Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast
After a much-lauded reunion in the 2005 release of LA MUERTE, Dutch death metallers Gorefest are back with their seventh full-length studio album. While the prior album may have been heralded as the group's return to form, it is 2007's RISE TO RUIN that almost manages to truly recapture the spirit of the early 90's releases like MINDLOSS and FALSE. Almost, but not quite. Old school groove-based death metal in the vein of early Entombed or Grave is the name of the game here, and unlike LA MUERTE's jam-heavy style, RISE showcases a sharper, angrier, and much more focused Gorefest. Unfortunately, they still have too much of a prediliction for going off the rails into different directions mid-song, more often than not ruining much of the impact in the process, and as a consequence lessening the overall enjoyment factor of the album.
Case in point would have to be opening cut "Revolt," which explodes out of the gate with a furious fusillade of drum fills from Ed Warby followed up by an energetic, driving rhythm and a great death-shouted chorus...and then they louse it up by jumping into a recorded narrative sample which completely kills the momentum of the track and goes on for way too long. Bonebakker almost manages to save the day with a superb melodic solo once the heavy riffs make their inevitable return, but I'm left scratching my head as to why they would throw something like that onto the first track...midway through the album, I might be able to forgive it, but less than two minutes into the first song? The title track follows, and is definitely a throwback to the early-90's Gorefest with some great midtempo death riffs peppered with a couple blastbeat bursts in the latter half. Next cut "The War On Stupidity" is a good example of how the band can catch you off-guard in a good way, opening up with a slow dual-guitar harmonized riff that preps you for what you might expect to be a slow, groove-heavy death track, but launches into an infuriated blastbeat-laden assault on the eardrums. That particular song title sounds like it should be a Napalm Death song, which brings up the issue of the Barney Greenway-ish vocals of Jan-Chris De Koeijer - unfortunately, he's done little to improve on the lack of variety in his roaring deathgrowls. Fans of the band will certainly be used to his delivery by now, but it may be somewhat of a turnoff for strangers to their previous material who may be hoping for more diversity in vocal sound. Of course now that I've noted that, I have to qualify it with a statement there IS some vocal variety about halfway through the slow-tempo "A Question Of Terror" when De Koeijer clean-whispers a few lines of lyrics while a distorted echo of his last word from the previous chorus floats about in the background sounding a bit like a circling vulture's call. After a couple listens, it's pretty cool, but on the first run-through, it seems like another bizarre moment that may throw some listeners off. There's some great guitar leads on this track as well, and the closeout riff after the solo section is a hammeringly heavy monster. Probably the best track on the album is "Babylon's Whores," which is a nine-minute death masterpiece with some great guitar leads and lots of timeshifts from blast-raging to brutal midtempo riffing...unfortunately, again, it's thrown off-kilter by another odd passage as the dual guitar leads midway through the song dissolve into an atmospheric clean guitar section before launching into another monstrously heavy blast-driven section. Take out that interlude and have Warby's drumrolls come in directly from the held dual note at the end of the solos and you'd have a near-perfect old school death tune. The remaining tracks all have their good moments, especially the neck-snapping breakdown riff in the midst of "Speak When Spoken To," but none of them stand out quite like the songs on the first half of the album.
Good news, bad news time in the field of "participation of parties outside of the band's membership." The good news: Tue Madsen handled the production of the disc and it sounds fantastic - every instrument shines out perfectly, the drums sound full and rich with not a hint of artificiality and nothing gets lost in the mix. The bad news: The cover art by British artist Rob "Mid" Middleton is awful...what, somebody killed the Edguy jester and the one from Bruce Dickinson's ACCIDENT OF BIRTH album cover and impaled their skulls on stakes? Looks terrible, but don't let that dissuade you if the rest of this review hasn't already done so.
So is the new Gorefest worth your time to check out? Plain and simply, if you liked LA MUERTE, you'll love RISE TO RUIN. It's still not a match for their earliest material, but it's pretty darn good and a whole lot better than their death-rock albums of the late 90's. Fans of old school Swedish-style death who've never gotten into (or heard of) Gorefest before should also enjoy this, provided they can ignore, forgive, or enjoy the occasional venture into "what the?!?" territory.