I knew a man in Belgium who was a Nietzsche scholar-sycophant. He dressed as Herr Nietzsche did, had Friedrich’s iconic moustache and hair, sported a tweed tie, and would probably name his first child Zarathustra, provided he broke character on Nietzsche’s endless failures with women. When talking about his philosophy with him over a beer after he had defended his thesis and before I was to defend mine, he seemed incapable of saying anything substantial that wasn’t prefaced with “Nietzsche wrote in…” and this created an odd dynamic; while clearly an intelligent man, he played his scholarship wholly safely, preferring the comfort of restatement to the trials and tribulations of more original thought. The same issue pervades much of modern Swe-death, except instead of Nietzsche we have Entombed, and instead of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and On the Genealogy of Morality, we have Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Nietzsche would loathe such attention and mimicry, as he valued highly the creative spirit and the artist who asserts his own greatness through his work. When Zarathustra urges his followers to become hard like coal and create with him, Nietzsche did not have carbon copies in mind. Likewise, I’d assume, with genre-defining records; they are lodestars, influences, fertile grounds for inspiration, and more, but not something to be pressed into warm wax and fed again to the audience. Nonetheless, blatant mimicry and an endless army of clones persists; rather humorously, the largely Godless metal scene has an idolatry problem.
This brings us to Sweden’s Demonical, a band treading the well-worn path of Swe-death. Their influences are obvious, and hardly bear mentioning: Entombed, Dismember, Amon Amarth. While a good and reliable band, much like our student above, it was difficult to listen to them without immediately referencing other bands, as if their music was direct quotes and paraphrases more often than not, despite them being good songwriters and excellent musicians. Chaos Manifesto seemed destined to be another quality record lacking Demonical’s individual stamp, or so I thought. After a cursory spin, however, Demonical proved me wrong, and have created something that can be confidently said to sound like Demonical.
Contrast Chaos Manifesto’s “Towards Greater Gods” with Death Infernal‘s “March for Victory.” The latter was Amon Amarth worship in the sense of building an altar and prostrating oneself in front of it, despite ending up being more memorable than most of Jomsviking. The former sees Demonical adding in their own ideas and habits to the mix: darker harmonies, crunchier riffs, a midsection that rings true to fans of Dismember while stopping short of directly quoting them, and a streamlined, burly Swe-death riff (Demonical‘s forte) serving as a verse. While every song here is better than good, it’s “Torture Parade” and “From Nothing” that serve Demonical best. The short, melodic ripper is a cornerstone in Demonical’s discography, and “Torture Parade” may be their best song in that vein, topping even “The Order” in searing riffs and memorable melody. The barely tempered aggression doesn’t relent, and the catchy melody that serves as the chorus weaves in and out of the burlier riffs seamlessly; not a second is wasted, and everything fits. “From Nothing” sees Demonical spreading their melodic wings into Dark Tranquillity/In Flames territory while still retaining their straightfoward Swe-death ethos. Emotive but not sappy or overwrought, this is a refreshing and excellent take on the mid-paced and stoically melodic sound of Amon Amarth’s tales of doomed warriors.
Slightly irritating guest vocals (or vocal choices) hamper “Valkommen Undergang” ever so slightly, but the song is still good enough overall to keep its head above water, and Chaos Manifesto is strong enough as a record to have this be a mere scratch in the armor. Chaos Manifesto is decidedly not a sui generis record, but that was never the goal; a master chef cannot simply will new ingredients into existence, and Demonical haven’t made a secret out of what ingredients they’re using. Chaos Manifesto does have its own flavor, however, which will be more detectable to those who are familiar Swe-death than newcomers. Both groups will doubtlessly find much to enjoy here.
While Chaos Manifesto is a hair short of being a great record, Demonical have given us an enjoyable platter that sounds great and warrants repeat spins. Chaos Manifesto is meant to be played loudly and enjoyed frequently, and is the type of record that, through a mixture of quality and accessibility, earns both of those handily.