Being a music critic, journalist and/or blogger can be quite a thankless task at times, particularly when it comes to reviewing albums. A while back we ran a piece on some of the most aggravating comments a writer can receive on their reviews, but that article didn’t touch upon related points which are contentious rather than aggravating. Front and centre amongst these is the debate around the negative review. Many, oftentimes those who are themselves writers and composers of music, believe that negative reviews should not exist. They draw on the old adage that if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all. Let print and digital media be aswirl with positivity and encourage aspiring musicians to be creative and chase their dreams with the support of their community. Whilst one can certainly understand this perspective, understanding does not equate to agreement. Ultimately, many readers seek curation, and so somebody out there needs to listen to, and subsequently review, the shitty albums so that they don’t have to. And so we come to melodic death metal outfit Death On Fire’s debut album Witch Hunter.
When one thinks melodic death metal, which bands come to mind? Perhaps Dark Tranquility or the In Flames of old? Perhaps Amon Amarth, or maybe even the like of Be’lakor and In Mourning? Either way, you’re sure to find beautiful folk melodies, duelling guitars, and unbelievably memorable, neck crunching riffs. Well, Death On Fire sound nothing like any of those bands, so throw those mental images and sweet memories away before you dive into these 35 minutes of raw, gritty and abrasive metal with a punk attitude and a grindcore foundation.
Let’s start with the bad, and here there are three key issues. Firstly, we have the cardinal sin of guitar-centred music: unmemorable riffs. Whilst there are certain passages which are well composed, and we will point them out later, for the most part nothing stands out or stays with the listener once the record reaches its runtime. Secondly, we have the vocals. One must certainly give credit where its due as far as variety is concerned: there are a host of different harsh vocal styles on display here. The problem is that most of them don’t sound very good. Whilst the raw nature and lack of pitching may appeal to some, others may find it off-putting. Last, but not least, we have the (likely intentionally) poor production. The filthy production style features guitar tones which are much more suited to extreme metal made in a toaster than anything remotely associated with melody, whilst the vocals are mixed far too loudly (which is to say they can be heard) and distract from the (mildly) more interesting instrumentation. Whilst the record has other issues, these are the key concerns. That being said, and this comes from someone who isn’t a fan of Death On Fire’s brand of melodeath, we don’t have a total train wreck on our hands. There are positives to be had for all metal lovers, and those with an ear for grind or other manners of disgusting sounds may in fact have a treat on their hands.
Witch Hunter shows hints of potential right from the off, such as the neat (and refreshingly prominent!) bass lines of “Your Lies” or the atmospheric guitar intro of the title track. Indeed, the band sounds excellent in their mellower moments, and it’s a shame that the production style doesn’t allow those moments to truly shine. When it comes to the heavy stuff, “Make the old ways new again” features the finest riffs on the record as they channel the mighty At the Gates. If you’re after straight up death metal with buzz-saw guitars and double kick drums clocking in at a grindcore runtime, then “Meth Dentistry” is the track for you, whilst closer “American Scum” has a ferocious energy to it once it gets going. Add in some nice guitar solos and traces of Greg Puciato in some of the finer vocal moments and one can begin to see why Death On Fire are garnering a fanbase. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and there are clear areas for improvement, but there is something about this record which hints at better things to come. One thing’s for sure, whether you like the record or not, with the energy they’ve just put to tape you wouldn’t want to miss them live.
Witch Hunter is available 2/2 via Bandcamp and can be purchased through the above embed.