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“Murder Without End”, the first Fleshgrind record on a bigger label, after two largely similar predecessors, showed improvement in the drum department as the band enlisted a seasoned veteran. In the decade-plus that Fleshgrind was active, from 1993 to 2005, they released three albums, of which “Murder Without End” was the last. While this is the most fluid and technical of the band’s three albums, it revels in the same stagnation and fatigue that already surfaced on its predecessor. Not even the highly improved visuals, superb drumming and glossy production job can mask that rather glaring fundamental shortcoming.

As the third and final Fleshgrind album “Murder Without End” saw the band reaching new heights in terms of production and visuals. On its swansong effort the band arrived at a level of imitation, whereas in the past they were merely redundant. Here Fleshgrind sounds almost identical to their arguably more popular regional peers Gorgasm. The only difference between Fleshgrind and Gorgasm at this point being is its choice of subject matter. Where Gorgasm reveled in misogyny and perversion Fleshgrind chose the expected serial killer topic in what could be dubbed a loosely conceptual effort. It is faint praise indeed for a band that never accomplished more than being a mere sum of its parts.

Usually an album’s first song is its most explosive, not so with “Murder Without End” as the first two songs pass by without any particular highlights to speak of. Third track ‘Duct-Taped and Raped’ has some creative bass licks for its duration, and a catchy chorus to boot. ‘Perversion Of Innocence’ and ‘Pistolwhipped’ stand out for the mere fact of how far the former goes in copying fellow Illinois unit Gorgasm, and that the latter has some funky bass licks in spots. ‘In Sickness Intertwined’ is slightly more diverse than the rest of the album even though it’s the shortest track of the album. ‘Libertine Atonement’ is a slower Morbid Angel cut, and memorable because of just that. Even though it reverts to the band’s characterless blasting not long after the morose introduction. It is exactly the slow parts that are the strongest segments of the cut. ‘Holy Pedophile’, a re-recorded track of the band’s 1993 demo tape of the same name, is better composed, and dynamically richer than any of the new tracks. It is damning that the only material to feature any solo work was the demo song. Each of these tracks is functional in its own right, but little of it etches itself into the memory of the listener afterwards. The demo track conclusively proved that Fleshgrind was playing far below its actual skill level.

The move into Gorgasm territory isn’t in itself much of a surprise as “Murder Without End” features the third Fleshgrind drummer in as many albums. Making his debut (and sole) appearance with the band is drummer Derek Hoffman, perhaps most remembered for his impressive performance on the 1998 Gorgasm EP “Stabwound Intercourse”. As the drum department improved drastically with each subsequent album both Steve Murray (rhythm guitar), and Rich Lipscomb (vocals) remain on the same spot creatively. The only difference is that Lipscomb, who was never the most expressive grunter on the scene to begin with, moves back into his comfort zone of the deeper tones of “Destined For Defilement”. It is a welcome change after the higher-pitched screams and incessant growled barks of the rather regrettably forgettable “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment”. The only person in the line-up to show a lick of creativity is bass guitarist James Genenz, but he is given precious little to work with. The same goes for new skinsman Derek Hoffman, the technically most accomplished drummer to date, who makes the best of what he is given. One can’t shake the impression that more engrossing material should have been reasonably expected given the amount of talent in this particular line-up.

Even though “Murder Without End” had the most potent line-up up to that point, Fleshgrind does nothing of note with the talent at its disposal. Not even the steep increase in technical chops makes it notably different from its contemporaries. The only thing that truly differentiates this album is the usage of a recurring piano effect. The very minimal effect is somewhat reminiscent of the Nine Inch Nails song ‘The Frail’ from the “The Fragile” double album. On all other fronts there’s no notable evolution from the past. The lyrics follow a loose narrative, detailing the events and deteriorating psychology of a serial murderer as he stalks, sexually assaults and brutally kills his various unfortunate female victims in the most graphic of ways. The only track to not follow the narrative is the re-recorded version of demo track ‘Holy Pedophile’ (from the 1993 demo tape of the same name). The fact that the best, and most memorable track on the album is one that the band wrote a decade prior is problematic to say the least.

The album was recorded at Studio One in Racine, Wisconsin with producer Chris Wisco – and the only Fleshgrind effort in which Broken Hope’s Brian Griffin had no involvement. There’s a degree of clarity, warmth and texture that was sorely absent on the prior two Fleshgrind releases. Chris Wisco gives the band a warmer drum – and bass guitar tone along with more overall sonic depth. The visually arresting digital artwork by Mike Bohatch was a major improvement over the rather muddy artwork that adorned the otherwise adequate “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment”. At long last in terms of production and visuals Fleshgrind was living up to its veteran status. Yet despite the increased production values and potent line-up Fleshgrind was still nothing more than a mere sum of its parts.

