Usually Kronos takes the lion’s share of Unique Leader releases, so with a degree of suspicion I took on this curiously unclaimed album from back from the dead Kansas death metal crew, Unmerciful. I’ve never heard Unmerciful previously but there’s a lengthy history behind the band that initially formed way back in 2001. Unmerciful dropped their debut LP Unmercifully Beaten in 2006 before eventually disbanding. A few solid years since their rebirth, Unmerciful return with sophomore opus Ravenous Impulse, and those familiar with the Unique Leader roster past and present will immediately have an idea of what’s in store. However, though boasting a formidable roster of bands over the years, the factory for ultra-technical, occasionally great, and frequently brickwalled brutality isn’t exactly a label known for consistency. So where do Unmerciful sit on the brutal death spectrum?
Firstly, it’s important to establish some notable identities within the Unmerciful camp. None other than brutal death metal drumming royalty John Longstreth (Angelcorpse, Dim Mak, Gorguts, Origin) mans the kit, while ex-Origin members Jeremy Turner (bass) and Clint Appelhanz (guitars) also appear, with vocalist Kris Bolton and guitarist Justin Payne rounding out the line-up. Right off the bat, Ravenous Impulse sounds like a mean motherfucker unleashed to wreak havoc on your eardrums. The mode of attack is relentless and unforgiving; cyclonic blasting, tremolo tornadoes and rusty bladed riffs collide with mid-pitched growls and occasional higher range variables. Speed reigns supreme and the angry-meter stays in volatile territory throughout the album’s fortunately punchy 35-minute duration. Style-wise Unmerciful sit in a limbo zone somewhere between the technical and brutal sides of the death equation and more standardized American death metal. Hints of the gore-soaked caffeinated death of later-era Cannibal Corpse, tightly wound freneticism (but not as over-the-top technically) of obvious influence Origin, and whiffs of New York styled brutality feature in Unmerciful’s rugged blueprint.
As impressively visceral and energetic as Unmerciful’s brutish battering of the senses is, the songwriting sadly lacks in thrust or consistency. Performances are tight across the board with the high degree of technical proficiency never dissolving into tedious wank fest territory. Longstreth is a goddamn machine and his ridiculously tight and fluid rhythms, tasteful fills and top-notch blasting and double bass battery goes a ways towards compensating for the more run of the mill moments and occasionally lackluster songwriting. “Unmerciful” begins the album positively enough, propelled by its adrenaline charged intensity, sick Longstreth drumming and gut churning groove. Cuts like the title track and “Habitual Savagery” hammer away unmercifully but offer little in the way of variety or anything particularly memorable to latch onto, a reoccurring problem throughout the album. Beastly headbanger ‘Kill Reflex” fares better with its increased groove and tempo variation lending it some welcome personality, while latter albums cuts “Kingdom of Serpents” and closing instrumental “Methodic Absolution” end things on a stronger note. The former is a guttural rager with a touch of melody and punishing climax, while the latter is a surprisingly well-written instrumental, showing off the band’s instrumental chops within a tasteful, song-based structure.
Unfortunately Ravenous Impulse really falls short in the memorability stakes. Too much of the material bleeds together with a serious lack of distinctive hooks, riffs or songs demanding instant replay value, hampering the album as too often the blasting goes in one ear and out the other. Production-wise, Ravenous Impulse is predictably crushed though not without its grisly charms. The instruments are audible and reasonably well detailed and balanced in the mix, with Turner’s impressive bass having a strong yet understated presence.
Unmerciful are by no means a worthless entity and despite its failings I can still imagine less discerning metalheads relishing in Longstreth’s pummeling display and the tough, cutthroat delivery. However, it’s hard to imagine Ravenous Impulse, bar a couple of the stronger numbers here, finding its way back into my listening rotation anytime soon. With so much high-quality death metal being churned out these days, led by label mates First Fragment in 2016, Unmerciful’s Ravenous Impulse seems destined to drop off the radar.