There are a handful of obscure record labels that I’ve learned to pay attention to when their output finds its way into our promo bay; the aptly named Transcending Obscurity is one of them. In recent months they’ve distributed some seriously weird novelty projects that, though not always great, typically provide something fresh that stands out in the crowded sphere of extreme metal. Thus, when I saw they had delivered us a Swedish death metal album, I was immediately intrigued. Swedeath is one of the least touched sub-subgenres of metal in terms of innovation, and as such, the prospect of a new spin on the battle-weary formula is undeniably enticing. With Jonny Pettersson (who’s been in something like ten death metal bands) bearing responsibility for all performances on this solo project, could Henry Kane live up to my expectations of blazing a left-hand path, or will it have me coming down with a case of wolverine blues?
My first reaction to Den Förstörda Människans Rike1 was less than positive. Swedeath is a genre known for its pervasively murky tones, sure, but the cranked wall of guitar sound here is nearly impenetrable on first exposure, sounding akin to an underwater battle between a chainsaw and an Ibanez. Thankfully my mood brightened considerably after further listens; I quickly came to acknowledge that the guitar tone gives Henry Kane an instantly recognizable sound that’s unlike anything else, and that underneath the wall of guitar sound there are some truly interesting elements at work. In addition to being a solid death metal record in its own right, there’s a healthy dose of straight-up crust punk present, and most tracks incorporate breakneck blasts of grindcore to jolt you awake in case the bludgeoning d-beats weren’t stimulating enough. Throw in some moody, memorable lead guitar melodies to lend the rhythm section some much needed context, and the result feels like a rawer, crustier take on Pettersson’s Ashcloud project.
Though Henry Kane churns out quality material, engaging DFMR on a granular scale is a trying task; not just because the guitar sound is ungodly loud, but because the distortion is so heavy as to occasionally obscure exactly what notes are being played. When gang vocals and blastbeats rev up simultaneously, the rhythm guitar’s tone can easily become lost in the mix, resulting in a monolithic backdrop of droning ambience. HK is so frequently exhilarating that I find it hard to care about this once it sucks me in, but after a few tracks the deafening noise leads to some serious ear fatigue, and the beyond crushed master certainly doesn’t help matters. It feels appropriate, then, to deliver a warning: play this album loud, but take a break after the first eight tracks (which is roughly the halfway point). This is one of the loudest albums I’ve ever encountered, and even though it only runs for about thirty minutes, listening to it front to back in one sitting is a mind-numbing, eardrum-destroying experience.
While the album is undoubtedly earsplitting, it at least provides the listener with frequent breaks through concise songwriting. Henry Kane utilizes the grindcore approach to record construction through brisk, brutal skirmishes; get in, smash faces, get out. This songwriting approach is extremely beneficial to HK, lending it a punk attitude and a sense of determination that’s as biting as it is efficient. You can practically sense Pettersson snarling through the speakers, and this is in no small part to his diverse, manic vocal delivery. There are also a pair of four-to-five minute tracks (the title cut and “Det Var Inte Ditt Fel”) which allow more breathing room for Pettersson to compile all of his ideas. These are the record’s best cuts by far, as they dial back the bombast a touch to allow the atmosphere to soak in without sacrificing any aggression.
Henry Kane sounds like what would have happened if Entombed had gone the polar opposite direction from Wolverine Blues after releasing Clandestine. It doubles down on the Swedeath genre’s extra grimy aesthetic with a level of distortion that’s challenging yet one-of-a-kind. The genuinely interesting melodies and crusty aesthetic add unexpected substance to what is otherwise a purely bludgeoning record. And despite the loudness, Den Förstörda Människans Rike‘s sound is so unique and recognizable after only a few minutes of exposure that it’s bound to receive some sort of cult following. Good work, Jonny – but maybe ease up on the gain next time around.