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“Path Of the Weakening”, the third Deeds Of Flesh record, is an album of firsts and lasts. It was the last to feature co-founder/drummer Joey Heaslet, and the sole effort to feature second guitarist Jim Tkacz. The termination of contract with Repulse Records prompted the members to form their own label imprint to market and distribute its music. It is the first Deeds Of Flesh record to be released under the band’s own label imprint Unique Leader Records. For all intents and purposes it is the end of the first era.

Like its predecessor this third record continued to broaden the band’s expanding lyrical subject matter. ‘Lustmord’ reads like a pale imitation of the Suffocation song ‘Marital Decimation’. ‘Path Of the Weakening’ is in all probability is about the Donner Party, a group of settlers that resorted to cannibalism when starvation hit while snowbound in the mountains during the winter of 1846-47. ‘Summarily Killed’ and ‘Sound Of Loud Reigns’ deal with conflict and warfare. ‘Execute the Anthropophagi’ is a follow-up to the preceding album’s title track, and further chronicles the happenings surrounding the semi-mythical Sawney Bean clan. ‘A Violent God’ quotes parts from the Book Of Revelation with all quotes rewritten to fit the band’s warfare concept.

685940While architecturally similar to “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” the dual guitar work allows for slightly more groove, while the drumming remains as diversified as expected. The presence of a second guitar makes the attack slightly thicker, but remains nearly identical otherwise. ‘Path Of the Weakening’ has the characteristic bass break, but it is fairly ineffective due to the light tone that was adopted here. ‘I Die On My Own Terms’ is one of the shortest tracks on the record, but also its most morbidly atmospheric. ‘A Violent God’ borders ever so slightly on Morbid Angel territory because of its churning riffing, and trudging dirge tempo. However none of it is explored deep enough to truly state that Deeds Of Flesh was moving out of its narrow comfort zone. All three tracks of the independently released “Promo 1999” make their return on this album. A promo music video was shot for the opening track ‘Indigenous to the Appaling (Mutinous Human)’, but it was never officially released in any capacity for undisclosed reasons.

The album heralded the end of the traditional death metal period in the Deeds Of Flesh first decade discography. For one more record after this the band would persevere with death metal factory Moon Productions in Arroyo Grande, California. It was the addition of new drummer Mike Hamilton that instigated a stylistic shift towards a more atonal, hookless writing direction. The difference between the first three and next three albums is one of night and day. Along with the shift in direction the production changed accordingly. “Path Of the Weakening” is the last Deeds Of Flesh record to sound traditional in both writing and production. The successors to this album, arguably the band’s breakthrough to a wider audience, would opt for a digitized, flatter and sterile production sound befitting of the band’s newly adopted atonal, linear style that put a great emphasis on inhuman control and precision than that of atmosphere and feeling.

As before the trio recorded at Moon Productions in Arroyo Grande, California with Thomas E. Gingell producing. Moreso than its predecessor “Path Of the Weakening” has a thick, crunchy guitar tone, whereas the bass guitar tone on the other hand is very light in comparison to the guitars it is supporting. The drum production is not nearly as warm, and organic sounding as on the preceding record, but it is efficient otherwise. The artwork by tattoo artist Jon Zig is similar in color scheme to the one of the preceding record, but it is better and more detailed on all fronts. Likewise has the typesetting and photography improved after the rather empoverished efforts of the prior albums. The album sold in excess of 15.000 copies, and its lengthy international touring campaign would instigate the defection of second guitarist Jim Tkacz as a result.

For the most part “Path Of the Weakening” was a direct continuation of the “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi” sound with the added benefit of a second guitarist. The material is slightly groovier, while the return of original skinsman Joey Heaslet gave the album much needed percussive propulsion. The addition of a second guitar layer made this record fuller sounding than its already considerably bass-heavy predecessor. On the visual front the band made a considerable improvement, as both the cover artwork and general layout were much better on this all important third record. Consistent with the style of its predecessor “Path Of the Weakening” mostly functions as an evolutionary piece of the sound the band had perfecting prior. A true shift in the band’s sound wouldn’t occur until this album’s successor, and the introduction of a new drummer.

