March 23, 2011
by Phil Freeman
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It’s somewhat astonishing how much room for individuality exists within grindcore, a genre seemingly designed to encourage anonymity. Songs are extremely fast and extremely short, and yet bands that do grind well are almost as instantly recognizable as those working in more mainstream rock and metal genres. Rotten Sound are a Finnish grind act who’ve been around for quite a while, having formed in 1993 and released their first full-length, Under Pressure, in 1997. Cursed is the band’s sixth album, and they’ve put out nearly a dozen EPs and split releases in that time, too. Their version of grind owes a lot to the D-beat punk of Discharge, Disgust, Disrupt and other similar head-down, politically minded punk rock acts (even ones whose names don’t begin with “Dis-”). Their songs are slightly longer than other grind acts’, frequently passing the one-minute mark and even heading towards three (as demonstrated on “Hollow,” “Declare,” “Terrified” and “Doomed” here). The shortest track on Cursed is the 50-second “Green.” As is probably evident by now, each song on Cursed has a one-word title, and when taken together they add up to a worldview obsessed with fear and control (in the Burroughsian and Orwellian senses). Rotten Sound are yelling in the hopes that someone listening will look down and notice the shackles worn by all of humanity.
Cursed has a thick, distorted sound reminiscent of early ’90s Swedish death metal. If these songs were slower and played with a slightly looser, more rock ‘n’ roll groove, they could easily have been written by Entombed or Grave. The guitar and bass blend into a sludgy grayish-brown wall, like a flooded river sweeping through a town, and the drums are relentless and punitive. Lead vocalist Keijo Niinimaa (also the only constant member) has a hoarse, desperate scream that starts low but frequently goes higher, conveying panic more than rage. From a dramatic standpoint, it’s a terrific choice, conveying fear and agitation more than the chest-thumping rage many extreme metal vocalists (not just in grindcore, but in death metal as well) traffic in. Old-school death metal vocalists, like Obituary‘s John Tardy and Death‘s Chuck Schuldiner, frequently had the same edge of terror in their voices, and it was far more unsettling than the guttural, faux-Satanic growling and barking that’s been the genre’s voice of choice for decades at this point. The hints of melody give some (not all) songs an individual identity, and tempo changes help too. By the time this 27-minute album crashes to a halt, it’s made a solid impression, whether one is a longtime fan of Rotten Sound or a brand-new listener.
The band has released a video for “Hollow” that’s repulsive and unsettling in several different ways: here, see for yourself.