Whenever your band starts with the longtime bassist of Napalm Death (Shane Embury) and the vocalist from Brutal Truth (Kevin Sharp) it’s a fairly safe bet that you’re in for some serious grindcore. Add a drummer who has worked with Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir (Nick Barker), stir with a heaping helping of guitar from Chile’s Pentagram and Criminal (Anton Reisenegger) and you have the latest incarnation of grind supergroup, Lock Up. This crew brings us their latest onslaught, Demonization.
The album opener, “Blood and Emptiness”, starts us off with the kind of manic energy reminiscent of Corrosion of Conformity’s classic album Technocracy (beyond obvious reference points to Napalm Death, particularly their mid-90s catalog). The stage is set for the next 40+ minutes of unadulterated thrash-y, grind-y goodness.
The first track does a solid job of setting the tone for listeners as the following material all bears Embury’s (and Napalm Death’s) hallmarks: heavy, frenetic grind that only occasionally relents into some interesting mosh parts or half-time riffs. Sharp’s vocals are more than serviceable in this style and the riffing of Reisenegger holds up quite well especially on the tracks he stretches their style. Barker shows up as a steady, energetic timekeeper providing a lot of the punch to the brutal pace the band sets. But, and this is the “but” that always hangs over the offerings of any “supergroup” but especially in metal, one personality and style looms over this record. Whether or not anyone minds having a new Napalm Death record to listen to that’s largely where we land with this one.
That aside, the album moves deftly between material in this particular style and where it really finds itself is in a kind of cherry-picking of the better, more groove-like elements that appear throughout ND’s catalog to comprise this new formula. Examples include tracks “The Decay Within the Abyss”, “Desolation Architect”, “Sunk”, and “Secret Parallel World” that while done quite while seem to be like browsing through the entire ND catalog on fast forward.
The band careens through other tracks while featuring some quite interesting flourishes for this style. I really liked some uses of atypical-for-the-style chords that gradually integrate a blast beat here (“Locust” around the 1:00 mark) or unexpected stylistic shifts ranging from vocal chants (0:45 of “Void”) to mosh parts that would seem disingenuous from other bands (“The Plague That Stalks the Darkness”). There are also elements that grow on the listener: particularly Sharp’s vocals that mainly exist in the “growl” realm but prove more intelligible than many in the genre (if you’re wondering why, look no further than Brutal Truth’s grindcore, the actual definition of the combination of grind and straight up hardcore).
Highlights of the album, for me, though, are “Desolation Architect”, “Instruments of Armageddon” (the riff that starts at 0:20 is a great contrast to the rest of the album), “The Plague that Stalks the Darkness” (the riff at 1:00 reminds one of Forbidden at their best), and “Foul from the Pure” (in the style of Gary Holt) partly because I’m a sucker for anything that nods towards classic 90s thrash, solid mosh parts, and hardcore/crossover.
The title track takes aim at a typical 90s thrash trope (the first quarter or third of an album is all about speed then comes the slower, ambling sledgehammer song that invariably lasts a minimum of five minutes) but comes off flat. “Demonization” feels like Overkill’s “Horrorscope” or similar tracks prevalent in the genre. It’s not a bad song it just isn’t an efficient use of the onslaught the band is capable of. I can see, though, where in a live setting songs like this are useful for band and audience alike to catch their collective breath before diving back into the maelstrom. Which, of course, is what happens here when “Demons Raging” sees the band spin back into whirling dervish mode.
A couple of tracks that didn’t fully connect were “Mind Fight” and album closer “We Challenge Death”. The former track’s aggression lacked enough cohesion to not really provide anything to stick in the brain as truly “memorable”. The latter track feels like there was a moment in the studio where the band realized they needed a track to end on and went into the Warehouse of Cliche Metal Ideas and pulled out the thrash-grind drum fill laden chaos theory and slapped on the half-time riff mod that Sharp duly growls over while Barker blasts away. For an album that tickled the brain and ears alike with the nuances provided by each of the players to close on a note that feels both massive and uninspiring is a bit of a letdown.
The takeaway, though, is that if you like this record, and really, you should if you like grind of any sort, but haven’t taken a dive into Napalm Death’s back-catalog then do yourself the favor. Demonization is watching four very experienced, very talented hands hash out an album’s worth of stalwart metal, and even if it’s not insanely groundbreaking it’s entirely refreshing to hear a band execute the style at this level. If this were a new, young band we might be praising it as the next big thing but as it is this work is worth a tip of the cap for keeping this particular strain of metal alive and kicking (asses).
Demonization is available March 10th via Listenable Records and can be purchased here.