Why, many of us are often asked, do we listen to such angry and violent music? The best answer is because we like it, but more defensive types will jump to justifications like complex song structures, musical talent, and the sheer physical endurance of the artists. Fine and dandy, but those are hardly sufficient arguments that miss the flaw contained in the question: you can certainly judge a man by the company he keeps, but not what keeps him company on his headphones. Why, many reviewers often ask themselves, should I recommend or trash this record? I’ve asked this question of myself about Ascended Dead’s Abhorrent Manifestation repeatedly, and my truthful answer to that is “I have no idea.”
To borrow a line from the ever-impressive Grymm, Abhorrent Manifestation sounds like what all death metal must sound like to people with no experience of the genre. It’s a largely unceasing barrage of indecipherable vocals, murky riffs that sound fast and intricate, and drums that are inconceivably vicious and precise. To my ears, this is full-throttle stuff that’s just on the brink of war metal (skirmish metal?), and brings ideas from Incantation and newer Immolation into the Conqueror style of aural punishment. Those dirges of Incantation aren’t present, and Ascended Dead aren’t as complex as Immolation, so what we’re left with is the more intense and straightforward parts of both organized into something reminiscent of the “bestial” template of cycling through a series of riffs quickly and keeping the pedal to the floor nearly the entire time.
Ascended Dead are largely okay at what they do. They’ve got more actual riffs than your run of the mill war metal band, and “Subconscious Barbarity” showcases that nicely. It provides a primal sort of thrill, its later Incantation riffs blending with the war metal aesthetic to make something close to visceral noise but with enough discernible riffs to be enjoyed as an actual song as well. “Perdition” has some fascinating drum patterns in its beginning, and they kept me compulsively coming back to make sense of them again and again. The rest of the song doesn’t exactly slouch either, reminding me of Kingdom of Conspiracy and Decimate Christendom in equal parts. It’s less war metal than most other stuff here, and the breathing room certainly helps it be more engaging than its counterparts.
As anyone who’s read this far knows is coming, the big problem with Abhorrent Manifestation lies in its lack of meaningful identity. There’s really no reason to listen to this over the fairly similar and more satisfyingly filthy Pissgrave, and Ascended Dead certainly aren’t going to knock Incantation or Immolation out of your rotation. I’m hard-pressed to remember more than a handful of riffs, structures, climaxes, or interesting bits, and a song like “Ensnared for Eternity” just goes in one ear and straight out the other with imitation-grade Incantation riffing mixed with the monotony of war metal.
The production on Abhorrent Manifestation is claustrophobic yet dynamic, very human, and raw; in other words, it’s utterly perfect for the music. Putting this on loudly sees violence blaring from your speakers, and in turn the argument can be made that this is more about atmosphere. This argument, here as everywhere, is spectacularly poor and not to be seriously considered. Atmosphere ought to compliment quality content, not be the end goal in itself. Unfortunately, the impression Ascended Dead gives me is of a band who wants to make the most violent music they can, meaning that the atmosphere of violence puts songwriting in the back seat. This is too measured and professional to have the youthful charm of, say, Sarcofago, and too uninteresting riff-wise to be worthwhile Incantation-core.
Truly bothersome is that Ascended Dead sound incredibly talented, and are adept at writing chaotic music. Their brand of chaos just isn’t particularly engaging, and one gets the feeling that nothing really happened during Abhorrent Manifestation’s runtime. Of course plenty did happen, as roughly four million notes across all instruments were played, but recalling much of anything is like trying to recall what you had for dinner on Tuesday three weeks ago: those details have long since left your memory to make room for more important things.
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent Records | Invictus Productions
Websites: ascended-dead.bandcamp.com | | facebook.com/ascended-dead
Releases Worldwide: March 17th, 2017