Insult (Hell’s Headbangers)
by Phil Freeman
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What do you think an album by a band called Grave Desecrator, from Brazil, is gonna sound like? That’s right. This is the second full-length album from these knuckle-draggers, and like most of the product on Hell’s Headbangers, it’s gritty, primitive, ugly stuff: the relentless blast beats and minimalist riffing of black metal, the guttural (but still somewhat comprehensible) vocals of early ’90s death metal, and a punky insistence on keeping the songs somewhat catchy, or at least memorable. That’s not all they do, though; “Hellhound Breed,” which weirdly doesn’t kick the album off (it’s track #3), is 90 seconds of synth and sound effects, and sounds cribbed from the soundtrack to some straight-to-video ’80s horror movie. And the next-to-last track, “The Satanic Coven,” which kicks off with thunder-and-lightning sounds, is an instrumental.
I think one of my favorite things about Grave Desecrator—besides their music, which we’ll get back to in a second—is that while three of their members have taken the plunge into pseudonymity (Butcherazor on vocals and guitar, Black Sin and Damnation on lead guitar, and Vallakk the Necrogoat on bass), drummer Marcio Cativeiro insists on being identified by his real name. Good for him. I wonder which one he is?
Anyway, death metal takes many forms. There are the forefathers of the genre—Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Incantation, Immolation, Suffocation…all still at it, all still doing quality work (wait ’till you hear the new Deicide, it’s terrific). There are the Swedes (Entombed, Unleashed, Grave, a few dozen others), with their punky, loose groove. There’s the ultra-clean, technical stuff, which ranges from the semi-jazzy (Obscura, Necrophagist) to the crunching and posthuman (Neuraxis) to the shredtastic (Brain Drill). There’s the brutal, ultra-downtuned stuff, a million bands with names like Splattered Entrails (yes, they’re a real band, with several releases). Then there are the retro-primitivists, like Grave Desecrator. This album was recorded in 2010, but sounds like a demo tape from 1988, both in terms of sound—the production and mix are all about crude, hammering power—and style.
They’ve got a couple of moves, but none of them are new. There are really no dynamics—a moment or two when the guitar is riffing with no drums behind it, like Barney Rubble running in place before taking off to wherever—so the best parts of Insult are when the band slows down or speeds up. “Serpent Seedline” has a particularly great example at about the two-minute mark; the song goes from blinding speed to a half-time, martial riff, with a thundering drum break as the bridge. It’s a move that goes all the way back to Slayer‘s Reign in Blood, and probably way before that, but it still works. That’s not all they steal from Slayer, by the way; the guitar solos frequently have the same atonal, wildly squealing quality Kerry King‘s made (in)famous. The ultra-fast riff at the end of “Poisoned Purity,” meanwhile, reminds me of something the tragically obscure late ’80s Texas band Rigor Mortis might play. That’s a good thing.
This isn’t the kind of album you can play for someone you’re hoping to convert to metal. It’s not that the songs are bad—they’re good. But they’re not conventionally catchy in the way that even Slayer songs (“Dead Skin Mask” most prominently) occasionally have choruses you can sing along to. They’re just head-down bashing, and buzzsaw riffing, and some dude grunting and roaring about violence and Satan. But it’s exactly the kind of album you can imagine your headbanger friend who works construction listening to on the job site. Loud, fast, angry and better for getting you through a tough day than a case of energy drinks. (Except for the last 90 seconds or so, which is a weird piece scored for piano, operatic female vocals, and pig noises. Creepy, but ultimately more of a distraction than a bonus.)