Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Horde Casket - Xenopocalypse (2017)

Horde Casket's fourth album Xenopocalypse proves to me a more unified, conceptual bludgeoning which pays homage to science fiction horror invasion scenarios in what must be the most direct and unforgiving manner ever...30+ minutes of ceaseless, staggering brutality that at the very least offers some oneupmanship of their prior full-lengths, even if it's not the heaviest and fastest act in the genre that you've ever experienced. One would hope that this might give it a little more of an edge in such a crowded niche of the death metal genre, but where I feel like this one is clearly superior to its predecessor Bloodfiends, and has superior production to their very solid sophomore Slab of Infinite Butchery, it still doesn't stand too far above the heads of its peers as far as songwriting or ambition.

That said, I would not be quick to write this off if you're a purist for the sort of brutality developed in lieu of groundbreaking acts like Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse, or in particular if you're a fan of Californian acts in the medium like Deeds of Flesh, Flesh Consumed or Inherit Disease, because if nothing more, it's well enough crafted stuff that keeps you entertained, if not guessing. I liked the use of the ambient instrumental parts and samples here, they help flesh out the atmosphere of the record, but I only wish they'd include a little more variety in the meat of the material, the death metal itself. Sure, you'll occasionally hear little guitar bits that veers off to the unknown in cuts like "Blood Scorched Earth", but this is all rooted in the blasting, chugging, tremolo picking you'd expect, and while the riffs are better executed and mildly more memorable than on the album previous, and the tempos a little more varied, so much of it treads on familiar ground as opposed to the alien or 'weird' that you'd really hope for when delving into subject matter with such potential as Xenopocalypse.

But it sticks enough landings to make it to the scoring round...the leads, while not catchy, flail around above the roiling, pounding, punishing low end of the riffs like eels or snakes cut in half. They rarely if ever settle for cheap slam grooves here, instead relying on constant brickwork and fret exercises to perk up the listener's attention and never let he or she get quite comfortable. Even were they do, as in the verse of "Planetary Obliteration", they thread enough in there so it feels like the groove isn't too cheap or effortless, more like an engine breaking down and then repairing itself as they thrust into another volatile blast. Small waves of arpeggios and such might seem a little passe for the style, but they keep the listener apprised of which side of the death metal spectrum Horde Casket strives for. The vocals are unrelentingly brutal gutturals, but they seem a little more empowering than in a lot of cases where it becomes monotonous and boring...these give me an Immolation feel which works well contrasted against the far more spry and energetic instrumentation. Along with Slab, this is one of their better albums, and where its so difficult to make a name for oneself in the sub-genre, these guys are another band who seem like they only need a fraction more of a distinction...certainly the raw materials are here through their ability to make the punishing performances seem easy.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

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