John Frum – A Stirring in the Noos (Relapse Records, 12 May 2017)
Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With (Relapse Records, 23 June 2017)
Hey boys and girls. To start off the week right, I’m going to call your attention to a couple of recent Relapse releases. Presumably Dying Fetus (whose new album we previewed a little while back) will already be familiar to everyone reading this, but I’ll just take a moment to introduce John Frum.
Named for the messianic figure of a particular religious sect from the south Pacific nation of Vanuatu, John Frum combines guitarist Matt Hollenberg of Cleric (who has also played with John Zorn), bassist Liam Wilson of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Derek Rydquist from Bereft, (who was also with The Faceless for their first couple albums) on vocals, and Eli Litwin (the mastermind behind one-man band Intensus) on drums.
These two bands may have strikingly different takes on death metal, but both albums are definitely worth taking the time to check out!
Though A Stirring in the Noos is their first recorded output, John Frum have actually been around since about 2011. Taking the time to allow the members’ various influences and backgrounds to gel together seems to have had a beneficial effect on the finished product, an interesting and unique mixture of flavors and textures of sound.
The whole record has an ominous tone, frequently exhibiting sudden violent bursts of venomous speed in each of the instruments (though not always at the same time: various rhythms and tempos often are set against each other in contrasting and complementary ways). Some songs may have some moments of relative calm, like the intro to “Memory Palace” with its smooth bass tone and clean guitar, but then the full band jumps in, pounding you in the face with a crawlingly slow unison riff. The instrumental “He Come” similarly shifts back and forth between threateningly syncopated rhythmic hits and more of a meandering blend of riffs.
Most of the vocals here are deep growls, although there are a few extra parts combined together sometimes — one voice in particular, more of a harsh blackened sneer, pops into the foreground on occasion as well. The best way to describe the album would be some sort of avant-death, full of odd rhythmic quirks and abrupt tempo changes — like in “Assumption of Form” which dives straight into fast-paced grinding brutality, but later gets way slower and heavier, and undergoes several different transformations just like the title implies. That song, like the rest of the album, may be sort of a workout to listen to, but surely even more so to perform: at one point there’s ever audible gasps of breath between the vocal lines…
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For those who’ve been a fan of Dying Fetus at any point since their inception way back in 1991, you already know what to expect from the band, and this new album will not disappoint you. But for the uninitiated: first of all, don’t let the band name throw you off — unlike countless others who use intentionally provocative or offensive names, there are no over-processed synthetic vocal noises or computer-generated drum sounds; neither will you find cartoonishly gory imagery or controversial subject matter with no purpose other than for shock value and to elicit negative reactions, favoring style over substance and putting on a façade every bit as artificial as the music itself.
No, what you get is blisteringly fast and complex songs, heavy and brutal and accentuated with slowdowns, slams left and right, and mini-breakdowns (as well as full-on breakdowns) — but in the original sense of the term, not the modern facsimile that’s been corrupted by legions of whiny toddlers trying to act hardcore and tough. You also get dual vocals provided by guitarist and founding member John Gallagher along with longtime bassist (since 2001) Sean Beasley, both of them providing harsh growls, though one is just a bit deeper and gruffer and more gutteral; occasionally there may be more of a roar, like the one that begins “Seething with Disdain” or the from-the-pit-of-hell howling that ends that same song, but in all cases the vocals are very intense — especially hard-hitting when they get into the “chorus” (well, the part that includes the song/album title) of the final track.
Not to mention, guitars that seem to be played at almost inhuman speeds; occasionally there may be a slight change of pace, like the “squeedly” part during the breakdown that concludes “Reveling in the Abyss,” the Kerry King-sounding solo during “Weaken the Structure,” or a particular run near the middle of “Unmitigated Detestation” that has a neoclassical flair to it, but generally speaking the riffs relentlessly fly across fretboards. Also relentless is the drumming, every bit as impressive as it has been spanning the band’s whole career — even though it seems like there’s been a bit of a revolving door at the position, current stick-wielder Trey Williams has now been in the band for about ten years, the longest tenure of any Dying Fetus drummer to date, as far as I’m aware — consistently fast throughout but with periodic extra bursts of energy, each of these instrumentalists displays an amazing amount of endurance on each album.
On top of all of that, the message behind the music has always seemed more substantial — more intelligent — than your hack-and-slash, garden variety brutal death metal. Although the vocal style admittedly makes most of the lyrics a bit difficult to decipher, this band has often used their music to express socially conscious commentary, railing aggressively against systemic or personal injustices. Lyrically, this new album touches on themes of retribution on a personal level, but also on a more global scale — suggesting that the evils inherent in our society may be ushering in an apocalyptic end, and that, all things considered, it might be for the best.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: this is Dying Fetus, so of course it’s probably safe to assume any of this stuff is NSFW. But the short film that was made to accompany the song “Die with Integrity” is so graphic and explicit that the publicist we dealt with for this particular release had to include a disclaimer in HUGE red letters at the beginning and end of their email, distancing themselves from the content herein. So consider yourself warned.]
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