REVIEW: BENEATH THE MASSACRE – “Fearmonger”
Beneath the Massacre are back baby! After a far-too-long eight year gap following 2012’s gargantuan Incongrous, the Canadian technical death mainstays are back with Fearmonger. While the band itself was dormant, the genre had moved on with new tech-death and extreme deathcore giants emerging and taking the genre audience by storm. Acts like Archspire, Infant Annihilator, Allagaeon, and others have proved that there still exists, even if highly specialized, market for million-notes-a-second extreme technical death/deathcore acts; a genre that Beneath the Massacre helped popularize, if not co-create, in the early 2000s.
Not only is this genre an acquired taste, it also has a high skill floor and an even higher skill ceiling for musicians and aspiring bands, not only as technical virtuosos but an even higher barrier for writing technically challenging yet memorable and enjoyable “pieces of music”. It is for this latter reason that while bands like Archspire and Infant Annihilator succeed with tracks like Human Murmuration, Involuntary Doppelganger, Decapitation Fornication, The Battle of Yaldabaoth, etc. many bands like Brain Drill, Viraemia, and arguably Rings of Saturn fall flat. With a micro-genre as inaccessible even to extreme metal enthusiasts, what ultimately differentiates winners is the ability to write rewarding tracks and records, and thankfully, we have a winner on our hands with Beneath the Massacre’s Fearmonger.
Kicking off with sort-of title opener Rise of the Fearmonger, Beneath the Massacre is abundantly convincing that they haven’t lost any of their steam, their edge, or unrelenting frantic mania that put them on the map years ago. What we get on Fearmonger is ten focused yet hyper-intense tracks featuring what we have come to expect of the band: face-melting guitar sweeps, tendinitis inducing riffs, comically precise gravity blasts, aggressive growls, and all the genre bells and whistles. Unique to Fearmonger is how short the record is, with a total runtime clocking in around thirty minutes with longest track just edging past the three-minute mark, Beneath the Massacre is hellbent on not overstaying their welcome, while still crafting a claustrophobically dense soundscape which will continue to unfurl its many layers with each successive listen.
There are no shortage of superlative sections, arrangements, and tracks on Fearmonger, and to list them all would be a mere track-list of the entire record. Album singles Treacherous, Autonomous Minds, and Bottom Feeders tell listeners everything they need to know about the high standards to be expected on this record. However, to this near-jaded extreme metal consumer, what makes a track/record/band a standout success is very often the little frills, the unexpected flairs, that separate sections or tracks from each other. Whether it is the Within the Ruins-esque chopped-up staccato overlays over the “breakdown”, and the whammy-trills on certain notes on Hidden in Plain Sight, the catchy slow-down tremolo-melody-over-breakdown outro on Of Gods and Machines, the low-register divebombs on Treacherous, and other little Easter-eggs strewn all over Fearmonger make the record worth a re-listen.
Regardless of musical preference or opinion towards the record, band, or genre, it would be foolhardy to claim that every one of the Canadian quartet isn’t an absolute monster at their craft. The Bradley brothers, Chris (guitars) and Dennis (bass) are the firestarters in the band. From the opening seconds of Rise of the Fearmonger to the final harmonic of Bitterest End the sheer number of notes, squeals, sweeps, riffs, chugs that Chris Bradley throws at the listener is nothing short of a marvel by itself. Not to be entirely cast to the shadows, brother Dennis is given his moment to shine on the intro to Flickering Light. One can only hope that future releases give him and the bass more room to breathe. Vocalist and band mainstay, Elliot Desgagnes is no young punk in the scene, and his work on every Beneath the Massacre record make him a vocal institution unto himself. His trademark barks and grunts are back adding fuel to an already towering inferno. New to the band, but not to the genre, drummer Anthony Barone (of Shadow of Intent, A Night in Texas, ex-Allegaeon, ex-The Faceless, and live drummer for BabyMetal) is at very least an equal if not an upgrade to former drummer Patrice Hamelin. Barone adds foot thumping groove, ingenious fills, blast beats, locked-in double bass, and absurd machine-gun gravity blasts with equal ease, adding yet another layer to be peeled in the cacophonous onion that is Fearmonger.
There is very little to complain about on Fearmonger, so I will try to dig into the deepest trenches of nit-pickiness to help even the odds. Over-compressed mixes, and stonewalled guitars and synthetic drum tones are the usual complaint with over-the-top extreme tech bands, and Beneath the Massacre do not escape that pitfall with Fearmonger. For most, it can be easily shrugged off as a genre-wide shortcoming and a feature rather than a bug, so the final decision resides with the listener.
Counter-intuitive to the usual complaint in modern extreme metal records, there is a nagging need on Fearmonger for just a wee-bit-o-bloat. For the uninitiated and for the few in the back lines, Fearmonger can be a dense and taxing listen with too much packed in a tight space. While that is also a point of praise, this dissenter would argue that more context, either in the form of interludes, or even longer sections of overarching themes may be just what put Fearmonger in AOTY territory. The only example of any kind of “ambience” is on the opening seconds of Rise of the Fearmonger and the outro Return to Medusa, the latter literally going nowhere and standing out as starkly odd as a result.
As an extension to this nag, the idea that almost every song on Fearmonger kicks off with relentless “weedles” and/or tapping sections, with the few exceptions of tracks that start with the same mood, but on the drums instead of the guitar leaves the tracks indistinguishable from each other and the record as a package deal the sonic equivalent of watching a Shinkansen zoom past you: impressive but gone in a blur without leaving much of a lasting impression. Nevertheless, in a world of records with massive bloat and filler without much substance, Fearmonger, and by extension Beneath the Massacre indubitably errs on the right side.
Fearmonger is a finger-ripping re-entry of Beneath the Massacre, showing newer tech-death bands that nobody can ape their niche brand of focused insanity quite the same. A triumphant return for veteran fans, and a gateway drug for new ears.