Somewhere along the way, it feels like death metal took a wrong turn. As the genre slowly stripped away elements of thrash, it became a very different beast from what it once was. Of course, this is part of what makes it unique, but it feels like there aren’t many modern bands that still carry this old-school spirit. For this reason, Gruesome is the most intriguing death metal band around at the moment. Their focus is on worshipping Death’s earlier work, and in particular, “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy”. Given how instrumental Death was to death metal, it’s amazing that there haven’t been more bands that are just blatant worship. Maybe it’s because nobody could imitate Chuck Schuldiner’s disgusting vocals, or because his riffs were difficult to recreate, but Gruesome is truly the first of their kind to sound this authentic. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was the direct successor to “Leprosy”.
Every element of “Savage Land” is directly traceable to the early Death records. Whether it is those classic tremolo-picked patterns, the eerie mid-paced melodic riffs, or even Matt Harvey’s uncanny ability to sound like Schuldiner, this album is the ultimate tribute to Death. What makes Gruesome worthwhile though, is the fact that this is some of the highest quality death metal the world has seen in recent times. Of course, nobody will ever top Death, but Gruesome puts in an unbelievable effort. At times, they might get a bit too close to the originals for their own good (the intro to “Trapped In Hell” was definitely influenced by “Zombie Ritual”, and one of the early riffs in “Gruesome” has a clear counterpart on the “Leprosy” record). On the other hand, there were really only two Death albums that sounded like this, so more are always welcome.
As mentioned above, Harvey is a dead-ringer for Schuldiner, but what is equally amazing is the fact that he has nailed the vocal patterns. Every single word spewed forth was carefully crafted based on the way Chuck would deliver lyrics. Even the lyrics are absurdly catchy: “pleasure turns to be pain; you will not return again”. It really brings back sections like “rotting while they breathe, death comes slow” that are insanely fun to growl along to. As you might imagine, "Savage Land" is littered with sections like this.
If there’s one area where Gruesome didn’t nail Death’s sound 100%, it would be the guitar solos. This is me being excessively picky though, because they came close. For one thing, the Rick Rozz worship is in full effect with excessive tremolo bar abuse happening on many tracks (see the second solo in “Savage Land” for a great example). The more contentious issue is emulating Chuck’s solos. Sometimes, the sound is spot on, particularly as Gruesome often goes into slower sections that allow the solos plenty of space to breathe (not unlike Death would do). There are some solos, however, where it sounds like they couldn’t quite get Chuck’s style spot on. Again, this is beyond an excessive nitpick, and really won’t effect anyone’s enjoyment of the album.
Though this album is largely focused on the first two Death albums, it does bring in elements from “Spiritual Healing”. “Demonized”, for example, features a lick that sounds like it involves some tapping, as does the band's title track (not unlike “Spiritual Healing” itself). More importantly, however, Gruesome’s drummer has channeled the spirit of Bill Andrews. This may be a disappointment to some, as Andrews often takes a lot of heat for his performances on “Leprosy” and “Spiritual Healing”, but his drum tone on the latter is the heaviest sound in existence. The criticism against him comes more because he wasn’t as busy with his fills as later Death drummers would be, but that sound just wouldn’t work for the records he played on. For this reason, the drumming on “Savage Land” is perfect, as it emulates that tight, brutal, yet more simplistic style of drumming. There are still a lot of fills, but they don’t exist simply to be complex. Instead, they complement either the weird riffs or the speedy sections. The only slight exception of this is the opening to “Gangrene”, which feels like a tribute to “Flattening of Emotions” with the way the drums roll in.
It’s hard to really criticize anything about “Savage Land”. Though the album lacks originality, that is the entire point of it. There simply aren’t any bands around that have studied and replicated Death’s music to this level of authenticity. Whether or not this is a one-off release to celebrate Death’s early career, it has joined the ranks of my favourite old-school death metal records (even if it came 25 years later) and will be in regular rotation right alongside “Leprosy”. This album isn’t just the death metal record of the year, it’s the death metal record of the decade.
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"Trapped In Hell"
4.75/5 or 95%.
Written by Scott