Demonstealer – The Propaganda Machine Review

India is now the world’s most populous country, but its metal output has remained embarrassingly small. Despite their millennia-old rich music traditions, these 1.4 billion strong have graced this site with just 24 records. Their quality varies wildly, from our first ever 0.0 to one of my favorite traditional heavy metal albums of the last decade. Mumbai’s The Demonstealer (Sahil Makhija) is one of the most prolific and talented members of this scene. Known best for his work in Demonic Resurrection, including the universally beloved Dashavatar, Demonstealer has built up a sizable death metal repertoire under his own name over the last fifteen years. While we missed 2018’s vicious The Last Reptilian Warrior, Grymm enjoyed its predecessor This Burden Is Mine, finding its genre dalliances to be scattered but fun. Like This Burden Is Mine, Demonstealer’s fourth album The Propaganda Machine has occasional songwriting missteps but is riotous fun when it lands.

Demonstealer’s sound continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. The Propaganda Machine avoids the cluttered subgenre toe-dipping of This Burden Is Mine, but it isn’t quite the death metal assault of The Last Reptilian Warrior, either. The Propaganda Machine is still fast-paced melodeath at its core, with vitriolic verses that switch off with clean metalcore choruses decrying nationalist propaganda. But session keyboardist Anabelle Iratni’s (Veile, ex-Cradle of Filth) well-integrated synth lines push Demonstealer deep into symphonic territory, evoking Fleshgod Apocalypse in the process (“The Great Dictator”). A full slate of world-class guest performances rounds out the rhythm section and adds heft to Demonstealer’s guitarwork. The result is an album replete with adjectives: technical, symphonic, melodic, and angry. The Propaganda Machine aims to blend these elements into a cohesive front throughout its 43 minutes, rather than playing a frustrating game of hopscotch.

The Propaganda Machine thrives through the intensity of its performances. Demonstealer’s fiercest riffs land in the upper echelon of death metal (“The Anti-National”), aided by guest guitar spots like the gorgeous solo work from Equipoise’s Sanjay Kumar (“Crushing the Iron Fist”). The guest drum and bass appearances deserve a mountain of recognition. The drum star is James Payne (Kataklysm, ex-Hour of Penance), whose blistering attack helps make “The Great Dictator” a highlight. Meanwhile, bass maestro Martino Garattoni’s (Ne Obliviscaris) hyperactive string-hopping shines on “Monolith of Hate.” And I haven’t even mentioned seven of the twelve guests across The Propaganda Machine, including titans like Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Eternity’s End). Unfortunately, production choices dampen the impact of these performances. The crushed production from This Burden Is Mine lingers on, burying key details during busier sections (“Crushing the Iron Fist”). Similarly, Dominic Lapointe’s (First Fragment) bass on “Screams of Those Dying” is rendered forgettable by questionable mix decisions, a sad fate for my favorite active metal bassist. Still, Demonstealer and his posse capture my attention through their sheer commitment to delivering the metal goods.

Conversely, the standard mid-paced melodeath parts of The Propaganda Machine tend to drag. While there’s nothing wrong with those sections per se, they pale in comparison to the high points. Despite their catchy choruses, earlier tracks like “The Propaganda Machine” falter with verse riffs that are nowhere near as powerful as the album’s second half. Repetition of middling ideas also makes some songs run long, like the bloated opener “The Fear Campaign” and the inconsistent “The Art of Disinformation,” both of which breach the six-minute mark. Still, the last three songs redeem Demonstealer with a combination of thrilling riffs and ruthless variety, and the stylistic gymnastics of “Crushing the Iron Fist” bring the record to a satisfying close. The Propaganda Machine isn’t as immediate as The Last Reptilian Warrior, but it isn’t as chaotic as This Burden Is Mine, either.

It’s impossible to question Demonstealer’s commitment to metal and to the world. Given India’s history of bigoted fearmongering and misinformation, The Propaganda Machine’s outrage cuts deep. Tack on Demonstealer’s surprisingly vulnerable YouTube cooking channel and his position at the forefront of India’s metal scene, and it’s impossible not to cheer him on. The Propaganda Machine is a flawed success and a victim of rounding down scores. The album’s enthusiasm is infectious, particularly when every piece of its symphonic death metal attack fires on all cylinders. Editing some of the weaker early sections would elevate it to even greater heights. Demonstealer has been impossible to tie down, releasing four solo full-lengths that sound worlds apart. No matter where he heads next, it’ll be an exciting surprise.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Black Lion Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 31st, 2023

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