Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beneath - The Barren Throne [2014]

I can unabashedly admit that Iceland's nowhere near my geographical expertise, so I guess it comes off naturally that my acquaintance with Icelandic metal doesn't go beyond a few sporadic shards of existence, and any further knowledge I have about the country is confined to a Verne novel and an obscure medieval poet. Thus, much like the bedeviled pyro-fiend gazing in bewilderment depicted on the album cover, Beneath and other closely associated outfits such as Sororicide, Diabolus and Atrum caught me unawares. That was a short-lived shock, however, considering that very nearly the entire globe has now been sufficiently encompassed and suppressed by the reign of death metal, in any damn form you can imagine. For that matter, Beneath seems more modern than the rotten hordes dwelling inside the putrid hovels that their ancestors had constructed long before they were begotten. No, they're far more polished, a somewhat fresh jump into the extreme territory that border the style of early 90's Floridian brutality and some more recent technical death metal.

There can be little doubt that Beneath metes out and equates the frolicking borders of brutality and technicality with great competence, and even less doubt that ''The Barren Throne'', the much-waited successor to ''Enslaved By Fear'', which was apparently quite the popularity bludgeon back in its day. That can make ''The Barren Throne'' a bitter pill to swallow if you were one to bathe yourself languorously in the previous record and somehow come to the verdict that Beneath didn't live up to their full potential, but also a deliciously deplorable riff-fest if you enjoyed as much as the first. Now, I haven't found the time to listen to ''Enslaved By Fear'', so if you want to compare the two, that discussion is for another day. What I'm interested in is unearthing ''The Barren Throne'', and it alone. With its punishing dexterity, polished bombast and fiery temper ''The Barren Throne'' assumes what we assume from a casual technical/brutal death metal opus, but as usual my gripe was that in most of the cases it was sauntering through the same territory with little ado about the miraculous feats that a little bit of originality can achieve, because as consistent and penalizing in its musical adroitness it may be, ''The Barren Through'' is still far from a four-leafed clover...

''Depleted Kingdom'' is a great, frenetic opener that discourses intensively with the range of styles that the album runs on. At 7 minutes, it may be a daunting journey, but it's more galvanizing and enjoyable than the majority of the album's compendium. Beneath creates a distinctive collision of sounds that mingle Morbid Angel, good ol' Corpse, Brutality with the melodic sensibility of Dark Tranquility or Kalmah, with a good deal of melody lines twisting and swerving in between the machine-gun rattle of tremolos and chugs without skewering the pooch; granted, there's nothing overly zany about that, but it still makes for great, bloody headbanging material. Oh, and did I mention it was fast? Beneath brings some 80's tradition on the table by sticking more to the continuity of tremolos (as cavorting and serpentine they may be), and that kind of speed/death/thrash mentality is especially apparent on the next track, ''Chalice'', which pummels and excoriates with the same formulaic violence of an early 90's death/thrash piece like Demolition Hammer, Epidemic, Solstice or Belgian obscures Chemical Breath, but transforms rapidly into a polished death/black piece with its explosive openings during the second half of the track. In that sense, there's actually plenty variation, far more than your run-off-the-mill brutal death metal act, to be heard, and while that's true for 3-4 songs, the rest merely banter and duplicate their peers.

Of course, there's still some revitalization that ruptures forth halfway through the album. As the throne falls to the hands of ''Sovereign Carnal Passion'', the previous exhumations are torn completely asunder. The band plunges into an even more technical area, with the seams of Severed Savior, Hour of Penance or even Spawn of Possession spilling forth like ash from an Icelandic volcano caking the world, but things get even more interesting with the next track, ''Sky Burial'', which might as well have been a Mastodon tune out of ''Blood Mountain'' or ''Crack The Skye'', when the band starts to lumber as 90's death/doom band might, with lethargic but tremulous, dolorous riffs lurching along cleaner transmission of melody, plucking the veins out slowly, one by one, instead of ripping the blasting off the entire arm with loaded shotgun. Solemn leads of the Swedish goth rock modal creep into the brooding acoustic passages, but the occasional raspy vocals that contrast from their more ubiquitous, growling counterparts break the mold splash the 7-minute monolith with some change every now and then. Add to that the pedaling, restless drums and you've practically got a superb fucking record, right?

Well, not really, because, all told, ''Sky Burial'' would be the last memorable track on the album. Ironically, the equation that renders the tracks themselves so proficiently balanced between melody and neanderthal force does not emanate into the actual distribution of quality among the songs, within the album. Yes, even the more average tunes were ''cool'', but they're just more seas in the ocean at best., and I wouldn't have probed them for more than a few listens. That aside, I'll still leave it to you to judge the album. It's surprisingly wide spectrum of influences can help it garner the attention of an unusually wide net of listeners, and with the audience Beneath gathered with ''Enslaved by Fear'', ''The Barren Throne'' is unquestionably another solid record hanging on the band's belt. The throne awaits.

Depleted Kingdom
Sovereign Carnal Passion
Sky Burial

Rating: 73%

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