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Great Britain has a rich history in doom metal with institutions as Cathedral, Esoteric, My Dying Bride and genre archforefathers Black Sabbath. The latest British export to make a name for itself is London-based unit Desolate Pathway. Desolate Pathway is formulated by scene veteran Vince Hempstead of long-suffering doom unit Pagan Altar. Before releasing its debut independently Desolate Pathway released the digital single ‘Purgatory’ to test the waters. “Valley Of the King”, a record fueled by an elaborate fantasy narrative concept, crystallizes the essence of the doom genre, and infuses it with a dash of potent traditional metal riffing for good measure.

On the whole the band’s primary influences seem to be Cathedral (“The Forest Of Equilibrium”) and Solitude Aeternus. Rudimentary riffing and chord progressions are abound but they are bolstered by emotive lead playing and a tight-knit rhythm section that provides the band with its heaviness and low end. Said soloing is reminiscent of John Perez in feel and delivery. On the other hand is Mags’ drumming similar to that of original My Dying Bride skinsman Rick Miah. There are a few studio effects and atmospherics that introduce a few tracks, but generally “Valley Of the King” is fairly basic in design. It’s a fitting design choice considering the sparse nature of the music. Desolate Pathway is far more concerned with delivering strong, emotionally resonating music than it is with dressing up said music in all sorts of distracting ornamental bells and whistles. The forté of the record lies in the purity of approach to its genre of choice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DoPbD-LGBw

10623428_293320860865278_5661289987537225344_oLed by seasoned veteran Vince Hempstead the quartet stays as away as they possibly can from the popular and populist 1970s inspired occult rock movement in the genre. In fact Desolate Pathway seems to cater to a very specific audience within the doom metal genre as they are neither a throwback band in the traditional sense of the word, and neither do they have the sort of downtrodden romanticism and highly stylized introspective eroticism that made the British scene popular the world over during the 90s with bands such as Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. Despite the stripped down nature of its music and genre Desolate Pathway manage to infuse “Valley Of the King” with that kind of British theatricality shared with the likes of Bal-Sagoth and the more light-natured and joke-prone Jaldaboath. This in no small part due to the dramatic vocal performance of frontman Simon Stanton.

‘Desolate Pathway’ kicks off with an all too recognizable lurching ur-riff and has a stomping groove. ‘Season Of the Witch’ opens with a vintage Iron Maiden styled riff. ‘Forest Of Mirrors’ and ‘Shadow Of the Tormentor’ have more prominent bass lines with the former having a hard driving groove. ‘Last Of My Kind’ could be considered the ballad of the album in that it is more vocal-driven and less guitar-centered than the songs that surround it. ‘King Of the Vultures’ continues with the ur-riffing and is far more traditionally doom than the track that preceded it. ‘Upon the Throne Of Lights’ is the stand out song not only because of its extended soloing, but more importantly because it is more rugged, doomier and generally more evolved in terms of construction. If this album closer is any indication Desolate Pathway might sound more layered and dense in future material. It truly is the best track on a record that has no weak songs to speak of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDfZCUpmwig

Like the music the production on “Valley Of the King” is thick, crunchy and earthen. Each instrument is balanced perfectly against the other. Jim Rumsey’s bass guitar lies prominently in the mix, and has a wonderful tone to boot. Like the bass guitar the drum tone is very organic, and not overproduced in any sense of the word. It harkens back to drum productions of the 1990s in that the kit sounds powerful and commanding. On all fronts “Valley Of the King” was produced with a love for the genre. Desolate Pathway is not out to reinvent its genre instead they are pursuing their course out of love for the music that they produce. The record exudes this passion from its very pores, and while there might be more marketable alternatives available “Valley Of the King” has something for doom metal fans of every stripe.

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“Destined For Defilement”, the first Fleshgrind record after two demo tapes, largely follows the template laid out by contemporaries Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus. In the decade-plus that they were active, from 1993 to 2005, they released three albums, of which “Destined For Defilement” was the first. What the band here lacks in finesse they make up with the sheer forcefulness of their attack. “Destined For Defilement” is by no means a vital record, and while Fleshgrind is one of the unsung heroes of the Illinois scene (along with Gorgasm), its veteran reputation far outweighs its recorded output.

1546226_10152220022993523_2024013563_nThe Illinois death metal scene for some reason never quite catched on as much as the New York and Florida regions. Fleshgrind was one of the more underappreciated Chicago death metal units along with the long-suffering Gorgasm. Other acts of the Windy City scene include Cianide, Deaden, Lividity, Macabre and genre pioneers Master. Why the Illinois scene never catched on isn’t hard to see. Illinois never carved out a distinct sound of its own. The New York sound drew from its vibrant hardcore scene, while Florida pushed thrash metal into more violent, percussive and darker territory. Meanwhile the Illinois figureheads were content just to imitate regional brands instead of using those very influences and inspirations to concoct a sound to truly call their own.

Fleshgrind is centered on frontman Rich Lipscomb (who also plays guitar here) and rhythm guitarist Steve Murray, along with a semi-solid bass guitar position and a variety of lesser-known drummers. “Destined For Defilement” sounds as a middleground between “Tomb Of the Mutilated” Cannibal Corpse, and Dying Fetus’ demo material circa “Bathe In Entrails” and “Infatuation With Malevolence” – but lacking the groove of the former, and the technical finesse and dynamic range of the latter. The same rings true for Rich Lipscomb’s vocal performance, which is redolent of both aforementioned bands – but he offers up nothing mentionworthy besides his commendable bite, and percussive delivery. Fleshgrind, for better or worse, was already a spent creative force by the time its first album was released upon the international metal underground in 1997.

Fleshgrind-Destined_For_Defilement-2-Inlay-Even with its brief running time just shy of 29 minutes “Destined For Defilement” is a record that plays its hand on the first track, and never recovers. There’s nary a riff, or chord progression that could be considered memorable, and the songs in general seldom generate something of interest. The presence of two guitars - a unicum by Fleshgrind standards - played by frontman Rich Lipscomb and creative force Steve Murray, can’t salvage the bland rhythm-only playing that Fleshgrind focuses its songwriting around. Each of the songs have the required stomping grooves, dense riffing and concussive rhythm sections, but there isn’t a single song that truly stands out. There are a few catchy lines here and there. ‘Burning Your World’ has a slightly memorable chorus, as does ‘Frozen In A Voiceless Scream’ – but this merely due to the fact that Lipscomb’s vocals are more varied there than on the remainder of the record. ‘Rape Culture’ has a brief bass guitar solo. ‘Organ Harvest’ has a stomping drum part. The occasional stomping, solo-less track helps in adding to the immediacy and urgency of a record, but when the entire album is built around the formula its weakness is evidently exposed.

“Destined For Defilement” was recorded at Choice Recording in May 1997 with Broken Hope member Brian Griffin producing. The guitar tone is murky, and not quite as defined as on later records. The record comes with a thick, bass-centered production that favors crunch over clarity.  Of all Fleshgrind records this one is the most bass-heavy, especially in terms of kickdrums and bass guitar tones. Not that the bass guitar ever does anything interesting. Steve Murray and Rich Lipscomb wrote all the music, except ‘Litany Of Murder’ that had additional input from bass guitarist Ray Vazquez. The artwork by Brett Hess is stylistically similar to that of the Cenotaph debut “The Gloomy Reflection Of Our Hidden Sorrows” that was released half a decade prior. Both the exquisite band logo, and the artwork are the highlight of what otherwise can be charitably called a functional record of a band that was redundant from the start.