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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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“Consuming the Forsaken” is the first Disgorge album to not feature long-serving vocalist Matti Way. In its classic constellation, which lasted from 1992 to 2006, Disgorge released four albums on a variety of labels, of which this is the second. The working title for the album was “Dissecting Thee Apostles”. The album is a loosely narrative and semi-conceptual effort about unspecified forces of evil conspiring to kill Christ and his congregation of apostles, thus effectively cessating the birth of Catholicism. Musically consistent with its semi-legendary predecessor it paved the way for the band’s last album “Parallells Of Infinite Torture”, which would push the adopted direction towards its logical conclusion.

After the incoherent, and supposedly shocking gore of “She Lay Gutted” for this record Disgorge opted for an anti-religious concept. The change in subject matter isn’t entirely unexpected as ‘Revelations XVIII’ already hinted at such direction earlier. The lyrics are surprisingly well written for the style, recalling the early works of New York veteran genre act Immolation, and to a lesser degree Doug Cerrito-era Suffocation. Like his predecessors A.J. Magana (vocals) is loud and viscerally intense, but not very remarkable otherwise. What his grunt overcompensates in sheer guttural depth and range it lacks in expressiveness, enunciation and emotion. The admittedly strong lyrical concept, which uses established events from scripture, loses much of its power due to the sheer banality of Magana’s forceful delivery.

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‘Manipulation Of Faith’ and ‘Consecrating the Reviled’ offer up more engaging guitar work and more varied drumming after two completely interchangeable tracks opened the album. A music video shot was for ‘Consume the Forsaken’, although ‘Dissecting Thee Apostles’ was clearly the stronger track, and more deserving of the treatment. The grinding slow part towards the track’s conclusion harnesses more feeling and atmosphere than the rest of the album is ever able to conjure. ‘Denied Existence’ proves that Myers can measure himself with the classic death metal skinsmen if he ever stopped blasting constantly. His constant usage of either single or double kickdrums invalidates their function as they have little effect within such context. ‘Divine Suffering’ ends with a similar slow grinding part that is high on tension and atmosphere, adding to the macabre effect when Magana’s monstrous vocals that are finally put to good use.

A critical fault carried over from the uneventful “She Lay Gutted” is the focus on brutality and percussive density over memorable, involving songwriting and recognizable hooks. The change in lyrical direction, not entirely unexpected in itself, is a step in the right direction - but on the musical side nothing critical has changed. As a result far too few tracks stand out, even though the band had become better musicians its songwriting approach didn’t grow along making the change in lyrical direction only partly succesful. Both the guitar work and the drumming are of an exceptional level, but both spent inordinate amount of time pulling into opposite directions of each other. Sanchez and Marlin would feel right at home in a band that played dissonant, unholy sounding death metal (pre-“Unholy Cult” Immolation, Sylvain Houde era Kataklysm, or the early works of NY scene institution Incantation) whereas Myers and Magana lean more towards the traditional California death metal sound that stylistically similar to Jacoby Kingston-era Deeds Of Flesh.

Like the album before it “Consume the Forsaken” is almost completely bereft of any atmosphere, hateful or otherwise. None of the chord progressions are particularly evil sounding, and the band is more concerned with battering the listener into submission with nearly constant percussive chaos than with writing memorable songs. The album is successful insofar that it delivers a full-on assault on the listener’s senses. That only a few tracks stick with the listener after is to the album’s everlasting detriment. As one of the main propagators of the brutal subset Disgorge moreso than its peer Deeds Of Flesh relies on listener disorientation to craft some kind of experience out of its album. Linear as though they might be at least the Deeds Of Flesh trio still wrote actual songs with recognizable beginnings, middles and ends. It wouldn’t be until the next album that Disgorge reinstated its demo sound/direction and focused on writing songs again.

In terms of production “Consume the Forsaken” is a step up from its predecessor on all fronts. For the first (and, so far, only) time Disgorge recorded at Studio One in Racine, Wisconsin with Chris Djuricic handling the production. The guitar tone has gained a lot of clarity, texture and definition. The drums sound powerful and commanding but never overly processed. The mastering was done at Imperial Mastering by California scene veteran Colin Davis. Texan tattoo artist Jon Zig was once again tasked with creating the artwork. The abstract artwork isn’t quite as horrifying as the canvas he created for the previous album. Ultimately this artwork is far more interesting because it sidesteps the triviality and mundanity of the band’s other gore-inspired artworks. The layout this time around was handled by Derek Boyer, and it is an improvement on all fronts.

As far as presentation goes “Consume the Forsaken” outclasses “She Lay Gutted”.

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The complete lack of motifs in the music make it hard to guess what exactly Disgorge intended to convey with the record as each track is virtually interchangeable with the next. There’s no journey to be had, and the album doesn’t build towards a crescendo with a signature song. Impressive from a mere technical standpoint (considering the amount of skill it requires to memorize and play these songs) “Consume the Forsaken” lacks both in memorable songwriting and in creating an atmosphere for the listener to submerge in. It was something fellow Californians Deeds Of Flesh was able to succeed in while operating within a very specific and narrow genre perimeter. Although both bands started around the same time both took different approaches to the death metal genre. To its detriment Disgorge focused on other things besides writing recognizable songs, an ailment that would continue to plague them through out their career. Thankfully this album’s successor would at least attempt to shake things up creatively a tiny bit…