REVIEW: BENIGHTED – “Obscene Repressed”
When you think of deathgrind, four bands lead the pack by a mile, Belgium’s genre firebrands Aborted, Californian vegan demigods Cattle Decapitation, Maryland’s politically charged Misery Index, and the perverts in France’s very own Benighted. Like clockwork, the Saint-Etienne brutes are back after three years with their ninth full-length, 2020’s Obscene Repressed. Nine studio records in a span of ten years is no joke and is an achievement by itself!
Benighted has always been the younger and lesser loved stepbrother of the massively successful Aborted, and comparisons are frequently drawn between their similar sonic approaches, imagery, and lyrical themes, especially with earlier entries in both catalogs. However, with numerous lineup changes, Aborted have moved towards more traditional song structures and death metal tropes, even going so far to increasing the melody and theatric quality of their music over their most recent records. In that regard, Benighted continue to stand true to their grind roots with a higher number of shorter tracks of frenetic intensity. Less than a third of their fourteen tracks cross the three minute mark placing greater emphasis on the blind ferocity of grindcore over the measured attack of death metal.
Album title track and opener Obscene Repressed forgoes the lengthy movie sample for a eerie drip, before getting down to the bloody brass tacks. Benighted are at their best when they cycle in and out of various subgenres and influences as seen on tracks like Nails which has thrash-grind sections reminiscent of Napalm Death and others which scream Misery Index. The acoustic introduction to lead single Brutus with a genre-must horror movie sample before dropping us square into Aborted-land but with an Experience Your Flesh-ish (from 2014’s Carnivore Sublime) chorus. Fans of the over-the-top sexual imagery and samples needn’t worry as Benighted has sampled orgasms on The Starving Beast which is humorously yet skillfully placed in the pauses of a stomping groove at the book ends of the track. If that wasn’t enough, there is the subtly named Mom, I Love You The Wrong Way with obvious connotations. The Starving Beast is a winner not only for its catchy groove, the “bree” pig squeals which is an artifact of a bygone era, but also a vocal technique that can be best described as a deep gurgle. It’s grotesquely rewarding and fits right into the aesthetic that Obscene Repressed chooses to champion. Speaking of punching death metal grooves, Implore The Negative has among the catchiest low-register chugged rhythm on the record and is an instant earworm to which I found myself frequently returning. Both bonus tracks The Rope and Get This are grindcore masterpieces and the fact that most audiences will not hear these tracks on the regular edition of Obscene Repressed is an abject tragedy.
An unshakeable gripe I have with Benighted as a whole, which Obscene Repressed does little to alleviate is that I cannot help but continue to make comparisons to Aborted and songs like Casual Piece of Meat, Scarecrow, and Undivided Dismemberment seem like near clones of something the Belgians (or Cattle Decapitation) would conjure. Benighted continues to struggle to carve out its own identity, which in my humble opinion, it comes close to when it embraces more its more hardcore tendencies rather than the death/grind influences. Bonus track Get This which starts with the most apt B-side “Give Me A Bree Julien” leading into the best “bree” on the record, put a smile on my face and is the direction I would love to see Benighted lay more emphasis on in future records.
Benighted, just like Aborted, have gone through a diverse lineup change with new members cycling in and out of the band and from one instrument to another, leaving vocalist Julien Truchan as the sole member to keep the Benighted moniker stable through their entire catalog. Obscene Repressed features veteran guitarist Emmanuel Dalle and relative newcomer Fabien Desgardins who blend well into each other’s styles. The drums on Obscene Repressed are top-tier which comes as no surprise as this is the second record with European drum instution Kevin Paradis behind the kit. Double bass, blast beats, thrilling fills, tempo changes and every other trick in the playbook is present in healthy doses and is one of the highlights of this record.
On Obscene Repressed, Benighted decided to go for more buzzsaw tones which thematically tie in well with the genre expectation and helps paint an appropriately gruesome sonic picture and is a net positive for the record. The solos and layered frills cut through the rhythm tones well, and the drums and bass occupy their own space in the mix resulting in a well-crafted aural palette.
Three of the tracks on Obscene Repressed have lyrics in French, while the others are in English demonstrating vocalist, lyricist, and sole founding member Julien Truchan’s ability to pen debauchery and filth in a variety of tongues. However, there is definitely a difference in the qualities of cadence between the tracks in English and those in native French. There are several occurrences scattered over the record where the cadence and lyrical placement over the riffs felt misplaced and the delivery clumsily kerned. This is not commentary on the abrasive range of the Truchan where he continues to excel at various pitches and registers, but more a jibe at the lyrics themselves and how they are arranged with the music. Bassist Pierre Arnoux provides his trademark hardcore-esque barks which are especially drawn out Implore the Negative which provides a good counterweight to Truchan’s deathgrind gutturals but does grate in excess, and works against the total package on when overdone.
Obscene Repressed is a solid addition to the Benighted’s perverted repertoire. While it doesn’t attempt to rock the boat too much, it is enjoyable in its own regard. Fans wanting a record that will finally break Benighted out of Aborted’s shadow may just have to wait a little longer.