Thanks to the contract with Olympic Recordings and Century Media the band enjoyed great visibility on the scene than regional peers Gorgasm, who were on Unique Leader Records. While functional, and enjoyable in its own right “Murder Without End” was hardly a vital, or mandatory record in any capacity.

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“Crown Of Souls”, the sixth Deeds Of Flesh record, marks the end of an era for the band. It was the last to feature founding member Jacoby Kingston (vocals, bass guitar), and it would be the last in its characteristic percussive direction. The album follows the template laid out by the preceding two records, but offers little novel in return. Its consistency is both its forte and its detriment. The trio deviates not an inch from its established formula, and “Crown Of Souls” is thus reliably percussive.

The internal stability had resulted in a consistent level of quality in its output, even though cracks started to appear in the foundation. More than anything “Crown Of Souls” conclusively proved that the band’s recently adopted linear direction had ran its natural course. From “Mark Of the Legion” onward the band adopted a more linear style, especially in terms of drumming, that it perfected with this final installment of the second trilogy. “Crown Of Souls” takes that direction to its logical conclusion, and clearly reveals the imposed limitations that “Reduced to Ashes” already hinted at previously. The album is the last in the band’s second era as after its release Deeds Of Flesh underwent a transformation in terms of line-up and overall direction.

Telling is that “Crown Of Souls” actually regresses back to the band’s earlier days lyrically. ‘Crown Of Souls’, ‘This Macabre Fetish’ and ‘Caught Devouring’ are all quite trite examples of the gore subjects that the band had abandoned previously for more compelling subjects. Thankfully the rest of the record deals with far more interesting subject matter. ‘Medical Murder’ details the atrocities committed by Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele during World War II and it is custodian to the band’s characteristic bass breaks at various points. ‘Hammer-Forged Blade’ deals with Viking conquest, and contains the expected sword sample. ‘Forced Attrition’ is another track dealing with the horrors of warfare. ‘The Resurrected’ concerns Haitian zombieism, and its voodoo culture. ‘Incontestably Evil’ is about the trangressions and deviances of Roman emperor Nero. ‘Crimson Offering’ chronicles Aztec history, specifically the 1487 re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, in which an estimated 80.400 people were sacrificed.

37030fe413e5039a9ea144624289f3baThe regression that “Mark Of the Legion” introduced, and “Reduced to Ashes” persevered with finally catches up with the trio – and “Crown Of Souls”, for all the things it does right, was the tipping point in its artistic decay. Thankfully the trio opted for more diversified rhythm playing and Hamilton accommodates both men with his drum work for the record. Lindmark and Kingston’s vocal interaction remains expectedly powerful and commanding, but the sheer limitation of the riff set needlessly hampers what could have been far more interesting songs with any other band. Thankfully Deeds Of Flesh always had a sense of artistry that was lost on its peers in Disgorge, but even then “Crown Of Souls” sees the trio treading water. As impressive as the music from Deeds Of Flesh is from a technical point of view - its older, more traditional writing style offered more to the listener than the linear direction that was introduced with the coming of Hamilton, and the move towards a more sterile, clinically dry production.

Once again the band recorded at Avalon Digital Recording Studios in San Luis Obispo, California with Kip Stork producing. While the production is largely similar to that of “Reduced to Ashes” the drum sound has been notably improved. The snares and kickdrums don’t sound nearly as hollow and impotent as they did on the preceding album. The early albums had their own share of productional shortcomings, but at least the drum sound was always incredibly powerful and commanding. In comparison to the preceding albums the bass guitar is far more pronounced in the mix. Deeds Of Flesh commissioned artwork by multiple artists for this outing. American graphic artist Raymond Swanland rendered the cover artwork, whereas Swedish artist Pär Olofsson provided the additional Viking artwork that adorns the disc itself. In whole it is the most ambitious, and professional looking of all the band’s releases up to that point..

If anything “Crown Of Souls” proves conclusively that Deeds Of Flesh had painted itself in a corner stylistically. The album is consistent with the direction of the preceding two records, and that presents a quandary in itself. Apparently the trio was aware of this, but even the inclusion of more variated rhythms (structurally as well as in the guitar playing) can’t save the obvious fatigue of the style. As impressive as “Crown Of Souls” is from a technical point of view in the past the trio had simply presented more engaging material. The fact that they not even attempted to make its death metal sound sadistic and hateful (something which “Trading Pieces” and “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” at least aspired to) eventually would catch up with them, and it does so here.