Trying to think of a catchy way to start a review when there’s very little information available on the band concerned, most of what is out there is in a foreign language and the record in question isn’t actually very good can be tough. In an ideal world, I probably ought to power through irrespective, taking plenty of time in order to come up with something snappy. Well, in an ideal world I’d also be married to Emilia Clarke, so what can I say? Sometimes life sets you up for disappointment. On that, resoundingly appropriate note, Angry Metal Guy proudly presents Archaic Visions of the Underworld — the sophomore LP from Paraguayan blackened death metallers Master of Cruelty.
At school, geography was a subject I was always reasonably good at, however, despite this, I could not tell you the first thing about Paraguay. I decided to do some research, therefore, and came across some moderately interesting facts. Did you know, for example, that the country has the largest navy of any landlocked nation on Earth? Or that they’re the globe’s largest exporter of hydroelectric power? Or that their national flag is the only one that has a different emblem on either side? Neither did I and while none of these facts are especially relevant to Master of Cruelty, they are all, without exception, more interesting than Archaic Visions of the Underworld.
While the band occupies the ‘blackened death metal’ bracket, fusion genres tend to come in degrees, and Master of Cruelty place the majority of their emphasis on the death metal side of things. Now while I’m hardly the world’s biggest DM fan, I can still appreciate it when it’s executed competently. Unfortunately, however, this is simply not something that can be said to apply here. Now in fairness, the record does actually start off rather encouragingly. Opener “Mortem Prima Lex” sets the scene well, featuring a brooding intro which ramps the atmosphere up to 11 and gets the listener in the mood for something sinister and unpleasant. While the word ‘unpleasant’ certainly could be used to describe what follows, however, I doubt it would be in the context in which the band had intended.
Master of Cruelty’s music is characterized by fat, dirty-sounding guitar riffs, frantic blast beats and erratic tempo shifts — an aspect which quickly becomes insufferably irritating. Much of the guitar work is totally forgettable, and owing to the unrelenting tempo changes, a half-decent idea or thread does rear its head and is gone almost as quickly as it arrived. The album’s title-track, for instance, has a hook that is actually quite catchy, however, all of a sudden things then descend into a chaotic gray mush that sounds more like a car crash played on a loop than anything even passingly resembling music.
Matters aren’t helped much either by the frankly lamentable production. We’re not talking production that is all stripped back and kvlt either; it’s just dreadful. The album sounds as though it was recorded onto a dictaphone, and thus when things get fast and heavy it all just turns into one big indecipherable soup of noise. Even the segments of music which are listenable are rarely worth actually listening to, with the majority of the more mid-tempo passages committing the cardinal musical sin of simply being boring. Sure, there’s the occasional hint of promise tantalizingly dropped in here and there, almost like an appeal to the listener to kid themselves that it’s not all that bad, but you have to wade through so much dross to access these isolated moments that it’s really not worth the effort.
Nowadays we’re all warned of the potential for long-term hearing damage posed by loud music, and over the years I’ve had a recurring dream relating to the issue; in essence, I’m at a gig and my eardrums explode mid-set, and thus my last memory of sound was whatever the band was playing at the time. For this reason alone, if I were at a live show and Master of Cruelty were to hit the stage as a support band, I would seriously consider taking up smoking again just to give myself a reason to leave the room. The thought of Archaic Visions of the Underworld proving to be my last aural experience is frankly too disturbing a prospect to risk, no matter how remote the chances of such a scenario coming to fruition may be. There’s no point in sugar-coating it; this record is just plain bad.