Death metal, on the whole, is a fairly hateful genre of music. So much so that I often wonder why I enjoy it as thoroughly as I do. Its sonic textures, lyrical themes, and visual aesthetic are frequently driven toward the excessively violent, emotionally morbid, and the downright macabre. None of this is inherently negative in itself (I myself am a huge proponent of darkness’ hallowed space in valuable art), but the ridiculous amount of death metal I ingest each year brings that unfettered anger into my life more often than most. But as I’ve developed an avid listening habit for this music, the amount of love contained within its confines becomes equally stark. A love that drives musicians to bloody fingers to nail a particular passage. A passion that compels an artist to write, perform, and record every instrument on their albums to perfection. Wrapped in a jet black cloak of rage, there is a care and love set deep in the creative, rotting heart of death metal that few musical genres can emulate. This is one of the many reasons I return to this music so often, and projects like Brendan Sloan’s Convulsing are the reason the music stays so utterly compelling.
With only two releases under his belt (2016’s incredible debut Errata and last year’s fantastic split release with Siberian Hell Sounds), Sloan’s solo project can most certainly be considered to be in its relative infancy. You wouldn’t know it by listening to the project’s sophomore effort, Grievous. Given his masterful skill as a musician and behind the boards (deftly displayed both on this project’s debut recording and in his work with Australian cinematic juggernauts Dumbsaint,) it’s no surprise that the music sounds good. But a good mix and instrumental ability (while certainly a plus) are far from what makes a death metal record compelling, and Grievous is chock full of all the elements that foment transcendent death metal. It’s a brutal, tantalizing collage of technical skill and songwriting prowess that is a strident step above its predecessor in every measurable metric.
Opening track “Beaten” introduces the album with a repeating guitar line that lulls the listener into a trance-like state before opening the floodgates of pure death metal violence. Think Ulcerate, with a good deal of clarity. As alluded to previously, Sloan’s skills as a producer are well known at this juncture, and the mix and mastering of this record are simply fantastic, allowing each instrumental element its time to shine. Such attention to detail is a rarity in music this ferocious, and Sloan should be commended for some masterful work here. That isn’t to say that Grievous avoids garish and filthy sounds, though. To the contrary, “Beaten” includes a hefty balance of dark melody and fundamentally ugly chugging that is as violent as you will hear this year. Subsequent track “Inert” is no less relentless, further developing Sloan’s guitar stylings on this record by displaying a fantastic vacillation between tremolo picking and that signature, guttural chugging that keeps the record firmly rooted in feral nastiness. It’s a magnificent one-two punch that should set the hearts of most death metal fans alight.
All this talk of filth and brutality (however clearly conveyed these elements might be) may come across as one-dimensional from a songwriting perspective, but I most heartily assure you that is not the case. Building on the songwriting of his previous work in the project, Sloan writes winding, wild compositions that feel simultaneously chaotic and expertly controlled. There’s not a moment on the record where it feels like the music got away from him, and every guitar strum and programmed drum hit feels oddly both calculated and organic. “Relent” and “Strewn/Adrift” are probably the best examples of Sloan’s maturation as a songwriting, combining various elements foreshadowed in his previous work and fleshing them out into full-blown compositions. While still married (and rightfully so) to the sonic barbarism of death metal’s most depraved sonic musings, he isn’t afraid to slow the proceedings down for significant periods of time, allowing the music to collect a sinister sense of melody and atmosphere. It’s the kind of carefully crafted work that makes metal legends. Hopefully, that’s a status we can confer to Convulsing very soon. To be frank, the project may already be there. Only time will tell.
The typical constraints of a one-man project are mostly absent from Grievous. While I’d love to hear live drumming at some point, most of my qualms with these types of projects are completely overshadowed by the sheer creativity, focus, ability, and attention to craft that smothers every inch of this record. Sloan has stepped up his game considerably, bringing into the world a labor of love that is as potent and transfixing as you will hear this year. With Grievous, Convulsing places its flag in the ground and boldly asserts that it’s here to stay. I welcome it with open arms.
Grievous is available for streaming and name-your-price purchase on Convulsing’s Bandcamp page.