Review Summary: Uncompromising. Devastating.
Back in 2018, Leeched delivered a show-stopping debut album. It’s not every day you see a band walking out of the gates with a clear vision in mind and a firm handle on how to get there, but for Leeched, You Took the Sun When You Left
was a bold, uncompromising declaration that put the band in a tiny room with the other instantaneous visionaries. The clinching point for me was hearing them take Code Orange’s arbitrary tempo shifts and integrating them with Leeched’s hardcore-meets-industrial-meets-grind sensibilities to create a distinctively bleak and signature atmosphere; a mood that rides in between Godflesh’s industrially charged nihilism and Nails’ pummelling and aggressive energy. It was a refreshing sound that disrupted my disassociation with metal music at the time, and it quickly became an easy contender for 2018’s best album. So when the news came about that To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
was imminently landing in the month of January, 2020, you could say that I had good expectations for it – the anticipation for hearing a sound built upon currently strong foundations, or one that could potentially demolish and rebuild a different script. In either case, it has been difficult ascertaining which way the scenario would go, given the fact only one single has dropped pre-release [as of writing this review]. This restraint has worked in their favour though (forming an aura of mystique around the LP), because now they’ve entered the new year and set a shell-shocking standard for other metal acts to follow in 2020.
After hearing To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
thoroughly, it’s clear that there’s a massive distinction between this album and the debut, yet in spite of this affirmation, both LPs remain completely intertwined with one another. One thing I can’t give Leeched enough credit on, is how well they integrate ghoulish pictures and colours into their soundscapes. The macabre settings, explosive production, and idiosyncratic writing choices are all hallmarks of the band, but hearing both albums back to back, the duality of their aesthetics make a very convincing yin-yang. You Took the Sun When You Left
is a sluggish giant, trudging through a grey, charred, smog-filled battlefield, occasionally stopping to inhale the toxic air before decimating everything in its path. To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
is a giant of equal measure, but it’s centred in a war field with less chemical warfare – there’s a much brighter feeling and tone to it, and an energy that, quite frankly, runs circles around the debut album. Case in point: if you weren’t a fan of Leeched’s intermittent breathers last time, this could be the album that convinces you of their capabilities. Three minutes longer than its predecessor, To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
goes off like a nuclear explosion and doesn’t dim out until it finishes. Gone are the brief moments of respite, replaced only by a streamlined, visceral white-hot intensity that stays with you long after listening to the album. It’s like a sequel to a video game or movie that knows the previous effort’s shortcomings: it’s tighter, more alert and responsive, but more importantly, it’s fixed on holding your attention until the very end.
Considering the morbid tone Leeched relishes in – in terms of colour – if the debut album was a scorched black then, bizarrely, the main colour I’d associate with To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
is a dull white – hence the yin-yang these two LPs represent. It’s misleading to think the colour white makes this album any less heavy, however. On the contrary, the brutality and force on offer here is tenfold, but its sharper production, leaner songwriting and almost movie-like-score-build-ups emit the feeling and colour at play here. It’s like the bright light of a bomb going off before being hit with the blast wave. The electronics’ influence in particular really cuts deep, magnifying the horror and unsettling aspects of a song to the nth degree; it allows the cut-throat riffs to these tracks to fully flourish, and elevates the crushing guitars and drums to God-tier levels of effectiveness. “The Grey Tide”’s groovy, sludgy mid-section riff is eventually supported by a haunted, static electronic that sits in the background and stalks the listener. It all comes into fruition when the song expands like a water balloon, with hastened tempos and an emphasis on the elusive electronic ambiences they’ve dabbled in, injecting more and more discomfort into the piece before finally exploding and simmering back down into grimy, gutter riffs. “Now It Ends” is another pragmatic example of using electronics constructively: its Hollywood gloss, Prometheus-styled bellowing horns and wayward scratching underlays bring a truly special feeling to the track, before opening the belly of the beast and unveiling vulnerably melancholic and ethereal guitar weeps at the base of the chaos. It’s an utter joy to hear how well the electronics are used here, and it brings a distinct stamp to this nightmarish peregrination.
In terms of instrumentation and presentation, the drums – which are always a highlight in this band anyway – continue to convey and support the utter disarray caused here. The squalling, fierce feedback loops the guitars emit are a signature style for Leeched at this point, but they carry over from the debut with even sterner intentions this time. The production is, once again, incredibly well executed and goes the whole way with the band to form the next step in their evolution. And the pièce de résistance is, of course, Laurie’s cavernous vocal work, which has a heightened concentration of anger and a gnarly chomp that’s heard far more severely throughout this record than on previous efforts, only standing to convince you of their advancements artistically. Of course, all of this is to be expected from a band that has their sound pinned down already. Essentially, if you outright didn’t like what the band was doing before, the chances are this won’t do much for you either. If, like me, you were all in with what Leeched were doing previously, then this still undoubtedly maintains its quality and just-so nudges past the debut to overthrow it. More importantly, for those that saw a potential last time but couldn’t get past a couple of caveats, this irons out most of the criticisms and just drives through the fence at 1,000 miles per hour without hitting the breaks once.
To sum up: the complete package is exercised with near flawless, pulverising execution. I’ll be honest with you – “Earth and Ash” didn’t have me believing To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse
could perform at this standard. I’ll even say I was a bit sceptical they could deliver an album that meets the quality of their debut, but they’ve somehow destroyed that notion. We are only in January, but this could be the album to rule them all by the end of the year. Any metal band releasing an album in 2020 should have a cause for concern; this Mancunian trio have blown the doors off the new decade and delivered an absolute blinder. Leeched take the previous blueprint and essentially perfect it. Where they can honestly go from here, I can’t tell you. But their fusion of extreme music genres is a refreshing experience, and one every metal fan should partake in.
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: N/A
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: Available to buy and stream 31/1/20. Pre-order the album here: https://www.leechedmhc.com/