AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo: Canvas Black – Destructive Herd Mentality

Back in the primordial days of this here blog, we attempted something called “AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo.” The basic idea was to select a bunch of unsigned bands and give them the collective review treatment to find the most worthy buried gems. It was our humble effort to remind folks that the metal underground is still an important part of the world of metal.

After several years of self-righteous elitism where we largely overlooked unsigned acts, it’s high time we make amends. And so we’re bringing AMGs Unsigned Band Rodeo back from the dustbins of history with a fresh paint job and a butt-load of new reviewers! Every other month we will pluck a band from metallic obscurity, review the holy Bejesus out of them and leave them to the mercy of you, the fickle masses. At year’s end we will crown the best in show and shower them with accolades, cheap beer and day old sushi. Now that you know the score, welcome to the Rodeo, mofos!

We’re back for round two of AMG’s newfangled Unsigned Band Rodeo! This time we’re doing things just a bit differently. Instead of the entire AMG mob opining on one self-released album, we’ve randomly created 2 teams of elitist reviewers, each getting their own release to ruminate deeply upon. Team White Ale is up first with their assignment: Canvas Black, a progressive death act hailing from Bergen, Norway and featuring a member of Vredehammer. Having formed in 2012, Destructive Herd Mentality is their debut full-length which released on May 26th and is available on Bandcamp. You can learn more about Canvas Black at their homepage and on Facebook. Caution: subjective musical snobbery ahead.

Doc Fisting – We may have reached peak tech-death a few years back, but Norway natives Canvas Black are determined to make a name for themselves in the genre anyway. In the course of a 33-minute LP, the band tackles proggy Gorguts homages, atmospheric delay pedal tomfoolery a la The Faceless, and even a couple vaguely djent-sounding riffs for the youngsters. While the result is more cohesive than my last sentence would imply, it still comes off pretty generic in an era where almost everyone has a band like this. The musicianship is thoroughly top-notch, but the vocals are the epitome of phoned-in aggression, and the direct quoting of Sgt. Hartmann (Full Metal Jacket) is a rookie move if ever there was one. Canvas Black may have the genre down to a science, but they fail to bring anything new to an already-crowded table. 2.5/5.0

Grymm – First off, let me start by saying that Destructive Herd Mentality by Norway’s Canvas Black is easily the most Inception promo I’ve ever seen, having to unzip a folder to find a folder within another folder. Not a good start, and the production furthers the damage, sounding compressed as hell (also, word of advice: don’t add further distortions, like the one at the end of “Self-Destruction,” when the mix is atrocious enough without any extra aid). As for the music? It’s like Meshuggah and Strapping Young Lad went out for a drink, and left the rhythmic hooks of the former and the sweeping melodic madness of the latter at home. They’re talented musicians, yes, but the songs could use some help, as none of them hook with the exception of the ending of the title track. Also, three guitarists are listed, when I hear only two. Just… why?! 2.0/5.0

Kronos – What do you think of when you think of Symbolic? If you’ve ever heard of the album, you think of a riff. For me it’s the opener from “Symbolic” itself, but maybe you’re more of a “Crystal Mountain” or “Misanthrope” kind of person. Nevertheless, it’s the riffs that really make it. What do I think of when I think of Destructive Herd Mentality? This kind of annoying lead from “Selfdestruction.” As many times as I listen to this, the only thing I really notice is that lead. The album can’t muster anything else that’s memorable, technically inspiring or emotionally engaging. Canvas Black aren’t particularly bad at death metal, but Destructive Herd Mentality doesn’t have anything particularly good to show for them either. 2.0/5.0

Mark Z. – This is like Gorguts meets Man Must Die in the worst way possible. Picture techy modern death metal, with wonky riffs that sound like dissonant chords and fragmented melodies haphazardly glued together. Combined with unnecessary layers of synths and guitars buzzing in the background, Mentality ultimately comes across as a disorderly mess. This is like an atmospheric version of Psycroptic that got beat up at a boxing match and now hobbles alone through the city sewers. More points off for those wet raspy vocals, which crop up now and then in this genre and always remind me of someone drinking a can of Bud Light Clamato and trying not to puke. A few decent licks creep up in the peppy rhythms of “Selfdestruction,” but otherwise this Norwegian quintet have produced something that’s about as essential as your local Radioshack. Thank god it’s only 33 minutes. 2.0/5.0

