Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sordid Flesh - Torturer

Sordid Flesh is the kind of unusual death metal band that completely skirts most of the downsides of having that familiar morbid-yet-playfully-campy atmosphere. Have you ever noticed how b horror movies are frequently hampered by their own sense of self-awareness? Death metal often suffers from a similar problem, an obsession with form that seems to be more important than concerns about things like songwriting or quality. However, on “Torturer” we hear metal that maintains a sense of black humor while still retaining an impression that the band’s paramount concern is making good music. This kind of balance makes the morbid album lighthearted without coming off as frivolous. Sordid Flesh makes their emphasis on songwriting clear even with the very first notes of the first track “The Thelema Way” with a rich and wide intro that deftly combines a light melody over warm bass notes.

Clearly a band’s lyrics are the easiest place to get a feel for their sense of humor, and here the vocals singing those lyrics have a bit of extra theatricality to them. The rather narrow ranged vocals are also a bit mouthy sounding, in that the vocalist probably has the microphone someone around the area of his premolars, causing some vocal popping in the talk-growls. While in need of more variation, these vocals are more articulate than the usual death metal fare. The very dry and unprocessed style allows the listener to comprehend lyrics like “that’s why I stab you and make you into my whore. My rotting whore.” The band uses lyrics like these to create and emphasize themes and moods that some death metal bands treat as automatically arising whenever guttural vocals and distorted guitars are used. Again, think of fun campy b horror movies - these lyrics may be dumb, but the band pulls them off and incorporates them into songs that deserve to be taken seriously.

Sordid Flesh’s sense of humor runs deeper even than the obligatory irreverent necrophilia and infanticide references, it permeates all the way into the album’s riffs. The band naturally incorporates scattered guitar bends, wide vibrato, and slides in such a way that acts a reminder of the excesses of rock and metal solos without ever feeling like that is all they are doing. These elements primarily serve a songwriting purpose and the “a-ha” moments they invoke are always secondary to the overall pacing and mood. You can hear early Venom’s attitude in some of these crunchy and slightly messy touches, the band certainly channels that vibe even while Sordid Flesh maintains its death metal ethos.

Energy is in abundance here, and the band knows when to shift riffs along the fretboard, throw in a solo, or change the drumming in order to maintain that energy. Take for example how the band sustains energy and suspense in “Rites At The Cemetery” where the band takes what could be a throw away piano intro and gives it meaning by mirroring its melody and harmony in a heart-pounding opener to the track. Even fantastically wild solos serve a purpose as an outburst rather than self indulgence. The leads in general are more focused on power than melody, so they work well just by being fast and high pitched.

A weak point with this release is how the vocals could use more variation in their timbre and delivery to match the band’s overall intensity. Belting out eighth notes doesn’t quite cut it for a dynamic and fast tempo band like Sordid Flesh. Even the sustained howling in “Mark of the Fallen” and the brief moment of nasal Atilla-esque vocals in “Grave Bitch” are refreshing touches that if used more often would have made the album more interesting. On the macro scale, the band has a really killer tone and plenty of great riffs, but this doesn’t always carry over to the songs as a whole and that sometimes makes their parts interchangeable. As such, some songs are catchy and memorable while others are good but forgettable. Also, while note really a complaint, it is noticeable that the final two songs have a different, rawer, mix from the rest of the album. It’s not better or worse either, just something neutrally apparent. In the future, if the band can make all of their songs as good as ones like “The Thelema Way” and  “Rites At The Cemetery” then they easily ascend from good to great, an A-class movie with a b horror vibe. 

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