Review Summary: Highly overlooked death metal with doom elements
I loved this release when I first got hold of the Adipocere Records version. It was at least a decade and a half back. Back then the titles on the French label were very hard to get since the label was then semi-defunct and most of the releases were sold out. It was probably the inner trading circles through which I acquired this release and it didn’t take me long to succumb to its charms – the first few seconds of the song Witchfire had me in its grasp. It started off slowly and picked up pace like a fat boy beginning to run and then it somehow went on like that, balancing the weight and adding more emotions to the face. You see, there’s more to this death/doom music than meets the eye. It’s not even death/doom, even though it may sit alongside other fine bands on the label such as God Forsaken, Evoken (indeed, the very first release called ‘Shades of Night Descending’ circa 1994) and Beyond Dawn. I saw Spina Bifida as slow death metal like say Winter but borrowing elements from the revered Disembowelment. It had a cohesive and strong organic charm, also reminiscent of Dusk from US. The chugging element of the band was instantly appeasing because it wasn’t mindless chugging, but one that escalated and faded out in a rhythmic manner – it’s something that very few bands have managed to achieve. As a result, this album isn’t an excursion into boring death/doom or standard dull old school death metal but something that’s interesting, well-paced and exudes a suitable charm that’s hard or nearly impossible to replicate. The newer revivalist bands may try to sound like this, but the death metal quotient won’t be the same, nor will the appeal remain. They will never get the combination right. This reeks of classic death metal, of an era that was clean-hearted, experimental and not as competitive. This is music created for the sake of just that and nothing more. I have amassed several hundred old school death metal albums but it’s this one that draws me closer from its ilk because it has that charm, that ease, that personal connection. It’s a reason for joy to see this album reissued by Memento Mori in 2014 over two decades later, because music that never got its due would finally get some posthumous fame or recognition perhaps. More importantly, you wouldn’t have to go on eBay to pay ridiculous amounts of money for this. Incidentally, my CD of this album got infested with black marks (perhaps too humidity prevails in my monsoon-ridden city of Mumbai) and broke my heart but this version came along to set things right.
This Dutch band is in a little league of its own. The gentle chugging doesn’t get redundant because like say Hellhammer or early Cianide or just Winter, there are stout beats rocking the thing every now and then and it never really falls apart. It doesn’t lose momentum which is the key – few albums possess such uninterrupted momentum. It’s this element that makes this album special, and the fact that it sounds so warm, so close to what your death metal cravings demand. There’s a comfort level that perhaps initiates will take to sooner than in other cases. Another parallel would be the chuggy but gorier and more gruesome band Broken Hope on its first album ‘Swamped in Gore’. In comparison, this is slower and indeed features doleful melodies from the doom/death circuit. Today we’re in a different era where it’s almost black and white for us, but in the case of Spina Bifida, things were a lot more blurred back then where it came to death and doom. Perhaps that’s why the band’s music is slotted as death/doom metal now when it could be old school death metal only. Genre descriptors aside, this album is laden with potent, smooth death metal music that is poignant as well. It has strains of melodies or shades of melancholy accentuated by whiny emotive leads. It’s a well-rounded album that serves its purpose. What I also like about it is that it’s not as plainly derivative or hackneyed as say the Swedish bands or American bands in the later part of the 90s decade. The charm that was instantly recognizable then when I first bought this CD is relevant even today. Good music doesn’t fade with time – not necessarily anyway. There are chances of that happening but not when the intent is to create music that is soulful and somewhat individualistic.
Compared to the Adipocere version which had a gold-coloured disc, the Memento Mori version has the same artwork but has songs from the 1992 demo ‘Symphony of Indictment’ that sound rawer, definitely more death metal (production aesthetic makes some difference in perception you see) when they’re pretty much the same as they also featured on the ‘Ziyadah’ full length. Bonus material never hurts as long as you have the original content as well, including the original charm of the presentation. This is a great album if it isn’t clear by now and if you’re into well-played death metal with some emotional value, you can’t go wrong with this slab of dark music originally created way back in 1993 when songwriting came before speed and flamboyance.