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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.

Fleshgrind

“The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” saw Chicago bruisers Fleshgrind move into slightly more technical and challenging territory. In the decade-plus that they were active, from 1993 to 2005, they released three albums, of which “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” was the second. Moving away from the trite gore – and horror subject matter of its debut this second album moves into more earthy and socio-political territory. Even though the differences with “Destined For Defilement” are minimal, and cosmetic at best – by 2000 Fleshgrind was outplayed by a new generation of bands who played death metal more technical, and faster. The record represents a leap forward for a band that never was able to cement its reputation despite its status as respectable scene veterans. It is the last Fleshgrind record to be recorded and produced by Broken Hope member Brian Griffin.

Fleshgrind

It remains a mystery why Fleshgrind opted for a single-guitar setup after frontman Lipcomb’s commendable job as a rhythm player on its debut outing. The installing of Alan Collado on drums, and James Genenz on bass guitar led to a more lively rhythm section. The drumming had become more complex with more fills, rolls, and cymbal crashes along with nearly constant thundering double-bass drums. While the guitar work has improved there still are no leads, or solos – and that is to the band’s everlasting detriment. Had there been a number of solos then perhaps these battering, but otherwise mundane, excercises in banality would have had an identifier, or two. Even though there are some dark melodies and dissonant chord progressions in ‘Monarch Of Misery’, plus a brief bass guitar break and some prominent bass licks in ‘The Deviating Ceremonies’ and ‘A Legion Of Illusions’ – the record is hardly unsettling, threatening and morbid sounding at any point during its playing time. ‘Seas Of Harrow’, the only song to clock under two minutes, had the potential of being a better, more involving song, but it wasn’t given the proper time for its ideas to be meaningfully expanded upon. ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’ is probably the most bouncy track Fleshgrind ever wrote up that point in time.

The lyrics largely moved away from the archetypical horror, and gore subject matter of the previous record. Instead the lyrics of “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” deal with more earthy, interpersonal and socio-political themes, including abuse (‘Destroying Your Will’, ‘Seas Of Harrow’, ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’), conflict (‘Desire For Control’, ‘The Deviating Ceremonies’), introspection (‘Monarch Of Misery’), depression (‘Disdain the Mournful’, ‘Hatred Embodied’), and mental instability (‘The Supreme Art Of Derangement’). It’s rather unfortunate that Fleshgrind would abandon this subject matter to return to the conventional gore – and horror thematic on its third, and final, album. Given the nature of the album the lyrics are its most interesting aspect, even though they aren’t exactly stellar in any way.

As before Steve Murray wrote the majority of the record, as with the preceding album he wrote together with his drummer, in this instance Alan Collado. Only ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’ had lyrics written by bass guitarist James Genenz. Interesting is that frontman Rich Lipscomb, who was more hands-on on the previous record, had no input in any of the lyrics. While there was never anything particularly ornamental about Fleshgrind and its music, its down-to-basics approach might be functional (and mildly effective even) - on a purely visceral level, and in the live arena – it leaves little to the imagination, and to latch onto in studio recorded form. Not even the guest vocals by Leonard ‘Lenzig’ Leal (Cephalic Carnage) add anything of worth to the tracks they appear on. The least one could say about “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” is that Chicago bruisers Fleshgrind went from mere redundance to an adequate level of faceless competence, but little more at best.

The move to a different recording facility is both a benefit and a detriment to the proceedings. For the first, and only, time Fleshgrind recorded at Quali-tone Studios in Beach Park, Illinois with Brian Griffin (Broken Hope) producing, whereas Trevor Sadler at Mastermind Productions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin mastered the album. While Fleshgrind had a long history (dating back to its demo tapes) of working with Brian Griffin the production on “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” is problematic in its own peculiar ways. The thickness that characterized “Destined For Defilement” is replaced with a digital crispness that strangely lacks clarity and definition. The bass guitar can be felt but is audible only in bits and parts of the album. The only thing that has markedly improved is the drum tone. The artwork by Juha Vuorma isn’t very special, and his work on the Malignancy debut “Intrauterine Cannibalism” was far more commendable. “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” was released in 2000 through Olympic Recordings in North America and Season Of Mist in Europe. In retrospect the only memorable thing about it is that Maltese death metal band Abysmal Torment took its name from this album’s title.