Friday 17 December 2021

Mothflesh - Machine Eater (2021)

Country: Malaysia
Style: Groove Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Dec 2021
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While I didn't love it, I certainly liked Nocturnal Armour, Mothflesh's debut album, and a lot of my reasoning why was the sheer variety of it. Their core sound was a cross between groove metal and melodic death, with different songs starting in one of those genres and moving to the other. After hearing this follow-up, I went back to it to refresh my memory because this is very different. That debut is as I remember it, that groove and melodeath mix deepened by industrial and electronic angles. This follow-up ditches much of that variety and aims for a much truer groove metal sound.

That's certainly what they deliver on the opener, Dogmacore, with the rhythm section amped up a great deal so that we hear the drums first and foremost and the bass next after them, for a heavy and in your face sound that initially seems to be much of the point. They do it very well but it's just not my style of choice and, when Hexburn Ω started out exactly the same way as Dogmacore, I had to wonder if I'd just drift away from the album and not even review it.

Fortunately, Hexburn Ω gets a lot more interesting as it builds. Sure, it starts so consistently with its predecessor that it could even be a continuation of the same song, but there are points where it drops to solo bass that are pretty cool and the chorus adds vocal layering that's fascinating. It's just as heavy as Dogmacore and in exactly the same ways, but there's stuff in this one to grab me, that's for sure. I really dig that chorus. What other surprises are Mothflesh going to throw at me?

Well, not too many surprises, but they remain very technical for groove metal, a genre that tends to be more interested in being tight, angry and aggressive. That's the melodic death focus that's not entirely gone from the debut, even if the feel now is pure groove. There's an all too brief section partway into Reconstructing Fire that sounds wild and Ranveer Singh's guitars get interesting often. The back end of Mothflesh may remain incredibly consistent, but he simply isn't willing to just do the same thing on every track, for which I'm thankful.

The biggest surprise the rest of the album brought me was the presence of a clean voice, because that shows up on a few tracks to duet with the harsh lead. That harsh voice is the closest Machine Eater gets to the melodic death that was so prominent on the debut, and it's a good one, able to match the sheer aggression of the music but retaining flexibility enough to intonate. I like it most when the clean voice joins it on The Lotus Denial to duet, because the music gains some depth. It's even less of a layer on Myriagon, where it's a clear and frequent duet, and it shows up on Cyberpsycho too.

Quite frankly, from wondering whether I'd even finish the album, I ended up rather enthused with it. I can't recall another groove metal band that get this technical. I'm a fan of aggression, being an old thrasher, but, when aggression happens without contrast to give it perspective, it becomes boring to me. I still don't like Dogmacore, but this album isn't boring, however relentless it wants its aggression to be. Rather than adding contrast through dynamics, like the acoustic intros on a lot of thrash songs, Mothflesh do it by getting really technical and Singh and Eze Mavani have the chops to back that up. They're tighter here than last time and they're more technical. That added clean voice is a godsend too, especially on Myriagon.

And, just like that, I not only finished the album but happily listened to it half a dozen times to fully figure out what they're doing, and, even though I miss the variety of the debut, I have to give this higher marks. It's a better album by a better band. The real question in my mind is where Mothflesh are going next. Will this album be seen in hindsight as a step in between the groove/melodic death hybrid style of the debut and the purest groove that they'll end up in? Or is this the sound they're looking at long term, because, if it is, I'm intrigued as to what influence it could have. This could be one of those unexpected albums mostly ignored initially, not least because Mothflesh are from Malaysia, hardly the groove metal capital of the world, but gaining importance later as it ends up spawning a genre of its own. Is this one of those albums? Only time will tell.

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