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Horrorhammer - Abscess

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Genre: Pop / Artist: Abscess / Audio CD released 2007-03-26 at Peaceville

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      01.10.2007 18:56
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      Abscess' fifth album (2007).

      I expected some pretty good things from Abscess’ latest release, despite being unfamiliar with long-running death metal outfit. I was easily won over by its Beksinski-style cover of rotting buildings, rising dead and monstrous eyeballs walking around on spider legs, and intrigued over vocalist/drummer Chris Reifer’s long-standing presence in the Californian death metal scene right from its infernal spawning in the mid-eighties, providing the drums for Death’s classic debut ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ (the only instrument not handled by Chuck Schuldiner) and immediately forming his own band Autopsy, which eventually morphed into Abscess. Thirdly, I thought the album title was really ace.

      Abscess’ more recent trend (so I gather) has been a continuing progression towards a more punk- and grind-tinged form of death metal, resulting in brief albums full of short, sharp, repulsive shocks rather than striving for brutality. ‘Horrorhammer’ continues to mix harsh death metal vocals over relatively simplistic supporting guitars and drums, but the overall experience sounds somewhat mismatched and ineffective, lacking a fair amount of the energy and aggression to live up to the sickening demands of the lyrics. There isn’t much emphasis on crafting memorable compositions as much as a thirty-five minute hardcore-punk-death-metal buzz that weirdly seems to drag on even as it approaches its insubstantial finale.

      ‘Insubstantial’ is the main word on my mind, particularly in the shorter songs, some of which last less than two minutes with the majority coming in under three, as they speed by without making much of an impact and are instantly forgotten. Maybe I’m just more used to overlong, overcomplicated metal performances and I failed to grasp the punk mindset, but the majority of this album comes across as samey and repetitive mediocrity. Reifer’s vocals are the main focus but even these aren’t as powerful or gut-wrenching as those of other bands, too raspy to convey real aggression and too unintelligible to be catchy. His drums are similarly average, never overpowering the music with oppressive blast beats or double bass hammering, but opting instead to keep a fairly steady rhythm in the faster and slower sections alternating over the course of the album. Clint Bower and Danny Coralles provide the guitars which also suffer for being largely kept in the background, but occasionally throw out some enjoyable riffs that successfully balance between death metal and punk, and churning out some basic but irresistible squealy guitar solos at fairly random intervals in the true pink spirit. Joe Allen plays the bass. I think I noticed him about twice.

      1. Drink the Filth
      2. New Diseases
      3. Poison Messiah
      4. Another Private Hell
      5. Exterminate
      6. When Witches Burn
      7. Four Grey Walls
      8. Beneath a Blood Red Sun
      9. Horrorhammer
      10. Hellhole
      11. March of the Plague
      12. The Eternal Pyre

      There’s no real pattern to the best songs on here, as one or two notable examples will usually be found floating on top of the mediocrity and may be of varied length. Initially, it tends to be the longer songs that have more going for them, the four-minute ‘Poison Messiah’ impressing with its unexpected and competent slower pace and occasional guitar flair, but mainly enjoyable for providing a break from the fast and furious pace of its predecessors. As the album drags on, the longer songs become increasingly tiresome, drawn-out and dull, to the point that the penultimate ‘March of the Plague’ runs out of steam before the half-way point. ‘When Witches Burn’ relies on some similarly unexpected but highly derivative Black Sabbath-style guitars and adds some truly evil vocals to make for one of the better offerings, but this too is undermined by ‘Beneath a Blood Red Sun’ which essentially does exactly the same thing, only dull and lacking completely in energy.

      The majority of the album follows a similar course of fast, competent but uninspired guitars and drums providing a backing for Chris Reifer’s half-hearted yells, and due to the repetitive style between each song, these do work best when squashed between some of the slower or lengthier pieces. ‘Four Grey Walls’ stands out particularly well as a nice speedy song between the Sabbathesque tracks, and is perhaps the only instance where the death metal and punk influences truly meet each other in some kind of synthesis, extending to Reifer’s yells becoming less guttural and more audible for a change. The opening track ‘Drink the Filth’ performs its task adequately of introducing this style and spewing its pointlessly violent lyrics at the listener in a manner that it’s hard to resist shouting along with, whether you agree with the band’s rather unpopular stance or not, but the rest fail to stand out in the same way. ‘Horrorhammer’ itself is an enjoyable instrumental song that doesn’t descend into all-out masturbatory gratuity but restrains itself to replacing the vocals with more prominent guitars, featuring a nice subdued lead in the first half and a parade of fine riffs in the second. Despite having the opportunity to concentrate more fully on the percussion, Reifer sticks to a steady backing drum beat that’s a little disappointing.

      Death metal is an excitingly wide-reaching genre, and there are plenty of other, better, more compelling ways to enjoy half an hour of aggression than this rather feeble performance, watered down by a sleek production job. Abscess’ back catalogue almost certainly holds far greater albums of note, especially if reaching back through Autopsy and right back to ‘Scream Bloody Gore,’ and despite being sweary, having a cool cover and a funny title, this album doesn’t slice it.

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Drink The Filth
      2 New Diseases
      3 Poison Messiah
      4 Another Private Hell
      5 Exterminate
      6 When Witches Burn
      7 Four Grey Walls
      8 Beneath A Blood Red Sun
      9 Horrorhammer
      10 Hellhole
      11 March Of The Plague
      12 Eternal Pyre