Back in my younger years, I played in a little local band that was glorified Obituary-core. I had no delusions of grandeur, unless “grandeur” was playing at seedy bars for beer money some weekends. It was fun, and it was what I wanted to write and play at the time. Recently, before seeing Iron Maiden for the fourth time, my friend – who was in the old band for a spell – said that if he started another band, he’d want it to be Kataklysm 2.0. He quickly corrected himself and said it would be Kataklysm 0.9, as there was no way to beat Kataklysm at their own game. This was a somewhat unfortunate development – I’d love to play death metal with my friend again, but Kataklysm 0.9 already exists in the form of Danish death metal band Illdisposed.
The last I heard of Illdisposed was on the competent With the Lost Souls on Our Side, which was exceptional only in its blandness. Death metal is in a way like pizza – we all have these little arbitrary likes and dislikes that make one vendor our favourite over others. If Kataklysm were a pizza joint, they’d be my favorite in town. Illdisposed makes pizza too, but their joint has something saliently worse about it. The toppings aren’t as fresh, the sauce-to-dough ratio is off, the cheese isn’t melty enough – who knows. “But it’s pizza all the same,” some will undoubtedly say, “and you like pizza. So, because this isn’t giving you food poisoning, you should like this too.” These people clearly haven’t found their favorite pizza joint, and will settle for anything circular with tomato sauce, crust, cheese, and some toppings. That’s fine, but some of us have preferences for a reason.
Reveal Your Soul for the Dead is an adequate death metal record to a fault. Illdisposed have a reasonable level of talent as musicians, and as songwriters they go through the usual motions of modern, groove-based death metal. This alone doesn’t condemn them to third-tier death metal, of course; there was nothing particularly inventive about Cannibal Corpse’s Kill, but that monster had slaps like a Victor Wooten bass solo or an angry, drunk Real Housewife. The whole endeavor lives and dies by the riffs, which brings us back to pizza. “…For the Dead” does the right things in the right places with chugs, blasting/tremolo bits, and even a harmony to “melo” things out, but none of these surpass the tolerable bar because of how bland and inexplicably low energy they are – in other words, it’s undercooked. As on Lost Souls, this trend continues for the whole album and is broken up with flashes of great potential that are never realized for more than precious few fleeting moments.
Instead of boring those reading with an endless repetition of the same issue applied to different songs, I’ll focus on what Illdisposed does well here. I liked the Kataklysm-isms of “This is Our Calling for the End” – and the neat At the Gates lead harmony that shows up from time to time is well done and makes for Reveal Your Soul’s most emotive moment. The other riffs are rejiggered In the Arms of Devastation bits, but at least that album ruled – greatness in, mere decency out. In a similar vein, the usage of chords strikingly similar to what made Kataklysm’s “Where the Enemy Sleeps…” great are used to good effect in “She’s Not in Our Way,” giving it an extra push by spicing up the riffing. The bouncy “We Are One” has a Southern fried flavor in a couple of riffs, something Kataklysm themselves don’t make use of. This little detail sets an otherwise boilerplate track apart from its most obvious influence and is an interesting and underused trick in Illdisposed’s bag.
I came away from Reveal Your Soul feeling a bit frustrated. It’s not awful death metal, but it’s just so close to Kataklysm and rarely steps out of the box created on Epic (The Poetry of War) and toyed with on subsequent albums, that I lack the motivation to pick Illdisposed over Kataklysm when I want to hear this narrow niche of death metal. I can order two pizzas with identical toppings from two different places, and I’ll end up liking one of the pies better than the other. It comes down to details, how it’s made, and the skill employed in its construction. Kataklysm has Illdisposed beat on all counts, making a garden variety unremarkable death metal album superfluous in context.