Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Antropofago - Beyond Phobia

Spiders know when they have something in their webs because each thread is connected and movement in one part can be felt throughout. Antropofago makes for a poor spider because none of their riffs are connected and when they briefly catch an idea, nothing can be felt before it flies away. This is a symptom of two common problems with boring mediocre bands, the inability to have exciting riffs, and more importantly the inability to string riffs together. With “Beyond Phobia” Antropofago suffers from these particular weaknesses so severely that it isn’t fair to call the album mediocre - this is roundly subpar death metal. “Beyond Phobia” is a notch below releases that manage just well enough to not actively offend. Typically it is helpful to point to examples of a band’s wrongdoings - nearly any point in the album serves that purpose. While the band occasionally strings some ideas together in this forgettable album, “Beyond Phobia” is still better thought of as a collection of riffs because they never fuse together. Even in the middle of the dazzlingly fast leads there is frequently a strong sense of interruption in the melody. At times it feels like each riff is sabotaging the one before it by introducing different notes and rhythms. On the best song, we have the suspenseful and deceptively interesting intro with its gargantuan bass drum, single vocal croak, and richly swelling guitars. The thin digital music that follows couldn’t be more different.

Unfortunately, thin and digital are adjectives that apply broadly to each instrument, everything could benefit from a more organic and thicker sound. The style isn’t nearly techy enough to justify the tone regardless of whether such a justification is even possible. The bass, while fairly independent, suffers from the additional problems of being too reedy and needing more distortion. You can hear this with particular clarity on “My darkest hour” where the bass’s lackluster downsides are boringly apparent. Drums too are mechanical and far from husky, the toms even have a thicker impact than the kick. While the whole of the album is thin and artificial, the vocals are especially irritating in this respect. Most of the power behind them sounds like it is coming from studio distortion and compression rather than actual volume. The near-spoken and throaty approach would be fine, but it feels like the vocalist is using compression to masquerade as someone with a more distorted style. Also, there is a silly vocal aberration in “Nightfall thoughts,” which is either a sample or band created - a Dracula voice imitation. You can hear the voice struggling to sound low and menacing with the obligatory clean guitar line coming in for an amusement park styled spooky effect.

Moving onto specifics, “Diabolous ex machina” is a fantastically irritating song worth discussing on its own for a bit. Here the band engages in the rare exercise of having several seconds of music that fit together. This is accomplished through an almost poppy chorus, replete with rhyming where we repeatedly hear the insipid song title. The band took the phrase “deus ex machina” and replaced god with the devil. Throughout the song we also hear industrial vocals and noises that transparently act as a literal representation of the “machina” part of the phrase. Stupidity raises to a feverish level at around 2:00 minutes in, when the band cycles through what sounds like a sample pack of public domain sound effects that give way to a robot-voice reading a meme we heard ad nauseum earlier in the album. Hell, next time why not throw in a klaxon and Wilhelm scream too? The band then goes on to repeat this chorus, and due to how awful it is this also creates a sense of song structure, even though the song is garbage. Elsewhere, the riffs are so disconnected and forgettable it doesn’t matter how the songs are put together structurally. However, the rest of the album never dips down into awful territory like this song and generally hovers around subpar.

Aside from really hating one of the songs and having serious reservations about the digital thinness, the overall feel is forgettable and inter-spliced with moments of noticeably bad songwriting. “Beyond Phobia” can grab your attention from being background noise only through the band’s musical missteps. Take for example the first few moments of “Burnt alive,” where the riffs are independently forgettable but stick out because of how abrupt they are together. Moving forward to about two minutes in you can hear a second rare example how the band sounds when they write riffs that serve some kind of melodic purpose. Death metal doesn’t need to have riffs that provide a strong sense of melodic resolution, but when bands go for that approach they usually provide direction by varying intensity to create that “brutal” effect. Antropofago isn’t intense enough to achieve this because the band can’t manage to balance musical ideas. The poppier chorus in “Diabolous ex machina”and the slow final track are some of the most musically coherent and least intense moments on the album. Conversely, the comparatively techy and fast portions that make up the bulk of the album are lacking a sense of melodic flow. 

Antropofago needs to focus more on their overall mood and stop jumping around from riff to unrelated riff. Repetition can be fine if you have a good idea or even a mediocre one. Brief moments like the fast part midway through “Arachno” are the kinds of groves the band should settle on and accent with their more disjointed lines rather than having their songs focus on non-sequitur changes. The start of “My darkest hour” is another example of the band settling down on a riff, and Antropofago needs to do this more often and frankly with better riffs at that. If these songwriting issues were addressed the tonal problems would become less of an issue. Fast and technical music can focus attention away from timbre, but it would still be nice if “Beyond Phobia” had a richer palate of tones. This album’s problems, while not terrible, make it one to skip over, even for die hard death metal fans.

No comments: