Readers au fait with the -core end of the extreme music spectrum will likely be familiar with Spazz and Black Army Jacket, the members of whom would go on to form our current review subjects. But for those of you that prefer Iced Earth to Infest, these names probably don’t mean much. While grindcore was close enough to metal to appeal to both the short and the long-haired, its musical cousin powerviolence remained firmly within the hardcore punk tradition. I owe Deny the Cross thanks for forcing me to expand my musical horizons further punkwards so that I can actually review them within some sort of meaningful context. Having spent last week giving myself a powerviolence crash course, I can now state with confidence that both Spazz and Black Army Jacket made some pretty awesome noises. Deny the Cross have quite the heritage to live up to.
Inevitably Alpha Ghoul doesn’t quite manage that – but it’s certainly no dud, so let’s start with the good. Building on a traditional powerviolence base of super-fast, spiky hardcore riffs, Deny the Cross mix in a good dollop of Napalm-drenched grindcore and package everything up with expert songwriting chops to crank out 18 songs in 18 minutes, thereby making this required listening for Swallow the Sun. Despite this brevity, each track makes perfect sense in the context of the album – especially the 13-second “Trust in Nothing” and 11-second “Godfather,” oddly enough. Deny the Cross get the pacing and flow just right, contrasting upbeat punk with dissonant grind sections to make a surprisingly diverse album for what can be a rather limited subgenre.
The band’s performances are excellent: Carlos Ramirez (Black Army Jacket) sounds like a cross between Napalm Death‘s Barney Greenway and Assück‘s Paul Pavlovich, while David Witte (Municipal Waste, Melt Banana, Discordance Axis, Black Army Jacket, etc. etc. etc.) is reliably fantastic behind the kit. However, Ramon Salcido (bass, Agents of Satan) is the standout performer, his adventurous forays up the fretboard adding unexpected spice to the arrangements. His contribution is the most original element in a sound that, despite the great song-writing, is far from novel. Deny the Cross are clearly happy to pay tribute to the past rather than expanding on the hard/grind-core blueprint.
The production gives the only indication that Alpha Ghoul belongs to this century rather than the last. Continuing the trend of pretty much all recent grind records (certain modern classics excepted), Alpha Ghoul is crushed to smithereens, and all the less vibrant because of it. At least there are some good tones lurking below the compression wall – Salcido’s bass is particularly crushing – but this irritating feature, along with the limited originality, will severely limit the number of spins this receives on the Ricard (virtual) turntable.
Still, for a short sharp burst of punked-up aggression, you could do a lot worse than Alpha Ghoul. Though Deny the Cross will likely never outdo their former bands’ exploits, they are master craftsmen, and sometimes it’s nice just to appreciate the skill rather than worrying about novelty. Just please don’t let the mastering engineer fuck with your handiwork next time, OK chaps?