Beaten to Death: standard grindcore band name, anything but a standard grindcore band. Featuring ex-She Said Destroy vocalist Anders Bakke, ex-The Cumshots guitarist Tommy Hjelm, and Tsjuder drummer Christian “Bartender” (aka AntiChristian aka Jorn‘s drummer since 2014, so you know he’s epic), Beaten to Death formed in 2010 and wasted no time putting out their first record Xes and Strokes just a year later. I missed this at the time because I am a tool, but fortunately Angry Metal Guy (or rather Jordan Campbell) was on hand to enlighten me come 2013 and the release of the band’s sophomore Dødsfest! I immediately fell in love with their spectacular genre-bending tomfoolery and Dødsfest! set up camp right at the summit of my end-of-year list (even featuring as an “ish” on AMG‘s). They are rather good, you see.
Though ostensibly a grindcore band, Beaten to Death have always had at least one foot out of the grind closet, and Unplugged pushes the limits of the genre further still. Their genius lies in an ability to marry incredibly aggressive vocals and drumming not only to the expected pummeling riffs, but also to remarkably uplifting melodies, creating a highly original style which, combined with their unique production choices, endows them with a sound quite unlike any other band. Outrageous opener “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Summon the Breath of Life Enshrined in the Collected Scrolls of Sheryl Crow” (sorry Vehemence, we have a new Song Title of the Year front-runner) provides a good example, commencing with traditional death/grind fury before segueing smoothly into major chords and legato riffs to end on an almost happy note. The combination of melody and brutality crops up in the majority of tracks, from the wonderfully named “Home of Phobia” (say it quickly) to closer “Troll,” with great dollops of groove chucked in between – see in particular the brooding “Knulleviser for Barn”1, and pulsating “Til Himmels (for å Gjete Gud)” that references the verse riff from Strapping Young Lad‘s “Love?” Only Napalm Death tribute “Greenway/Harris” is all grind, all the time, and quite rightly too.
Beaten to Death don’t just write fantastic riffs, they craft them into perfect little songs each with its own personality and charm. The track lengths on Unplugged are consistently between one and two minutes – short but not novelty length – which gives them enough time to develop and explore a couple of ideas without falling into the trap of creating riff soup. The amusing song titles are also cleverly applied: “Death to False Grindcore” features one of the prettiest melodies on the record, while “Robert Sylvester Kelly” bumps and grinds its way into the closet of your memory. “Don’t You Dare to Call Us Heavy Metal” is the winner here, though, teasing with stereotypical thrash riffs before launching into a rousing melodic chorus overlaid with repeated shouts of the song title. Attempts at humor often backfire for “serious” bands, but Beaten to Death get this spot on.
The band’s previous records were both recorded live in their rehearsal space, giving them a refreshingly rough sound that bristled with energy. I couldn’t find any information on the recording process for Unplugged but assume it was much the same. It sounds a little better than its predecessor as the occasionally irritating frequencies in their trademark twangy, lightly distorted guitar tone have been tamed, and the instrumental balance feels perfect. Keeping the bass in a vortex of distortion while reigning it in on the guitars was a great choice as they still sound thunderously heavy, but can bring some subtlety to proceedings when required.
I am head over heels with this record: it fulfills my every grind need while providing a bucketload of depth, variety, and humor, all in a perfect run-time of just over twenty minutes. My one minor complaint is that, despite the superior songwriting, predecessor Dødsfest! probably has the edge in overall riff quality, but it’s tough to call. Either way, Unplugged is the best grindcore album of 2015 and Beaten to Death are the best grindcore band since Nasum. You know what to do.