Review Summary: Every bit as soft and nuanced as its name implies
Disgorge's debut full length has a lot in common with Brodequin's.... well, entire discography, really: both are frequently accused of being wall-of-noise exercises in brutality that aspire to nothing more than about a half an hour of battering force and little else. And there's certainly an argument to be made that a good portion of Cranial Impalement's grotesque charm lies in its unrelenting nature-- and the muscular, drum-heavy production (at least of the first half of the record) complements that quality of the music, with the unfortunate concomitant adverse effect of lending a hint of credence to condemnations of Cranial Impalement as twenty five minutes of senseless, wall-of-sound brutality.
Regardless of the merit one might find in those accusations, at the end of the day, do they actually reflect the reality of the music?
The answer: not if you've actually got a pair of ***in' ears on you.
That may be a bit harsh in retrospect, but the only excuse for failing to hear the riffs that actually enforce Cranial Impalement's vague wall-of-sound ethos is lazy listening, because they're certainly there, and potent. Disgorge alternates between spastic, almost jazz-inflected rhythms and high-velocity, harried tremolo riffs, sandwiched between bouts of groove-ridden slamming. The band fluctuates between these three primary modes of riffing at breakneck tempos-- a flurry of tremolo picking drops into a slam, as though stopped short by an aural wall, and lingers there for a few seconds before immediately (and with just as much warning) hurtling into a spastic note salad. The sheer velocity of it all may indeed be the culprit behind Cranial Impalement's detractors: this album demands the listener's full attention, and the riffs are gonna go completely over the head of anybody whose idea of 'listening' to music is putting it on in the background whilst they do some other ***. They'll then presumably take it upon themselves to whine about how Cranial Impalement is just a 'wall of noise' to compensate for their ***ty listening habits.
That being said, Cranial Impalement is far from an album composed entirely of winning riffs. You do have the standouts, naturally-- Atonement is a juggernaut of catchy, complex riffing, and the breakdown harbingered by an extended guttural by vocalist Matti Way is infectious and memorable; Cognative Lust of Mutilation (can't say these guys are coming home with any spelling bee awards) is in its whole a maelstrom of caustic but captivating bludgeoning. However, as the majority of this album goes, for every catchy slamming section and every whiplash-inducing spasm of high-speed riffing, there's a counterpart bit of derivative, wasteful chugging, or a bout of faceless note-salad-ing. It doesn't help matters that there's actually very little variation on this album-- yes, it does spasmodically writhe and twist between three distinct riffing styles, but a few songs into the album, this frenetic quality begins to lose both its edge and its diversity, and consequently, Cranial Impalement begins to drag by its latter half.
However, on the subject of halves, it bears pointing out that Cranial Impalement is a compilation of two demos-- the first half having been recorded in 1996, the latter, excluding the incredibly inane outro, having been laid down the year before that. As composition goes, there's little real difference-- the second half is maybe
a bit more consistent than the first, less spasmodic, but the most marked division between the two is the production. The first four songs enjoy a bass-heavy, muscular production job that really gives the music the force and battering drive that complements its low-end slams; the latter four, on the other hand, endure a much thinner quality, with too much treble and not enough bass. Therefore, though Cranial Impalement is a fairly even album on the whole, with both the good and the bad interspersed throughout both halves, the latter suffers from a noticeably inferior production.
It unfortunately also dilutes the depth and sheer guttural brawn of Matti Way's vocals, which is a tragedy, because they're ***ing amazing. He wields two primary tools of vocal devastation throughout both halves of Cranial Impalement: a ludicrously guttural, wet growl, and a sharp-edged grunt not unlike a pig squeal, though he fortunately does not bastardise that vocal style as many deathcore vocalists as of late have taken to doing. They're just impressive enough to make up for their lack of variation: there's no question that they grow monotonous halfway into the album, but they're simply powerful enough to compensate for that.
The drumming is also worthy of mention-- as spastic and flurried as the guitar riffs it accompanies, Ricky Myers offers a varied platter of battering blast beats, double bass drum bludgeonings, and breakneck, intricate patterns. There are really no straightforward thrash beats present in Myers' performance, but it certainly doesn't permit the listener any more quarter than do the guitars, or Way's vocals. I also appreciate that the drums have an organic tone to them: overproduction is a plague as drums in brutal death metal go, but fortunately, the snare drum doesn't sound like a block of wood being struck repeatedly, and the bass drums have more substance than the clicky nightmare that was Cephalotripsy's Post-Abortion Slut ***
And hey, you can actually hear the ***ing bass, how 'bout that ***. Don't get too excited: it mostly just rumbles away under the guitars and lends the music a tangible backbone. However, special note has to be given to the infrequent but appreciable use of occasional bass breaks, in which Eric Fresley delivers a little flourish, or a bout of slap-bass interjection, before Disgorge gets right back to the business of going straight for the listener's throat. It's not exactly a stand out bass performance, but in a genre that increasingly undervalues the bass as a sovereign voice in the fugue of mind-numbing brutality, it's still worth mentioning.
On the whole, does Disgorge merit a listen from any dilettante of brutal death metal? Yes, if they're willing to take the time to actually listen to the music rather than just hear it. It's anything but the most memorable, or the most nuanced, or even the most brutal of offerings in that particular sect of death metal, but it does have value in Way's standout guttural performance and in some of the particularly infectious riffs interspersed throughout the album. If nothing else, it's worthwhile just for its sheer battering nature.