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“Trading Pieces”, the first proper Deeds Of Flesh record, is different from its later output in that it draws from more traditional sources. It is a loosely conceptual record about cannibalism, and serial murder in contemporary society. It is the second of three records featuring original Deeds Of Flesh co-founder/drummer Joey Heaslet. “Trading Pieces” was one of two records to be released through Spanish label Repulse Records. Deeds Of Flesh adopted an even more dense, atonal and percussive death metal style afterwards.

What made Deeds Of Flesh so different from most death metal of the time was the sheer propulsion and intensity of its compositions. While “Trading Pieces” is more conventionally death metal in terms of sound, it still is far faster and atonal than what was standard at the time. The dual vocal approach was hardly novel, Tampa veterans Deicide had popularized it many years before, but the interaction between rhythm guitarist Erik Lindmark and bass guitarist Jacoby Kingston did it better than many. The trio’s fixation on speed and percussive intensity comes at the price of dynamic range. In truth “Trading Pieces” suffers significantly lesser in this regard than the band’s later output. This can be attributed to a greater presence of slow parts within each song. Likewise will guitarist Lindmark occasionally integrate a creepy melody or foreboding chord progression, which is something the band would abandon after its debut.

Much of the record aims to shock the listener with its content. Not only has gore been a staple of the genre for many years, a lot of times these end up on the comical end of the spectrum. Deeds Of Flesh sidestep this rake in that most of the record deals with cannibalism, and serial murder in one form or the other. Its most interesting tracks are those that detail the work of real-life serial murderers. ‘Carnivorous Ways’ is about serial killer Albert Fish. ‘Born Then Torn Apart’ is a song about infanticide. ‘Chunks In the Shower’ is about German serial killer Joachim Kroll. Alternatively ‘Erected On Stakes’  details East-European antiquity. The song is about Wallachian warlord Vlad Tepes, a Romanian folk hero who became part of popular culture through Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that took its name from Vlad’s patronymic. ‘Acid Troops’ deals with MK-Ultra, a classified CIA project wherein troops were given LSD during the Vietnam war. Additionally ‘Acid Troops’ opens with a sample of screaming, artillery and war noise.

For the most part “Trading Pieces” is memorable because it isn’t quite as over-the-top as the rest of the band’s discography. As one of the early Deeds Of Flesh works it is more famous for what it set up rather than for what it actually did. Given that the that trio had only been working together for a brief amount of time it is far more loose, and not nearly as frantic and technically demanding as it successors. Heaslet’s drumming isn’t quite as over-the-top yet as it would be on future albums, and some of the tracks here have recognizable hooks – which is something that Deeds Of Flesh would abandon past this album. The characteristic bass breaks here first surface on ‘Impious Offerings’ and ‘Acid Troops’. These very same tracks are also the only two to pass the three-minute mark. The record is bookended by samples of a person getting stabbed, slashed and devoured (although these effects sound more like a person repeatedly walking through muddy patches of water). The samples are supposedly meant to invoke shock in the listener, but end up sounding pretty silly in retrospect.

The album was recorded in just three days at Moon Productions in Arroyo Grande, California with Thomas E. Gingell producing. Given the brevity of the session it is surprising that the record ends up sounding as good as it did. The production is adequate for the most part but misses the typical concrete bass-heaviness that comes with a more extensive and properly budgeted session. The guitar tone is actually quite crunchy given its overall thinness, but it is complemented by the thick, throbbing bass guitar. The drums sound functional, but miss the full sound and body of this record’s two successors. The snares and toms sound flat while the kickdrums are very commanding and provide much of the bottom-end heaviness along with the bass guitar.

“Trading Pieces” was one of the two records to be released through Spanish label imprint Repulse Records, the label from Avulsed frontman David Sánchez González (Dave Rotten). The artwork by Jackie is fittingly macabre and horrifying, but is not visually interesting enough besides its apt approximation of a classic Cannibal Corpse, or Carcass canvas. It goes without saying that Deeds Of Flesh’s debut album is hardly a mandatory purchase, and in retrospect its only contribution, and importance, to the scene is that it helped usher in a new era for the genre. The band’s defining moment would only arrive with this album’s successor “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi”.