Review Summary: Arguably one of the best gems the British Death Metal scene of the early 90's has to offer, "The grand Leveller" is an extremely morbid yet very intense sounding work.
It’s nice to note that Britain had just as much a prominent Death metal scene in the early 90’s as in America. Bands as successful as Carcass, Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror could well have matched up to the more popular likes of Morbid Angel, Death and Cannibal Corpse, yet for some reason there’s always been a complaint from many an Extreme Metal fan that British Extreme Metal in the early 90’s always seemed a little underrated compared to the American “equivalent”.
However, one band that certainly spawned a lot of chaos and uproar (which could have only meant good news to any Extreme Metal fan twenty years ago) is Benediction, a band that in 1991 consisted of two outstanding guitarists in Darren Brookes and Peter Rewinsky, an insanely precise drummer in Ian Treacy, a thundering bassist in Frank Healy, and arguably the most popular member of the band, a monstrous vocalist in Dave Ingram. The band had obviously garnered a lot of attention thanks to the raw yet chaotic nature of debut album “Subconscious Terror” as well as touring with the likes of Dismember and Bolt Thrower. However, it was really with the band’s second album, “The grand Leveller” that things really started to pick up for the band.
As an album that features the most morbid and evil of sounds, “The grand Leveller” will make you wonder why it isn’t as popular as albums like “Necroticism…” or “Tomb of the mutilated”, but then again, some of the best albums have always been underrated in the eyes of their most ardent supporters. It’s an album that deals with the usually horrifying themes in Death Metal lyricism, referring to the extraction of souls (‘Visions in the shroud’, ‘Opulence of the Absolute’), incestuous rape (‘Child of Sin’) and even extracts from letters written by no other than serial killers Jack the Ripper and David Berkowitz. This isn’t to say that the album is particularly different compared to any other Death metal album released in 1991, but it surely manages to make these horrifying themes come to life via both the maniacal music and soul-wrenching vocals.
Dave Ingram’s vocals, although suffering slightly from a lack of variety in tone and style,fit the nature of the lyrics perfectly. The perfect example of when Ingram’s vocals really come into play is the song ‘Born in a fever’, written as an influence of Jack the Ripper’s horrendous crimes and letters that he himself had written. Throughout the song, Ingham gives a very vivid picture of the serial killer by not only giving a great sense of rhythm to the music, but also offering a narrative voice to really make the sickening imagery come to life. Ingham does the very same on the album’s longest song ‘Jumping at shadows’, itself as intense and disturbing as serial killer David Berkowitz. The vocals generally stay at a low pitch, but then who would want Ingham to shriek at an ear-deafening volume when they fit the nature of the songs perfectly already?The vocals are not for everyone, but this is a Death Metal album, and this is to be expected.
The instrumentation very rarely fails to reach the standards expected of many a Death Metal fanatic. In particular it is the guitar work of both Brookes and Rewinsky, who seem to offer the most variety to the album with their shredding fury and fast-paced solos. The slower, groovier songs such as excellent opener ‘Visions from the shroud’ and ‘Jumping at shadows’ benefit from the slower, heavier guitar work, whereas the equally as intense but much more explosive likes of the title track and it’s brutal brother ‘Senile Dementia’ offer an insane amount of technical proficiency and precise solos. The other outstanding instrument here is quite clearly Ian Treacy’s furious drum work. The drums generally follow on to the guitar work, but they certainly offer even more heaviness to the sound as well as providing a battering ram to the listener’s ear, something that would stay memorable for at least the next few days. The bass work however is not as prominent, yet even on one or two songs, such as the very brief bass solo on ‘Born in a fever’ and introductory bass-line on ‘Graveworm’, it begs to intensify the sound just as much the guitars and drums.
“The grand Leveller” is an album that should not disappoint those who lust for Death Metal with a terrifying atmosphere and brutal sound, and even if the likes of ‘Undirected Aggression’ or closing Celtic Frost cover ‘Return to the Eve’ make you wonder why they are even on the album, it should only persuade you to listen to the remaining eight songs repeatedly until your eardrums crumble to dust. Some may say that it’s a slight exaggeration saying this is truly one of the best British Death Metal albums of all time, but when it is the product of a band that would go on to tour the world with Death and Dismember, that should be one of the many reasons for at least checking this album out.