I recently heard from a coworker that lobster meat only has to contain about 2% actual lobster to be labeled as such. Often when you’re biting into a cheap lobster roll, you’re actually eating monkfish – a bottom dwelling creature that looks like a cross between a dog turd and a deep sea anglerfish that got run over by a dump truck. Why bring this up? Well, if Polish grindcore quartet F.A.M. are any indication, mediocre deathgrind albums work the same way. Apparently you don’t need quality riffs or spastic Wormrot-like tempo shifts to make a passable record in the genre – just stuff 33 minutes with downtuned filler and unintelligibly deep gurgles, flourish with gasmask artwork, and toss a My Dying Bride cover on the end for a little extra WTF. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Human Cargo – the mystery meat of the grindcore world.
You know those riffs that serve as little more than time-fillers or transitions between superior ideas? Imagine an entire record filled with those. The follow-up to 2007 debut Bullet(in), Cargo typifies the modern brand of high-energy, zero-memorability deathgrind that bands like Mumakil have been churning out for the past decade. This is exactly what you’d expect from the genre: chuggy piledriver riffing, fragmentary tremolo bursts, and demented diaphragm vomit that sounds like the mentally disturbed younger brother of Aborted‘s Sven de Caluwé. It’s all raw and intense, but that means little when the blunt bashing never develops into anything interesting and the vocals never waver from their frantic staccato gurgling. Naming tracks is almost pointless – you could hit shuffle after opener “Junkie” and would never know if you’re listening to these 14 songs in the right order were it not for the occasional pointless samples.
That said, there are some redeeming qualities here. The burly production is a good fit for the bulldozer guitar tone and is less overbearing than you’d expect, even if at DR3 the soundscape is about as lush as a napalm-scorched warzone. Likewise, drummer Darek Młody refrains from delivering nonstop blasting, deftly serving up battering D-beats and quick thrash rhythms just as often. His performance augments the decent grooves on tracks like “Szpion” and “Let’s Share a Cigarette,” the slow closing chugs of “From Chełm with Love,” and the occasional brutal death flourishes like the pinch harmonics of “Belt.” Late album track “PKP Hangover” even features some Nasumy stop-starts that – while not terribly exciting – at least provide some semblance of variety.
Still, it’s always a bad sign when a cover is the best song on the album, and that’s exactly the case here with F.A.M.‘s take on My Dying Bride‘s “All Swept Away.” Sped up to a 3 minute runtime, the vocal patterns and crunchy riffs of the doomy original actually work remarkably well when repackaged into grind, and serve as both a fitting closer and the album’s only truly memorable song. Unfortunately several of the later tracks prior to “Swept Away” are some of the longest on the record, and while the quality never really dips, ultimately Cargo just has way fewer ideas than its runtime can justify. The overall effect is like watching a man with severe elephantiasis in his balls try to run a mile: you smell his musky sweat, you see the desperation in his eyes, you hear the sound of his raw scrotum dragging along the asphalt. Shuffling along with the agonizing weight of mediocrity, you know the will and inspiration are there, but for your sake and his you just want it to end.
Human Cargo isn’t a horrible record or even a very bad one, but for all it’s scorching fire and bristling energy, there’s just nothing here that sticks. In the future some more interesting tempo shifts, varied vocals, and memorable riffs would help F.A.M. tremendously. For now, there’s just no reason to bother with the knockoff meat when bands like Death Toll 80K and Insect Warfare exist in the world.