Akerblogger – Stifling heat causes a shimmering in the air. A swan, slender, swift, yet mottled with brown flecks of old age, drifts aimlessly through this mirage. The simmering heat, shimmering sunlight, subtle movement of the elder swan, and sway of the flexible reeds merge to form a mirage of circling peacefulness. Unity. Perfect balance. Destroyed, now, by a post-apocalyptic monstrosity of steel, iron, copper, and wood: a hover-craft named Destructive Herd Mentality careering through the scene, slicing through the shimmering heat like a butcher’s blade, decapitating the swan and slicing its insides outwards. The album is a bludgeoning mass of chugging and forgettable death metal. It shows traces of the subtle beauty in the form of tufts of swan-interior stuck to the rickety propeller, however the constants are blood-soaked vocals, pumping rhythms verging on atonal, crunching yet underwhelming breakdowns, and decals of a slightly quirky and interesting nature in the form of brief technical flourishes and ambience. Some of the melodies are nice, the switches to contemplative slowness decent, but these parts are obfuscated by mud and a terrible production. Poor swan. 2.0/5.0

Huck N’ Roll – This is supposed to be technical, brutal death metal with playful proggy elements strewn in, but I don’t hear it. Even after multiple listens the best compliment I can offer is that the singer is okay. Musically each song is as bland as the one before, with no real technicality to speak of unless one counts blasting away on the double kick drums. Also, it took Canvas Black four years to write their debut album and they could only cobble together seven songs that all sound alike? No points for effort here. If this was a rodeo, these guys would be off the bull! 1.5/5.0

GardensTale – It happens to the best of us. Your whole band gets wasted on absinthe, you write an entire album and book a studio the next day, then find a lot of blank spots in your memory when you turn up to record. Canvas Black said: “Fuck it, let’s tape it anyway,” and nailing Meshuggah on Behemoth‘s inverted cross, they managed to crank out a bafflingly inconsistent album, where Septicflesh-like symphonic darkness lives side by side with Liquid Tension Experiment turned deathcore. The former works better than the latter, because when the jazz kicks in, the songcraft goes out the window. Adding insult to injury, the platter has been splattered with a brick house for an eye-watering punishment of a production. Brutally stripped of all dynamics, the migraine master makes sure that what’s left of Canvas Black dies before it gets a proper foot out of the door. 1.5/5.0

Eldritch Elitist – The Unsigned Band Rodeo is an excellent consolidation of the tastes and writing styles of our motley crew, but word around the office water hobo wine cooler is that this iteration isn’t working out in the band’s favor. I can’t really blame my colleagues for ripping into Canvas Black’s debut Destructive Herd Mentality; even at 33 minutes, its ludicrous brickwalling makes it a tough sell. Yet I found much to like in the band’s approach, especially in how they eschew typical tech-death tropes in favor of varied prog rhythms. The impressive riff count bolsters the refreshing song variety, with some cuts leaning into a straightforward, bludgeoning attitude while others exude a creeping, cosmic personality through Devin Towsend-ian leads and keys (“Selfdestruction,” “High Doom Street”). It’s not revolutionary, but it’s a promising debut that scratches my death metal itch while throwing a few creative and atmospheric curve balls. 3.0/5.0

Ferrous Beuller – I find it tricky to consider “progressive” as a genre sometimes. Surely the nature of progression, as the word suggests, is a continuous forward movement, expanding boundaries musical or otherwise, and therefore indefinable? Norway’s Canvas Black play progressive death metal, apparently, yet manage to be anything but, existing comfortably in that vacuum of extreme bands who are progressing precisely nothing at all. Compressed more densely than my interest in this album, and plied with sadly indistinct vocals, I can only assume this is what happens when an act tries too hard to pretend their band’s original descriptor didn’t once harbor the word “core” before it became anathema. Despite a potentially potent rhythm section, Destructive Herd Mentality needs to take Canvas Black to the canvas back and draft up some ingenuity – as it is, it’s like viewing White Rabbit in a Snowstorm but unequipped with the imperative sense of irony. 1.5/5.0

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