Internal Bleeding helped to pioneer the much maligned (but somewhat loved) ‘slam’ death metal genre over 20 years ago, and are by most accounts the first band to use the term. As the premiere slam band alongside Suffocation [Must be a Long Island thing — Steel Druhm], they’ve been divisive since day one. Some hate the hardcore tinged attitude that oft accompanies the genre and the numerous slam breakdowns everyone just knows are going to launch a karate kicking pit. Others embraced the style and ran with it with all the same fervor that hardcore attracts. A few demos, four solid, but one-dimensional full lengths, and two compilations down the line and they’ve done little to change the opinions of those on the other side of the barbed wire fence. I wasn’t shocked to see Imperium being touted as “a masterpiece of slam,” but was pleasantly surprised to discover that description sells it short. Imperium is much more.
To bastardize a quote by Unser on Sons of Anarchy, “These guys are not cretins. [Internal Bleeding are] formidable; as smart as they are dangerous.” The material on this album is much less, “NY tough guy about to kick your fuckin’ teeth in,” and more a savage maniac like Richard Kuklinski, who occasionally does kick someone’s fuckin’ teeth in, but knows when to quietly slice a throat or slip some cyanide into a drink. Internal Bleeding still know when to be barbarically Neanderthal and yes, loyal slam fans, breakdowns still abound. Rather than abandon their roots, they’ve let the branches grow. What was lacking in the past was atmosphere and sophistication, things the genre haven’t been known for.
“Fabricating Bliss” opens the album and delivers everything you’d expect from classic Internal Bleeding. Drummer Bill Tolley showcases insane chops and is a monster throughout the album, grooving like a truck, blasting at break-wrist speeds, and throwing in slick, syncopated beats. “The Pageantry of Savagery,” opens with a frantic blast beat and is sure to please the old fans, while the hungrier sound should catch the ear of folks new to the band and even those that wrote them off. The album closer, “Castigo Corpus Meum,” along with “Patterns of Force” is where the songwriting is most off the beat(ing) path. A breakdown about three quarters in launches what may be the most melodic passage the band has penned yet and includes one of only three guitar solos on the entire album, closing Imperium out with a foreboding mood one can only hope is a hint of where the band will go next.
Internal Bleeding also prove that their basic formula can be stretched into new territories without losing the foundation (which is something I wish Cannibal Corpse was capable of). Particularly on the musical trilogy, “Patterns of Force,” which is a new peak, not just for the band, but the whole sub-genre of slam, displaying a level of dynamics, savagery and sophistication never before heard. The manic and emotive vocal delivery of former Pyrexia vocalist Keith DeVito reminds me at times of former Kataklysm vocalist Sylvian Houde. DeVito’s voice is not as guttural as original vocalist Frank Rini (who makes a guest appearance along with Suffocation‘s Frank Mullen), but his style fits the material well. There are moments of Altars of Madness-era David Vincent and Obituary‘s John Tardy, though unlike Tardy you can actually decipher much of what DeVito is howling. The tracks tie together thematically and lyrically (with a story in the vein of War of the Worlds), but as a whole the trilogy feels like a single composition. Cleverly, the last riff of Part I is picked up by the bass and, perhaps another brutal death metal first, a drum beat using a rim-click! As sick as “Patterns” is, it makes the more by-the-numbers songs pale somewhat in comparison.
The guitar sound is monstrous. The bass, an ever present growl, never gets lost in the mix and the drums and vocals are crisp and clean. Nothing is buried yet this still feels like singular beast. By far the most well-balanced production on an Internal Bleeding album and very fitting for the more varied songwriting.
It’s inspiring to hear one of the bands that pioneered a genre almost a quarter of a century ago stretch it into new and refreshing territories. The slam thing has been so done to death, that another by-the-numbers album from some by-the-numbers band would have me sticking an ice pick in my ear, but Imperium may be the first Internal Bleeding album with the goods to win over the naysayers. In the future, I hope Internal Bleeding take it upon themselves to push the envelope even further, as the experimenting they did here was a definite success.