If you go to Belgium, the locals will talk of two sorts of beer: “pils,” the standard stuff (i.e. Stella, Jupiler, Palm, etc.), and “bier,” which is the good stuff (i.e. Cornet, Westmalle Tripel, Tripelkarmeleit, etc.). “Pils” is great for indulging rather heavily; it’s not too alcoholic, so you can just have it as background for hours and feel great. On the other hand, “bier” is to be savored, enjoyed with great company and conversation, and not quaffed whatsoever but cherished, with every note of the flavor just being so right. One beer is fun, but tastes rather mass produced; it has its purpose, but certainly isn’t an extremely memorable thing (excepting the incredible cult following of CaraPils, the best-worst Belgian beer to ever exist). The other is worth the time, money, and attention; in other words, it’s simply worth savoring. Under the Church is a Swe-death band that’s essentially “pils” beer in musical form and Supernatural Punishment definitely goes down easy.
The strain of Swe-death Under the Church traffics in is of the comfortable garden variety, merging Clandestine with Wolverine Blues, following that archetype of the record which may have come between the two so common in Swe-death’s oeuvre. There’s some post-Stream Dismember going on here too, but the method of attack remains largely the same: lots of death, lots of grooves, and plenty of riffs. There’s also an underlying thrash influence here that’s impossible to miss, notably the aping of some Slayer motifs.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with Under the Church’s latest if you don’t feel like being too discerning. Each song here is taut and coherent, not a single one exceeding four minutes. If one song isn’t doing it for you, the next one is right around the corner; nothing here requires much of a commitment. For my money, the best moments on the record are the opening one-two punch of “The Stygian Horror” and the title track. “The Stygian Horror” has a lot of energy, seamlessly merging earlier Entombed with later Dismember in sound but not legendary quality; nonetheless, it’s fun. “Supernatural Punishment” goes down the same road but in a different way, sounding groovier and more like Wolverine-onward Entombed merged with the less melodic parts of Massive Killing Capacity with a bit of Slayer thrown into the midsection, which works very well for the band.
While Supernatural Punishment is doubtlessly fun, it hamstrings itself by blatantly trying to just be fun. Nothing here is great because it seems that it doesn’t have to be; competent Swe-death certainly has a market, and Under the Church are absolutely competent. There’s no bad song present here, but everything just blends together in a blur of death metal decency. There’s nothing but riffs here, organized neatly into largely similar tracks that follow largely similar structures. There aren’t any riffs that stick with you after the record ends, just ones that sound good while it’s playing. There’s nothing here to make me want to come back to Under the Church, but there isn’t anything that would cause me to avoid them, or even avoid checking out any and all future material.
Much like “pils” beer, you won’t turn to Under the Church when you want something to be cherished and enjoyed intently. No, Under the Church is perfect for when you just want something fast, loud, and easily digested. I can’t name specific flaws in any song here because there aren’t any per se; rather, each one is by and large so competent that it outright hamstrings itself from being great. It’s like Supernatural Punishment simply cannot be bothered to do anything but be decent and accessible Swe-death that will be something a lot of people enjoy, but nobody actually loves. This can be analogous to someone with no actual opinions on anything, or someone with commitment issues in romantic relationships; the most outstanding quality is mere agreeability. The surface level is the focus, and instead of risking anything to do something other than a sure-fire decent record, the only thing produced here is a decent record. The production reminds me of Massive Killing Capacity, which exacerbates the fact that Supernatural Punishment so greatly pales in comparison. In short: nothing ventured, fairly decent record gained.