For whatever reason, bands tend to get less and less extreme as they age. Sometimes it’s the extremity of earlier albums being too much to match. Some musicians just get tired of metal, like Brent Hinds or Mikael Åkerfeldt. Bands can change style completely, like Opeth and Cynic, or they can just write more choruses, as Kurt Ballou says of Converge. Yet for all the diversity of unmetalification, there are some very consistent pathways that musicians and bands tend to follow. Today’s example, most notable in Cynic and Opeth, is something I like to call Kronos‘ Law of Increasing Hippietude1
This law is simple and states that all death metal musicians are throughout their lives transforming irreversibly into hippies. Or, mathematically, at any point in their career, t, the derivative of any metal performer’s hippietude, dH/dt, is positive. While some musicians may have a very low or almost imperceptible dH/dt, they will never, ever become less of a hippie. From this, we can draw two important conclusions.
- Cynic albums will get worse and worse.
- Convulse, a death metal band formed in 1988, are probably hippies by now.
And indeed they are. While Rami Jämsä still growls like a tank made out of bears2, every other part of Convulse has become quite chill since the days of their infancy. Luckily for them, Convulse never quite built up a big enough fanbase to violently turn on them, so this transition is going to be smoother than the keyboards on Pale Communion. Entering on a high note, “Cycle of Revenge” strikes a familiar Amorphis feel until Jämsä’s gravelly growl takes over. While his vocal style is striking against such laid-back riffing, it’s mixed into the fray so well that it feels just right even before the song breaks into an Opeth-styled prog mania.
“God is You” continues in much the same vein, built on a fast groove reminiscent of “Cusp of Eternity” without being too derivative, and leads into the energetic and heavy opening riff of “Pangaea.” These opening songs are killer hippie-death material, groovy and polished with great solos, pedalboard mashing almost worthy of The Mars Volta, and snappy songwriting, but they set a tempo the band struggles to keep up through the rest of the album. “Fractured Pieces,” drags on lethargically in its second half, and “Nature of Humankind” jogs along on a bluesy death-and-roll riff that I just can’t stand. Jämsä goes for a semi-clean, mid-range delivery on “Ever-Flowing Stream,” and misses the mark by a margin just thick enough to be off-putting.
Even when it stumbles, Cycle of Revenge remains listenable because of its excellent production and performances. The album was recorded live, and that energy and cohesion make a real difference in these simple songs; the band are tight and turn in inspired performances all around, without any of the three stealing the show. The quality of the recording doesn’t hurt either; the drums and guitar have a ton of depth and warmth, and Juha Telenius’ bass bounces along without any sonic impediment. Cycle of Revenge sounds dark and heavy because of its tones and writing, and its remarkably transparent production exists to serve, rather than augment those qualities.
If you’re a metal guy that’s not quite so angry anymore, Cycle of Revenge will pair well with your favorite artisan wine or local micro-brew. Hippiefied metal bands are here to stay, and given the aforementioned laws of nature and the age of many death metal bands, they’re only going to increase in number. Convulse may not be trailblazing, but this album still sets a good example for the eternal rains of cynical metalheads to come.