I’ve never listened to Infernus before, and a quick perusal of their promo shots (corpsepaint, bullet-belts, graveyards) and song titles (killing Christians, paganism, war, sodomy) led me to believe they were a Scandinavian second wave band that I’d just never got around to checking out. Infernus in fact hail from the other side of the globe – they are based in Portland, and formed relatively recently, releasing their debut Nex Um Monastica in 2012. I know two things about Portland: firstly, it is home to 56 breweries, and secondly, my buddy Ben really enjoys its strip clubs. I believe it’s also better known as a haven for hipsters than as a black metal Mecca, so I hoped Infernus weren’t wearing their spikes ironically (especially given recent accusations about the AMG staff’s plaid shirt collections that have been flying around recently) [Except for me, I’m too trve to be hip. – Steel Druhm].
Fortunately, Infernus‘ music is the real deal. They sound just as they appear: like a mid-90s Swedish black metal band. Their music (and image) is built on a base of Marduk and Dark Funeral, with a large dollop of Nifelheim style thrashy goodness. Infernus are strangers to both subtlety and originality, and save for a few moments of Dissection-influenced melody (“Worms of the Casket” in particular is Dissection-worship that Watain would love to have penned), there’s little let-up from the thrashing or blasting. For the most part this is effective: Infernus are decent songwriters, and with the album clocking in at 43 minutes (minus the Inquisition and Horna covers tacked on after the outro) they don’t outstay their welcome.
Their main trouble is that, despite their clear dedication to darkness, it all sounds rather pedestrian. This style was perfected long ago, and Grinding Christian Flesh adds nothing to what the aforementioned Swedish bands have been doing since the 90s. While I’m not opposed to paying tribute to your influences, you either have to add a little extra (e.g. Galar) or make sure your songs are absolutely shit hot (wrong genre I know, but cf. Unrest‘s recent Grindcore). Infernus do neither, resulting in an album that, while enjoyable, does nothing to make me want to spin it again once it’s over. Some moments hint that they have it in them to step things up a notch – “Verminnihilation”‘s Kreator-inspired riffs, “Whore of Christ'”s Venom feel, and a riff near the start of the title track that screams Vader; while each example is again derivative of another band, it’s at least notable for moving away from the Swedish black metal standard.
Production-wise I have few complaints – everything is clear yet low-fi. Scything, icy guitars are perhaps a little too fizzy, and the bass could use more definition, but the vocals and especially drums fit the style extremely well, sounding natural but aggressive with dollops of reverb. The overall atmosphere is similar to that evoked by Marduk, Funeral Mist or Ondskapt: majestic, evil fury. Each band member turns in an excellent performance without sounding overly polished, and vocalist Hredthel in particular has a good range of croaks, screams, growls, and even the odd Don Doty-esque (ex Dark Angel) high-pitched scream. As usual, greater dynamic range would have been welcome, but the overall impression is authentic and ideal for the music.
Grinding Christian Flesh is a fine dose of black metal fury, but Infernus either need to develop their own identity or dramatically improve their riff-writing if they’re going to make a lasting impression on the genre. If nothing else though, its adherence to Swedish second-wave tropes means the record serves one useful purpose: it’s the perfect antidote to Liturgy over-exposure.