Review Summary: The most solid, focused effort yet seen from Fetus but unfortunately the slam kings suffer from a lack of true originality and energy.
Dying Fetus are not among the first names to roll off the tongue when asked about death metal for a variety of reasons. They never achieved the same commercial success as a band such as Obituary or Cannibal Corpse and nor did they have quite the impact of Immolation or Deicide. Their discography is often considered to be generally slightly above average but it is generally agreed that they have not yet put out an album worth starting a party over. The previous points should not detract from what the band has actually done for the genre however. Dying Fetus are a name placed among the best and most easily recognizable within the technical death metal/slam-death genre. They put out six albums from 1996-2009, with their seventh studio album, Reign Supreme, having dropped in 2012.
Reign Supreme marks the pinnacle of creativity from this act to date and whilst it is nothing particularly new or fresh, it still has enough substance to it to deliver a harsh kick to the crotch. The technical wizardry on display in the guitar department is displayed frequently, including opening the album up with a fast piece of lead playing leading into a technical riff. Whereas bands such as Nile and the later material from Cryptopsy and Suffocation abuse the level of technicality that can be cast into one death metal brewing station, Reign Supreme comes off feeling perfectly balanced. The surprising thing here is that one guitarist handles the guitar work here and yet keeps the feeling of intensity that many bands can not muster with two or even three guitarists (yes, I'm looking at you, Whitechapel).
The other signatures of Dying Fetus' sound return in form on Reign Supreme. The closing moments of Second Skin show exactly why the band is frequently heralded as the flagship band of the slam-death metal sub-genre. The slower, chuggier moments of this release are as hard hitting and powerful as they have been on all Fetus bands and it is a shame that more slam-death bands can not assault the ears with the same aggression as this. The hyper fast blast beats also mark a glorious return, with some surprising variety to them. The cymbal clatters away during the 2.50 section of From Womb To Waste, whereas opener Invert The Idols thunders ahead with primarily the snare. The fills that are scattered throughout the slower moments of the album are also candy to the ears, with the drummer showing off a surprising level of technical accomplishment, perhaps more than ever before on a Dying Fetus album.
Dying Fetus releases would really not be complete without the ultra-low grunts to characterize them. Albums such as Killing On Adrenaline showcased some of the lowest, most difficult to understand growls out there, whilst occasionally the vocalist also switches to higher shrieks. Jump to about 1 minute into Dissidence and it swiftly becomes apparent that the entire vocal range is present and correct. Whilst the grunts are not quite as low as they were on the band's earliest outings, Gallagher still puts on a magnificent show with a lot of range to it and a lot of variety as well. The mixing job also ensures that his grunts work similar to a second bass guitar in the sense that he is just another low sound in a mixture of a lot of low-end sounds, with his higher shrieks working similar to the quick guitar fills scattered throughout.
The one thing that holds this album back from greatness is the fact that none of the songs are particularly distinguishable from the others. Whilst the jump from the slower opening riff to the quick tremolo picking on In The Trenches and the fast technical guitar work that opens up Invert the Idols might stick out a little, the songs themselves just seem to blend together. Dying Fetus have always suffered from a lack of originality in their music and this shows exactly why. Whilst this is arguably the band's most focused, solid effort in their 20-year career, it falls guilty to the same problems as their others. The previous album, Descend Into Depravity, may have been far more technically-oriented, and their middle works had far more of a grind-influence, but in terms of overall sound and structuring, Reign Supreme does nothing particularly invigorating for the band's sound and at this point in their career they can not afford this.
2012 was a fantastic year for death metal that brought some magnificent albums and whilst Reign Supreme does not quite touch the peaks that some albums set, it more than holds its own. From the easily noticeable pinched harmonics and hyper-technical guitar work of Devout Atrocity to the masterclass opener, this is a solid album throughout in which each strong is focused and strong, it is just a shame that they all merge together into one long track.