Review Summary: Shreds.
I’ll spare you the usual diatribe on the current state of tech-death, all while insisting that the object of my adoration is in some way different. The fact is despite the wankers who make up the doldrums of the genre, there is now an armada of wildly creative tech-death bands, whose musical chops belie their ample songwriting skills despite everything we’re told to the contrary. In any exchange about bands embodying this trait, Beneath The Massacre were never among those first mentioned; but Fearmonger
, their latest full-length, feels like a coming-of-age. It’s simultaneously their most extreme album, while also their most coherent by a mile. Seldom have I heard an album this rapid-fire – squeezing a journeyman’s catalogue worth of notes into twenty-nine minutes – yet have each track distinguish itself from the last in the very first sitting. That isn’t just impressive, that’s a feat of songwriting from the least likely of origins.
Time is of the essence and Beneath The Massacre waste little of it. Opener “Rise of The Fearmonger” inundates you with heavily syncopated grooves, 16th note tremolo picking, string skips, arpeggios and two-handed tapping aplenty, executed at a pace and with such dexterity as to leave eyes widened and jaws slackened. A qualm can be had with the synthetic timbres of the drums, but given the band’s history, there are firm reassurances that what you’re hearing can be done live. What strikes me the most is the fluidity of everything: would-be-ostentatious techniques have been woven into the fabric of the songs, as opposed to the more segmented chugga-dweedle-chug of the band’s earlier work. This presents them with quite a challenge, in that songs can paradoxically sound the same when every couple of bars are so radically different from the last. Beneath The Massacre are conscious of this, punctuating even their most haywire tracks like “Hidden in Plain Sight” with short, sharp phrases that appear at all the right times – an approach echoed even in the sequencing the tracks themselves.
“Autonomous Mind” is the centrepiece in a medley of more staccato songs – something of a reprieve from what surrounds them, ridiculous as that may sound. Here, Beneath The Massacre bring some welcomed aesthetic diversity, turning down the wick in favour of eerie, stop-start leads with an endearing, sci-fi cadence to them. Upon closing out with some “How Soon Is Now?”-like pedal(?) trickery, the song alludes to prior tracks with glimpses of the same effect, while also priming you for album’s remainder. It’s a curve-ball that feels thematically appropriate, with the alien, ear-worm leads taking on other forms in “Bottom Feeders”. It shows how context can alter the perception of a motif, casting an otherwise glitzy lead as a menacing portent of things to come. As Fearmonger
ends just as it began – wreaking bedlam in which time signatures can be even a keen listener’s best guess – I’m neither exhausted, nor bewildered; I’m simply intrigued as to how this album subverted my expectations to the degree it did. One listen directly preceded another, then another and so on, allaying any concerns I had about fatigue, but more importantly, shedding light on Beneath The Massacre’s attention to detail.
Dismissing an album like Fearmonger
as “mindless” based on presentation alone smacks of shortsightedness. These bold technical forays that make living fossils grimace are driven by the same mentality that gave us albums like The Sound of Perseverance
: a desire to cast aside stylistic restraints, upping the ante within a genre both lauded and loathed for its intensity. I’m not going to pretend that Fearmonger
will have such an impact, but it’s admirable that Beneath The Massacre are still pushing the bounds of what they’re capable of, given how high the bar has been raised thanks in no small part to themselves. To attempt at lifting it any further warrants at least a modicum of respect, but to go about it with such clarity of vision is borderline Herculean.