone in particular; simply average and lacking the inspiration that their forebears so clearly felt when they were issuing discs like Clandestine or Indecent & Obscene.

On an atmospheric level, Manifested Darkness is actually quite successful, and this comes largely through the contrast of the churning low end guitar patterns and the economy of melody which hovers alluringly below the monolithic crush. Leads are minimalistic zips and zags that often erupt over a groove, but I did not feel as if anything were missing by leaving out the impulse to shred ceaselessly. The pianos are implemented successfully ("Rotting in the Void"), and the guttural vocal has a great sustain to it, like an ominous awning which hangs over the festivities. Overall, the sophomore feels dark and fulsome, certainly matching up the Juanjo Castellano cover artwork (he also did their debut). The drums are slightly suppressed by that huge rhythm guitar tone, but they're audible enough to maintain the momentum and keep the largely concise body of songs. Bass guitar is really not much of a factor, being crushed up against the underside of the riffs and never setting itself apart from the rest of the band.

At its best, Manifested Darkness evokes a few engaging, muscular slogs among its more substantial, lengthy pieces ("Rotting in the Void", "Operation Citadel"), and there are a half dozen sublime, hypnotic melodies beyond that which will catch the ear when they arrive. The tempos are kept largely slow to mid paced, and thus the listener is steadily bludgeoned along the 43 minutes of consistent content. The atmosphere worked for me, and occasionally I found my neck trembling against the voluminous force of the production, but little outright headbanging ensued. Ultimately, while I think this is a marginal improvement over Deathevokation, it still doesn't have the songwriting chops to really make a difference. It's an album content to forever dwell in the mighty shadows of those that have come before it, and suited best to those who love their old school death metal steeped in a saucier, contemporary production. I've heard this stuff before, and while Revel in Flesh don't make a mockery of their influences by any means, they'd do well to loosen their grasp on those festering coattails and fly free.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

No comments: