Benediction – Scriptures Review

When I first heard Benediction, it was on the indispensable Death…Is Just the Beginning II with “Dark is the Season.” I still get that opening riff stuck in my head from time to time. Many moons ago when I first discovered Anaal Nathrakh, I learned that vocalist Dave Hunt had performed on Benediction’s 2008 release Killing Music, I was rather ambivalent upon hearing it. Sometime around then I heard Bolt Thrower’s underrated Honour Valour Pride, which featured Benediction’s best-known vocalist Dave Ingram, and I loved his performance. Ingram’s stellar performance on the title track of Megascavenger’s At the Plateaus of Leng was a big factor in me picking it up. Scriptures, Benediction’s first release since Killing Music, sees Ingram return to the fold and my expectations measured.

Measured because, all things considered, I’ve always considered Benediction to be “frustratingly good” (thanks for the phrase, Grymm) at death metal. Their style reminds me of a cross between Massacre and Bolt Thrower, which are both sounds I like. Scriptures also demonstrates an enjoyment of Asphyx’s successful reunion, especially Death…the Brutal Way. They get thrashy in spots, but never fast in the vein of Slayer. Instead, Massacre’s From Beyond and Six Feet Under’s Maximum Violence are the type of speed aimed for and achieved here. Ingram’s vocals are in great shape, possessing a commanding presence, great enunciation, and that classic, powerful “AYE!” vocal hit he does.

There’s something happily anachronistic about Scriptures. With different production, this could’ve come out alongside From Beyond and nobody would’ve batted an eye – but plenty would’ve banged their heads. The main riff of “Stormcrow” is tailor-made for that, and the beastly middle section of “Iterations of I” uses toms effectively to accentuate just how heavy of a riff Benediction is playing. “In Our Hands, the Scars” has a slight taste of Asphyx in its jogging tempo and crushing midsection riff which works well for the track. “Neverwhen” begins on something reminiscent of both Asphyx and Six Feet Under, but Benediction make it their own with a drum pattern and melody over top that neither band would use. Closing number “We Are Legion” rides a monstrous groove and Ingram revels in it with some great phrasing. It speeds up effectively in the middle and ends on a somewhat dramatic note with a cinematic melody and quasi-spoken words. It’s just campy enough to be perfect for the genre.

Now we get to the “frustratingly good” part. Cardiac Arrest plays a similar style of meat-and-taters death metal, and their 2020 record The Day that Death Prevailed is a taut thirty-two minutes because the material only calls for that length. Scriptures, on the other hand, is forty-seven minutes long and begins to run out of ideas relatively quickly. Songs are structured simply and similarly, moving to quick or midtempo parts when you’d expect them to. A lack of surprises isn’t a bad thing for a death metal record like this, but a lack of standout riffs is. Unfortunately, Benediction suffers from this and, combined with the overlong nature of Scriptures, tends to make the entire experience bleed together into a long tome of death metal decency. The trope “it’s fun while it’s on” applies here, as even the bog-standard riffing which sometimes crops up isn’t bad, it’s just uninteresting. The worst offenders here are the quasi-thrashy death metal riffs, many of which do little but fill space between better riffs. The rule of thumb here is that once Benediction moves to playing consistent trem-picked riffs, the quality drops. The aforementioned “Iterations of I” is notable for this, as the fast bit stands out as notably inferior to everything else in the song. “Progenitors of a New Paradigm” overuses its good ideas and drags them out for too long, dampening their effectiveness in the process. It’s a quality four-minute song in a five-and-a-half-minute shell, which when put in proportion to the entirety of Scriptures is close to an apt representation of the record.

Not aiding matters is the flat production job which reminds me of Massacre’s Back from Beyond. There’s little impact or low end, it sounds like standard modern genre fare, and the drums are too plasticine for this type of music. The bland production and excessive length combine to fatigue the listener before the record concludes. Scriptures is a record which, unfortunately, I see doomed to having a few cuts culled for Spotify playlists instead of enjoyed in full time and again. I wish I liked it more than I do.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 267 kbps vbr mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Releases Worldwide: October 16th, 2020

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