There’s something to be said about truth in advertising, a mythical beast that promises the end-product bears some resemblance to the picture on the box. From Death to Obituary to Autopsy, few genres carry the torch with such ardent fervor than death metal, a genus devoted to announcing its intentions to all and sundry with a bullhorn. With a name like Plague Throat — other body part-related titles workshopped but rejected were “Funny Bone” and “Tennis Elbow” — this Indian trio is signaling loud and clear the type of music one can expect to find on their debut, The Human Paradox. It’s time to discover whether the carpet matches the drapes or if this record amounts to nothing more than a disappointing bait-and-switch.
While the band name invites rancid imagery, track titles such as “Dominion Breach,” ‘Fallible Transgression,” and “Conflict Resolution” hew closer to the type of synthetic existentialism found on a Fear Factory record. With clipped riffs and concentrated, binary drumming, the comparison flows on to the music itself, borrowing many cues from Soul of a New Machine with the remainder draped in the cloak of modern American death metal. Tracks like “Inherited Failure” and “Dominion Breach” pulse with chord-after-chord of muted, shorn riffs, chased down the rabbit hole by a battery of rat-a-tat skin slapping that wouldn’t be out of place on a Lamb of God release. The coarse vocals from singer/guitarist Nangsan resemble those of Eric Rutan, but his performance never crests above perfunctory.
The album is enlivened by several arresting flourishes, from the quirky, asynchronous drum/bass combo at the beginning of “Hour of Darkness” that echoes latter-era Death to the atmospheric electronic throbbing outro of “Fallible Transgression.” The zenith of The Human Paradox is without a doubt the eponymous track, a supple instrumental that slithers and weaves but still provides fodder for the moshpit. Although his vocals may be staid, Nangsan’s skill on guitar cannot be denied, his hypnotic solos and playful lead-work get me salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. With such a potent weapon, you’d imagine it would be deployed with extreme prejudice. Bafflingly, this is not the case.
Whether by design, apathy or a reluctance to commit to a composition that would necessitate a touring guitarist, Nangsan only doles out the leads and solos sparingly. Now I’m not arguing that lead-heavy music is a necessary ingredient for success, after all plenty of laudable albums exist devoid of anything even resembling a solo, but if you lean on your rhythm section you better be sure that the riffs can carry the load. Nangsan, perfectly capable of impressing on rhythm, gallingly rests on his laurels on too many of the tracks, content to ramble out prosaic tales from the fretboard. Often the riffs wash over me and my attention wanes but whenever a solo or lead appears my ears prick up and I’m back in the song again. It’s the equivalent of discovering a racy foreign film on late-night TV when you were a whelp, your patience tested as you waited for a tantalizing glimpse of exposed flesh.
Production-wise, The Human Paradox glistens like a newborn, every instrument polished to a sheen, every note landing with satisfying impact. Its stark nature suits the clinical execution of the music. This is a professional sounding album delivered by a professional sounding band. Plague Throat produce many memorable moments on the record, but they are not common, a delicious dessert after you’ve choked down your vegetables. The band cradles the potential for something special, but this will only be realized if they push the boat out rather than sitting content with the minimum amount of flair. Right now they exist as talented but inoffensive fodder dragged out to warm up the crowd before the bigger act swaggers onstage.