Few metal bands are as universally praised and acclaimed as the legendary Death. Chuck Schuldiner, and his ever-revolving lineup of death metal superstars, not only made death metal a serious and respected genre of music by placing emphasis on its musicality, they single-handedly pushed the genre forward as a whole. Schuldiner was one of the most forward-thinking and talented musicians in the history of metal, and his impact can be felt in every nook and cranny of the genre today.
From the knuckle-dragging, neanderthal beatdowns of Cannibal Corpse to the highly technical flourishes of Obscura, there’s a hardly a death metal band that wasn’t influenced by Death in some way or another. However, in addition to their widespread appeal and subgenre-hopping, Death is also one of the prime examples of the niche known as old school death metal, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Gruesome is perhaps the most flattering imitator of Death that the metal scene has ever known.
Comprised of Matt Harvey of Exhumed, Daniel Gonzalez of Possessed, ex-Malevolent Creation drummer Gus Rios and Robin Mazen of Derkéta, Gruesome isn’t just a death metal supergroup; they are faithful worshippers of Schuldiner and Death and formed Gruesome as nothing more than an homage to the godfather of death metal. From the Ed Repka-penned cover art to the decidedly old school production, Savage Land is a near-perfect Death worship album comprised of eight totally arse-ripping tracks full of badass riffs, face melting solos and shrieks, bellows and gore-soaked lyrics that would make Chuck extremely proud.
Each song on Savage Land was directly influenced by some of Death’s greatest songs spanning their entirely discography, and part of the fun of Savage Land is figuring out which Death song each track was influenced by while listening. For example, the drum intro to “Gangrene” is a direct tribute to Sean Reinert’s in “Flattening of Emotions” off of Death’s Human, and the album’s eponymous closing track borrows influences from the title track of Spiritual Healing. These are but a few instances, and finding these little gems throughout the album is a nerdy undertaking only death metal fans could understand.
Though there are many Death-isms to be found on Savage Land, Gruesome still maintain a sonic identity that is their own. Granted, they do sound almost exactly like early Death, but they should not be written off because of this, since that’s EXACTLY what they’re trying to do. There’s a huge difference between ripping a band off and paying tribute to them out of respect, and Gruesome fall hard into the latter category. Every riff, growl, and drum fill is performed with an undying devotion to band that’s clearly played a huge part in each member of Gruesome’s past, not only as musicians but as members of the metal community in general, and this album was created with nothing but love and admiration for them.
Metal needs more albums like Savage Land. Sure, Gruesome aren’t doing anything new or groundbreaking, but what they’ve set out to do is arguably just as important, and that is reminding us metalheads of where our beloved genre came from and the bands that played a pivotal role in making it what it is today. The legacy and sound of Death lives on ever so faithfully through bands like Gruesome, and wherever he is, Chuck Schuldiner is undoubtedly windmilling ferociously and smirking ear to ear at the deathly sounds of Savage Land.
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Gruesome’s Savage Land gets…