The follow-up to the 2015 debut album Savage Land sees US Death-peddlers Gruesome waste no time getting back into the spirit of… well… death.
2016 has seen a healthy variety of 90’s death metal worship released already, and it’s only May. Some prominent incarnations include: the angular sci-fi themed chaos of Nucleus, the infectious organic stench of Cadaveric Fumes, Interment‘s melody-infused Swe-death, and England’s Horrified who mustered up an album that took influence from both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas all the aforementioned albums have varying degrees of European influence, Gruesome remain decidedly American in sound.
Like many of you, I was quite satisfied with Gruesome’s first effort, and while it didn’t quite manage to make many end of year lists around these parts, I know I played it an absolute shitload throughout the year. Savage Land was like a dependable workhorse; it may have not won many prizes at the local show, but you knew damned well that when you needed to get the job done it was going to be up to the task. Just over one year later, the three guys and one gal are back with six more tracks raring to heed your beck and call.
As soon as the first track “Forces of Death” erupts around the 0:40 second mark you are given a taste of what is to come for the next 20 odd minutes… a damn sore neck. That was almost a given though. What I found immediately notable was the stronger emphasis on the thrash element of their sound. Sure, the debut had its fair share of fist-pumping moments, but Dimensions of Horror seems to further utilise several facets of 80’s Bay Area thrash; in particular, those of early Slayer. From the riffing, to the note patterns, and even some of young Hanneman and King’s song-writing traits, Harvey and Gonzalez appear to have stripped back some of the previous hints at latter-day Schuldiner-like progressive movements in favour of a more straight-to-the-point attack. This ostensible shift further towards the visceral over the cerebral might prove to become one of the main talking points about this release.
My perception of Savage Land was that it sat looking up, nestled in between the towering pedestals of Leprosy and Scream Blood Gore. Presumptuously, I assumed that after the near universal praise of Horrendous‘ masterpiece Anareta that Gruesome would confidently aim to follow a similar trajectory and attempt to fulfil a greater portion of the ever widening death metal gamut. Instead, it would seem that they have narrowed their scope and focused their efforts on rekindling the more candid style of Scream Bloody Gore. This observation holds true throughout all of the EP’s songs until the eponymous final track. “Dimensions Of Horror” starts out with a slowly tapped lead motif that immediately differentiates itself from the rest of the material; this does eventually give way to the inevitable torrent of more familiar riffage, but it still alludes to the greater reaches that the band are certainly capable of. For me, this was the strongest track on the album by far, and its placement at the end of the queue gave me just enough of a taste of what I’d like to hear them do more of, just prior to their canter off into the distance.
The production is comparable to that of Savage Land and holds no dramatic surprises. Genre stalwart Ed Repka is back in again to pen the cover art, lending the release just that little bit of extra authenticity in this saturated realm of death. Overall, I don’t think many will see Dimensions of Horror as a mistake per se, but over the last month or so I’ve grown quite ambivalent towards it. Once the initial excitement of “more Gruesome already!” had worn off, I found myself tiring of the slightly predictable nature of the tracks. The tried and true horror theme of the EP didn’t help matters for me either. While some people expressed distaste at what they deemed to be cultural insensitivity in relation to the art of Savage Land, I found the debut album’s overall thematics a little more refreshing than what’s on offer here. And yes, before you berate me in the comments section, I recognise that with a band name like Gruesome, I should expect to have someone yelling things like “AMPUTATION” and “RAPED BY DARKNESS” repeatedly. Arbitrary personal issues aside, I think Dimensions of Horror will most likely please the ears of the majority of OSDM fans who simply seek some more riffs to dine upon. Just don’t expect to be enraptured with dynamics.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Gruesome’s Dimensions of Horror is out on May 20th through Relapse Records.