8/22/2008 - Review by: Etiam
Of metal's past two decades, the Benelux countries' tradition of death metal has been one of the most dependably prolific and iconic, combining the appeals of Scandinavian melodicism and Polish brutality with their own distinctive (and often grisly) knacks. However, for all its consistent strength, the scene has produced few superstar groups or mandatory name-drops over the years. As a result, the mainstream has perennially shunted it aside, leaving vintage cultists to revere names like Asphyx, Thanatos, and Pestilence.
As one of Holland's more high-profile groups--Aborted still being the most popular, probably--Severe Torture have done rather well for themselves, landing a spot on Earache's roster and keeping their name afloat in the metal media's restless sea with a steady release schedule. Recently, some have even thought that the band's success was enough that they might 'sell out', and pervert their Cannibal Corpse-brutal roots into pseudo-heavy chugging. But the band had already broken from orthodoxy by their third album, 'Fall of the Despised', where they sacrificed breakneck speed for variety now and then, and their latest effort, 'Sworn Vengeance', is merely a continuation of that trend. Indeed, much of the album is given to the kind of deliberate stomping of songs such as 'Impulsive Mutilation' from their previous album. The band's riffing has become progressively less manic, instead tending to slinky grooves (albeit often uptempo) that thud decisively back down to tonic at regular intervals before swirling away again. (Necrophagist's 'Extreme Unction' came to mind regularly, especially during 'Fight Something'.)
Perhaps in an attempt to assuage the worries of older fans, 'Sworn Vengeance' opens with 'Dismal Perception', a swift and pummeling track--one of the album's best--that demands an almost instant repeat. Following a thirty-second fade in, Severe Torture eagerly show that they still have plenty of pit-storming vigor, with wonderfully tight instrumentation and Dennis' throaty vocals. Throughout the album he scatters in some vintage Benelux groans--breathier, higher-pitched, and quite stomach-churning--that are used just enough to disrupt the monotony of his normal delivery without losing their freshness. 'Buried Hatchet' also features guest vocals from Jason Netherton (Misery Index) and Che Snelping (ex-Born From Pain); the latter is appealingly gruff and not far from Leif Jensen of Dew-Scented (for whom Martin plays guitar now and again), but Jason was a regrettable choice and pushes the song towards tough-guy sophomorism.
His contribution is limited to one song, though, while another issue that deserves greater attention is present all throughout the album: its solos. Were the members not so talented, and had the solos on 'Fall of the Despised' been worse, those on 'Sworn Vengeance' would seem fair in comparison. But given the band's knack for engaging hooks and aggressive flair on nearly all other fronts, these leads simply don't match up. None is especially reproachable, and one might even commend the band for tracking relatively melodic and diatonic solos in an age when atonality and sweeps are in vogue, but they do very little to engage the listener and appear altogether too often. Another concern for some might be the production, which, while beefy and immediate, does not feature the bass and rack drums (i.e. toms and the like) prominently enough. Nevertheless, 'Sworn Vengeance' is altogether solid enough to enter the Benelux canon without complaint. In brief, while it isn't much better than their previous works, neither is it much worse.
4/11/2008 - Review by: Al Kikuras
A competent death metal record, Sworn Vengeance suffers primarily from an uninspired, one-dimensional vocal performance. Not that I can't appreciate guttural vocals that are indecipherable and just flat out disgusting... a band like Brodequin uses them to an effective end, in my opinion, but the problem with Severe Torture is they aren't flat out disgusting. They're very by-the-book. Unremarkable for the majority of the material, to the point that when I heard the more varied vocal performance on track 7, "Redefined Identity," I checked to see if it was a guest vocalist, but apparently is not.
Now, I know it's not ALL about the vocals, but in this case they are the bland sauce in over an otherwise good pizza. Yeah, the crust is nice and crispy. The cheese rich and plentiful, but that sauce gets everywhere, and you can't help but think, "if this sauce was better, man this would be one kick-ass pizza."
In its own right, Sworn Vengeance is a good album with great musicianship from a very solid death metal band. As it says on the back of the promo, Severe Torture are "exulted [though I think they meant to use 'exalted'] by fans of no-nonsense, technical brutality..." and that is just what they give you hear. No-nonsense, technical brutality, but to be honest, I think Sworn Vengeance could do with a sense of nonsense and some attitude to make these 10-year veterans of the genre stand out from the rest of the masses out there. I can appreciate Sworn Vengeance for the well-executed record it is, but I know that now that I have spun it the pre-requisite three times to give it a chance to reach out and grab me, and to feel confident enough that I've done my duty as an appreciator of music writing a review, I'll probably never put it on again.
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