Wednesday 1 May 2019

Eugenic Death - Under the Knife (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2019
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I'm always happy to find a new quality thrash band and I'm especially happy to find one through a work colleague featuring in its line-up. We live in an interesting world.

Eugenic Death, who hail from Greensboro, NC, have been around since 2010 and their debut, Crimes Against Humanity, came out back in 2012. However, they apparently lost a couple of band members and never managed to replace them, which meant that this follow-up, begun in 2014, took another five years to see the light of day. Guitarist Jonathan McCanless performed double duty on bass and Geoff La Penta guested on drums.

Their press release suggests that their influences are all American, listing Violence and Demolition Hammer in addition to the obligatory Slayer, Exodus and Testament. I can certainly hear Testament and Exodus here and plenty of Demolition Hammer too (talk about an underrated band), but they sound more like a more clinical Forbidden to me. The point is that they're old school, even with a clearly modern production.

They're very much on the technical end of thrash with the first couple of tracks led by some precision drumming from La Penta, betraying his roots in a technical death metal band, Cynonyte, and reminding me of the clean drums of Matthias Kassner on the new Exumer album, unlike what that band had back in the day. These are faster songs but the band spends quite a lot of this album at mid-pace.

The third track, The Devil's Tower, is one of those mid-pace songs and it's long too, running over six and a half minutes, a length with which Eugenic Death seem very comfortable. It builds very well indeed and highlights that the band really don't need to stay at a blistering speed to get their point across. As much as I cherish a neck breaker of a song, I'd suggest this is what the band do best and I hope they move towards longer tracks whenever a third album starts to get developed.

They speed up again for Aghori Sadhus but I feel the need to prepare you for this one. It's only a five minute track, a good one but an oddly routine one for a track whose intro is almost as long and which gets its own number on the album. That intro is Hara Shiva and it combines the Indian female voice of Lavanya Narayanan with mridangam playing from Ajay Ravichandran which had me looking up just what a mridangam is (it's a double ended drum played with two hands). If I'm hearing correctly, only Jonathan McCanless joins them on this track.

Clearly the whole point is to have these ethnic Indian sounds put us in the right mood for Aghori Sadhus, which explores the wild and wacky world of a particular group of Hindu ascetics who seem to be obsessed by death, living in charnel grounds, smearing the ashes of cremated bodies on their own and drinking from human skulls, not to forget sitting on corpses to meditate to the new moon. I can't think of better subject matter for a death metal band and I have to wonder if the vocals of Keith Davis moved subconsciously more into growling territory because of that.

He does a capable job here, providing clean and intelligible vocals with a rasp that hints towards death growls but never quite gets there, even on a song like Aghori Sadhus about death. My problem with his voice, while it fits the need at hand with the appropriate confidence and strength, is that it isn't particularly remarkable and so fails to stand out from a growing crowd of modern day thrash singers. It's fair to say that I found myself a lot more focused on the interplay between McCanless's guitar and La Penta's drums, the bass being almost lost in the texture.

Arguably, the album does the same job as Davis. It's worthy and enjoyable but fails to stand out from the crowd. It ends well, with a fast paced title track slowing down to nothing like a vinyl record whose power has been cut, but that serves to highlight with irony that the track most worthy of conversation is Hara Shiva, the one on which the band don't appear. The best, of course, is The Devil's Tower.

I like that Eugenic Death are unashamedly old school and good at it, but I hope that when they hit the studio again for a third album, they aim to add a little more of their own identity.

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