Monday, June 3, 2013

Chapel of Disease - Summoning Black Gods

Chapel of Disease is an old-school death metal band from Germany who released their first full length album last year called "Summoning Black Gods". Perhaps it is only coincidence that "Summoning Black Gods" is "SBG" in acronym form, but considering the thrash influences in this piece of death metal, it is entirely possible the name itself is a reference to Death's "Scream Bloody Gore"; THE "SBG" in death metal. I was recommended this album by a friend who swore it was better than Horrendous' "The Chills", and while I'm going to disagree personally, I do think that Chapel of Disease's "SBG" achieves a similar level of excellence categorically speaking.

SBG takes a lot of what made early death metal so appealing to the thrash fans of that era and executes those elements really well to form an album that can be described as early Florida-ish death metal; before death metal had really separated itself from thrash. I hope you like Pestilence and Martin Van Drunen, because the vocals here are done in the great tradition of Van Drunen with very little variance, but achieving plenty of effect, particularly if you like that vocal style - high pitched but extremely throaty and just unclean sounding with weird inflections. The guy's voice sounds like phlegm covered in AIDS splattering against a greasy wall... With lots of reverb. Personally I'm quite a fan of this kind of vocalist, although I will say he doesn't have the moments that Van Drunen had in some of the early Pestilence material or on Asphyx's "The Rack", so in terms of songwriting I think he could have been utilized better.

The guitars more or less dominate this album, as they should in a death-thrash metal hybrid. The tone is very raw and really does not sound dissimilar from the kind of guitar tone bands like Asphyx and Atheist had on their debut albums. The distortion is clearly cranked all the way up and it sounds like you are in the band's rehearsal space for better or worse. I do think the raw style mostly helps, because it emphasizes the best part about this album: It's absolutely full of energy and enthusiasm. SBG is constantly changing tempos and making very primitive and unsubtle transitions between really fast thrash riffs, but what makes it fun to listen to is the way it's simultaneously comprehensible (in a way that say, the Slaughterlord demos were not) and genuine-sounding. An exclusively forward thinking critic might suggest there's no use in playing this kind of barbaric thrash-based protodeath that lacks so much songwriting maturity, but they're clearly missing the whole point of the genre. Much of what enthusiasts find so compelling about the older albums of underground metal's past was precisely the lack of caution or even skill in songwriting that is so prevalent here.

The drums and bass are both unspectacular on SBG, but this is likely to the advantage of the album anyway. Metal, really all metal outside of the avant-garde and progressive regions, is centered on guitars. Once you get past how awesome a double-kick beat sounds, you begin to realize that it's really all about the guitars. Excessive variation and intrusive virtuosity on the part of either the bass player or the drummer confuses casual listeners who are looking for hooks built on top of the familiar and basic rhythms they've internalized since childhood. SBG knows its boundaries and stays well within them. We have already established it is not the most groundbreaking of albums, but the discipline and subtlety of the rhythm section make a lot of the songs very catchy and listenable underneath the guitars that are many degrees more unpredictable and impulsive. In this sense, the basic style of SBG's drums and bass really grounds the album and this is what allows it to be so fun to listen to.

If there is one thing that I personally dislike about SBG, it would certainly be the pentatonic styling of the guitar solos. It's definitely old school to really on pentatonic patterns for metal solos, but it almost sounds like they are trying too hard to sound like a retro band when they do this, in the same way it often sounds like Warbringer try too hard to sound like a retro band. They use this pentatonic framework for most of the lead guitar work at the precious cost of something more unique and certainly something that could sound darker. I find most of the lead guitar work on SBG regrettably cheesy.

For all the praise I've lavished on SBG, we can't ignore the fact that very little of what is here is actually original musically speaking. Despite originality not being the intent of the album, there were a few instances where I thought I heard part of an older song or a riff from an older band that was sort of plucked out of the past and woven into this album in its charmingly haphazard way. The album's greatest achievement is that yes it has that innocent, energetic and ultimately amateur style of death-thrash songwriting that has long since been smoothed over and washed away by the innumerable waves of ever more refined metal released since, but it also pulls this style off in a way that is extremely listenable and comprehensible compared to the albums it seeks to emulate.

Grade: B+

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