Usurping the Throne of Disease gave me two things: one, a delightfully rotten piece of blackened death-crust (which, typing it out now, actually sounds more like a spicy appetizer than a genre); and two, a reason to move past my failed no-jerking-off New Year’s resolution and slave away at a review that will, inevitably, be given the ‘Quilted Northern’ treatment by my Great Overlord. Nevertheless, I remain devoted even under the reign of those with better talent and taste, listening intently with eyes closed, daydreaming of wind-whipped nuclear wastelands and scribbling notes on torn cocktail napkins. Today’s topic: U.K.’s Winds of Genocide, a group of Durham crust punks who achieved underground fanfare a few years back with 2010’s The Arrival of Apocalyptic Armageddon EP and a subsequent positive blog post from Darkthrone’s Fenriz. Usurping is the band’s full-length debut and has all the hallmarks of an inspired yet unrefined first album, conjured by a lot who have probably worn out their Extreme Noise Terror vinyls and spent more than one night in a grimy alley with a patched leather jacket for a blanket.
The sound? Imagine a more bestial Hellbastard or sloppier Disfear, supplementing tattered hardcore punk chords with darkly melodic early Dismember tremolos, frantic, barely-on-time drumming, and throaty nigh-indecipherable death roars that sound like vocalist Kat Shevil is about to eat the microphone. Opener “The Howling Wolves of Armageddon” does a decent enough job introducing, with buzzing war-battered guitars and charging D-beats that – wait a sec, I’ve heard this drumming before. Lo and behold! It’s Matt Henderson of Horrified, who Jean-Luc Ricard rightly criticized for their less-than-precise drumwork. Fortunately, Henderson is far better suited to Winds’ punkier, unrefined sound and only hinders things here because of his contribution to the initial monotony. See second track “Deathstrike of the Scythe,” following “Wolves” with more tattered power chords and…well, slightly faster D-beats. It ain’t bad – but Jesus fuck, are there really seven more tracks of this?
Actually, no. Usurping is a strange record that evolves as it progresses, opening with the two most straightforward (and frankly, weakest) tracks before integrating more interesting old school death and black elements. “Venomous Warfare” and “Into the Darkness of Eternal Nuclear Winter” redeem things tremendously, wafting on triumphant, sweetly blackened tremolos and offering some welcome down-tempo moments, while the title track channels Bolt Thrower with its IVth Crusade-esque opening leads and main riff that crests into the record’s catchiest refrain (“Into everlasting suffering!”) before bringing those initial leads back for an immense, crawling conclusion that collapses like an avalanche of femurs. Awkwardly titled hardcore romp “Till Graven” takes the opposite approach, taking 82 seconds to pound those femurs to dust with a set of elephantine grind riffs that make nods to modern Napalm Death.
The production is impressive for crust. That guitar tone is powerful, discernable, and downright filthy, while the fuzzy, driving bass remains distinct without detracting from the other elements. The mix excels at balancing subtleties like the distant nuclear blasts on “Mass Graves of the Innocent,” or the layered vocals on the barbaric death-thrash of “Millions Lie Slaughtered.” But while the sound is terrific, the real bane of this record is a double-edged sword: Usurping succeeds as a debut because the band clearly took time compiling their favorite ideas from over the years – offering variety, but also inconsistency. Some cuts (the crusty openers) are not nearly as mature or engaging as others (the Bestial Warlust-meets-Craven Idol closer “Swathed by the Black Wings of Death”).
There are other nitpicks – the tempo could be more varied, the vocals get a tad monotonous, and the success of some songs seems to hinge on a single quality riff – but the track order is surprisingly well arranged, and there are more than enough winning moments in these 33 minutes to keep things aloft. Overall, Usurping is a brutish, raw, and vicious debut that becomes more fun with repeat listens. In the wake of a year replete with disappointing albums by established acts, it’s refreshing to see a new group that can still sound fresh with an old-school sensibility and aesthetic. New Year’s resolutions? Fuck ‘em – embrace the nasty and let your inner gutter punk run wild.