Strange, what albums take their time to grow. Long, complex albums are in the majority in this particular aspect of music appreciation, but it can happen just as easily with a short and simple set of songs. In the former case, it stands to reason that an 80-minute avant-garde jazz fusion progressive alternative black metal album from Kuala Lumpur will take time to digest, because there are fewer familiar elements to draw from and you keep bending your expectations to try and find the right frame of mind. But why are some easily digestible records birds of the same feather? Is it a matter of subverted expectations, or is it a sonic Stockholm syndrome? As a case study, we will look to Death Always Wins, the sophomore death-thrash album by unsigned Canuck quartet Dead Asylum.
My first thoughts after I hit play on Death Always Wins weren’t the kindest ones. I associated the hoarse, hollow growls and hysteric screams (shared between Mike Lister and Roger Mowat) with deathcore at first, not a genre I particularly care for. The screams especially sound too strangled to truly impress. The kick-drums had a shallow, triggered quality that put me off, and compositionally it seemed energetic but messy. I wrote it off as fun but flawed, another drop in the ocean of mediocrity.
Yet several spins in, I found myself enjoying Death Always Wins against all odds. The initially unsatisfactory growls pack a Kataklysmic punch, and thanks to the shared duties there is great versatility in their approach. I finally grasped the patterns in what I perceived to be a messy composition, and realized that Dead Asylum don’t adhere to cut-and-dry structures; who has time for those when there are ribcages to be dropkicked? The drums… Well, I’m still not the biggest fan of the kick-drums’ sound, but they do allow for great machine-gun style blasting, and Samantha Landa does a beastly job on the skins.
The secret ingredient here is more groove than a vinyl pressing plant. The album opens strong with the energetic “Defiance” and the bludgeoning title track, but “Bury the Living” is the pudding containing the most proof, leaping from a steady pummel onto a neck-breaking riff that gets squeezed for all its worth and burrows into your brain like a ravenous botfly larva. “Forgotten Sacrifice” follows right up with a blistering steamroller from the class of Decapitated. A short lull in the track is easily forgiven when Eric Morrison takes a leaflet from Alex Skolnick (Testament) and rips through a quick but excellent solo.
Though none of the 8 tracks can be called weak, “Between Me and the Grave” is the most forgettable composition, lacking the catchiness that makes the other songs so attractive. Harder to pin down is the closer “Inmate 666.” It’s a strange song that differs completely from the other material. The band goes into overdrive through all the verses, but none more than the vocals, which spit at such a high speed I half expected it to be a cover of a hardcore punk song. I still haven’t made up my mind about how much I like the track, but it’s a much more interesting way to close an album than an 8-minute epic or tepid instrumental.
Another compliment must be extended to the production job on Death Always Wins. Aside from the debatable drum issue, the album sounds sharp and clear with a lot of punch for maximum impact. While a bit more bass would have been welcome, I can only commend the mastering choices of the band. With the sound so easy on the ears and the compact 30-minute running time, Death invites being spun again as soon as it ends.
I resisted Death Always Wins at first. Its ass-kicking energy didn’t land with me, for reasons I can no longer fathom. But there is no resisting such great, pummeling death-thrash. The groove will snap necks clean in half and the riffs don’t leave your head for hours. With no label to lean on and only a few years of experience, these Canadians offer no apologies. Dead Asylum have a winner on their hands. Record companies, better take note.