Pretense is a bitch. I’ve found myself being more and more cynical through the years about people who claim to be the best at what they do. From athletes and artists to people I interact with on a daily basis, I prefer action and art to speak for itself. Therefore, I found myself suspicious with Filipino blackened death metal three-piece Deiphago, who proclaim to be “arguably the most violent band on the planet, as well as one of the most envelope-pushing.” Released through the prestigious Hells Headbangers Records, I, the Devil is their fifth full-length, which they claim is “NOT for normcore metalheads, weekend warriors, or ‘diehards only’ posers.” While the band’s previous four diabolically named full-lengths have not hit the sweet spot, fifth time’s the charm, right? Will the envelope pushed be the genre, the band’s sound, or across the post office counter to send the record back?
Deiphago is not necessarily your everyday Behemoth or Belphegor ripoff, instead vouching for a death/black/grind war metal melting pot more akin to Blasphemy or Bestial Warlust. They pile on relentless riffs with incessant blast beats and throat-shredding growls, forcing listeners into Satanic concussions with sinister atmospheric flourishes. While violence, chaos, and an all-around eardrum pummeling is clearly the endgame here, there is little to be jazzed about.
The jazz here is sadly isolated to short-lived passages. The sound is punishingly blasting, which is initially a nice jolt of energy, but very quickly loses its staying power. The ending passage of “Quantum Death” pulls from Behemoth‘s magic hat in some eerie ambiance atop the otherwise mindlessly pummeling sound; “Deus Alienus (God of the Other Side)” has a tasty (albeit bland) bass intro; an interlude portion in “Neuro-Satanic Circuit” pushes the dissonance for an Ulcerate-esque riff; and drummer Erick Mejia pulls off some cool fills here and there. The production quality does a nice job complementing the overwhelming grind, all credit to famed producer and mixer Kurt Ballou and standing in contrast to the abysmal mixing of Deiphago‘s previous albums.
In spite of its perks, the overwhelming majority of I, the Devil is downright headache-inducing. Because of its frankly monotone blasting, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between tracks in spite of multiple listens. Each track is in the ballpark of four and a half to nearly eight minutes, so that by the end of each my head hurts and I feel tired and I never want to listen to this again. Vocalist and bassist V.666 has a scratchy rasp that would be fine if it weren’t so overpowering in the mix; we hear every breath and squeak, and in the end, combined with the obnoxiousness surrounding it, it feels incredibly sloppy (such as the repeated “yeoowwwww” in “11:4:6”). His bass is audible, which is cool, but he doesn’t do enough to be of note. Similarly, while I’m sure guitarist Sidapa is a competent musician, his solos are so chaotic and all over the place that they sound like Herman Li having a stroke while covering Psyopus on Guitar Hero. There is no let-up in the pummeling sound, save for the bookends. The intro track is a useless 43 seconds of ambiance, and the last 90 seconds are filled with a completely unnecessary (no exaggeration—I counted) 28 spoken word sample repetitions of the phrase “do the devil’s work.” Overall, what’s most damning is the blaring lack of dynamics: Deiphago is hella loud. And that’s it. While crazy loud works fine for grind bands, brevity is key, and at 41 minutes (which is not excessive for some most artists), I, the Devil feels far too long.
Is Deiphago fucking loud? Yes. Are they the most violent band on the planet? Good question. At their heyday, post-metal greats Isis were considered the heaviest band on earth in spite of quiet post-rock passages but the reason? Dynamics. The Satanic Filipinos do not deviate in any way from ear-splitting loud or headphone-cracking obnoxious. But once you turn down the volume, I, the Devil is painfully monotone at worst and unbearably derivative at best, lacking in replay value and basking in its agonizing length. As a “normcore metalhead” or “weekend warrior” or “‘diehards only’ poser” (I’m not sure what that means), I probably don’t get it. But from where I’m standing, I, the Devil is an exercise in excess that overstays its welcome, and the only enveloped pushed is how many eye-roll-induced headaches I got while listening to it.