Though riffs are the backbone of many metal genres, there’s a few types where you can get away with their absence. Atmospheric metal, like drone and anything with the post- prefix barely graze the subject matter, and many progressive bands prefer ambling about with bridges and solos to memorable hooks. These genres are favorites among musicians lacking that innate ability to construct tasty nuggets of melody that can carry the songs. Death metal, especially the old school kind, doesn’t have this luxury (extreme atonal examples aside). Without solid riffs, the walls of buzz ricochet off the brain and are forgotten before the song is even over. Case in point: Genocide Pact’s sophomore album Order of Torment.
Genocide Pact is three guys from DC, and straightforward American death metal is their swing set, with a sprinkle of Swedish death metal and Bolt Thrower influences. The guitars plod with the buzz of Obituary, the cotton-cheeked growl reeks of Corpsegrinder Fischer, and the occasional savage, rapid blasts are etched with the Morbid Angel logo. At their best, the band is derivative but not ineffective, an amalgam of well-trodden ingredients constituting a brutal burger. These tastier moments predominantly consist of the Morbid Angel blasts of speed, where the drummer can demonstrate his musical superiority over his bandmates. Opener “Conquered and Disposed” and “Authoritarian Impulse” have him pummeling the bass pedal with furious verve. His timing is sharp and his versatility commendable.
Alas, the same cannot be said for the rest of the band. I can’t quite figure out whether they forgot their bag of riffs on the subway, used whatever came to mind instead, and tried to make up for the difference with pummeling, monotonous chugs. But that seems to be exactly what happened, because even halfway decent riffs are in short supply on Order of Torment. Sure, “Conquered and Disposed,” easily the best track, has a fair hook, and some semblances of such dot the album, but even these are as memorable as the average morning commute. Aside from that, the majority of the running time is filled with single chord chugging on the one hand, and dreary dirges that fail to build atmosphere on the other. The latter especially drag the album down, as they fail without exception to be enticing in the least. Those hoping for a vocal hook to save them will find themselves disappointed as well, because every syllable is growled in the same style and pitch.
Combine these missteps and you wind up with an album so thoroughly fleeting, I can not recall a single note after turning it off, despite a half-dozen spins in just a few days. Most albums I review inevitably get stuck in my dome due to the amount of exposure, but I’ve barely gotten past the point of recognition upon playing it again. The overall sound is not even disagreeable: the changes of pace and occasional solos ensure enough variety, and though the music is structurally and technically basic, it’s executed with convincing skill. Despite the almost total lack of bass, the buzzsaw guitars and prominent drums are mixed adequately. But the lack of hooks, atmosphere and memorability damn Order of Torment to literal oblivion. When you play a style that is built on riffs, make sure you’re actually packing some.
Death metal bands come a dime a dozen, and few are the artists able to stand out from the field. Genocide Pact, sadly, can’t even stand out in my head while I’m listening to it. Little inspiration went into making Order of Torment, with its different ingredients scooped from a number of prominent bands. These are replicated well enough for a superficially satisfying sound. But the one thing the band forgot to copy from the valedictorian’s homework is riffcraft, and it leaves Order of Torment a dull and forgettable disappointment.