Slam’s audio palette isn’t especially varied. The death metal setup – already instrumentally optimized for a pretty particular group of timbres – tuned down and sometimes pitchshifted into an almost inaudibly low register doesn’t give you much to work with in terms of tone diversity, which is why so many slam bands have tight, grating snares and so many slam riffs go all in on pinch harmonics. And when Katalepsy go all in, I mean all in. Autopsychosis, their debut album, brought some of the best slam in recent memory littered with the squealies, and songs like “Cold Flesh Citadel” were not just brutal but unforgettable. Hopes among the small cadre of slam aficionados at the AMG offices were set high for Gravenous Hour, and while I can report that Katalepsy delivered a decent album, it’s not quite the one we’d hoped for.
In recently signing Katalepsy and Abominable Putridity, Unique Leader bought out the top names in the Moscow slam scene – a good move on their part, and one that surely benefits the acts involved. But whether due to the shift in labels or not, Gravenous Hour is severely lacking in what made Autopsychosis so good: groovy, tight slams. This is a brutal death metal album through and through, and songs like “Blindhead Sultan” and “Monastery of Nothing” confirm Katalepsy‘s chops and writing ability, but the numbskulled animosity of previous releases is almost gone entirely. That being said, “Blindhead Sultan” takes a swipe at “Cold Flesh Citadel,” and its claim to the most addictive pinched lead ever, including both an excellent lead and solo over a drawn-out pit punishing riff.
But absent the steady, chromatic chugging that characterized Katalepsy‘s previous releases, Gravenous Hour still delivers brutal death metal with character and flair – at least for a time. The album has a progressive edge to its compositions and sounds that reminds me at times of world-class modern death metal acts like Wretched and Job For a Cowboy1. The solos and leads on “Critical Black Mass” and “The long Bright Darkness” are tight and melodic, and when smashed against the band’s brutal riffing and often jarring riff transitions really stick these songs together. But a consistently fast-paced delivery doesn’t do the band any favors, and the album’s lack of big slams means a lack of big moments to really latch on to. And at forty minutes long and featuring a lot of one-and-done riffing, the album starts to drag after “Monastery of Nothing.”
The impression of homogeneity isn’t helped by the album’s production; as expected for a UL release – and for a Katalepsy album – Gravenous Hour is very clean and very modern sounding – not clinical, but it’s something I’d rub on my face without much hesitation. This album is also just very, very loud, and though it doesn’t sound squashed, it’s hard to pay attention to the music after listening for a while. And as I previously commented, the b-side of this album is severely lacking in character – there’s little of interest to be had in the last five or so tracks.
Katalepsy‘s move away from their slam roots with Gravenous Hour certainly hasn’t endeared the album to me, and I’m sure most fans will be disappointed by this obvious step down in quality. But if I consider the album in a vacuum, it’s still a competent death metal release. It’s frustrating that the band’s sound has changed so much, but at the very least, the album is still heavy and punishing. It’s just that – and I never thought I’d have to say this about Katalepsy – this album is just not brutal enough.