The tail end of the 2010s, I would argue, has been the best time in history to be a death metal fan.1 The era has some natural advantages — the few thousand years before 1985 were not kind to followers of the genre — but it’s more due to the work of death metal bands than some temporal accident. In this decade, death metal doubled down on its inaccessibility and became all the better for it. Whether that inaccessibility finds expression through old school pummeling or the more abstract sounds of the genre’s new torch-bearers, it’s hard to see the scene as unhealthy or in any way tamed. It wasn’t always like this, though. The 2000s were not so kind to death metal and at the tail end of that decade a scramble to reinvigorate the genre produced acres of lackluster material that was largely defined by its relationship to Meshuggah.
It was a relationship, of course, of endless derivation. Uncountable bands tried to mix Meshuggah’s rhythmic techniques and eight-string guitars with prog, jazz, or metalcore and found success in the new djent movement, something that now has been largely subsumed back onto the world of prog metal and metalcore. Other bands connected more with the brutality of the ‘shug and tried to mix that with death metal, only to find that they had basically recreated the sound of contemporary Decapitated. Krysthla did this with their first two albums. They’re still doing it on Worldwide Negative, and it’s still largely ineffectual. Xerath kind of did this but succeeded because they had more gimmicks and genuinely good ideas to pitch in. Krysthla don’t. Their main gimmick is sounding like Godflesh, both in their simplistic mechanical riffing and vocalist Adi Mayes’ continual Justin Broadrick impression. The band uses this odd mix of industrial metal, groove, and bits of hardcore to prop up a cardboard matte painting of intensity.
Worldwide Negative is the brawl in fake Rockridge. It’s a hastily put-together representation of violence for a bunch of goons to rampage around in. Much like the fight in Blazing Saddles, this album looks like a convincing death metal album if you aren’t paying attention or don’t know what’s going on; loud noises are indeed occurring in quick succession. But if you’ve followed the plot of death metal or even pay attention to Krysthla’s props, you don’t need an especially keen mind to understand it. Its riffs are held up by guitar tone rather than content; the album sounds heavy and intense, but there’s not much happening if you pay attention — a bunch of chugging, a few actual riffs that you might find on a Decapitated album, some drumming that seems musical in comparison to the guitar work. The most interesting forty seconds on the album are when “White Castles” sounds like it’s going to be a black metal song, and the fact that it’s not is the album’s biggest disappointment.
What’s particularly baffling about Worldwide Negative is not its hodgepodge of influences; bands have been lazily amalgamating “heavy” sounding things into lackluster songs since the dawn of the descriptor. Rather, it’s in how dated that hodgepodge feels. If you asked someone what the heaviest or most extreme bands are in metal today, even someone not very familiar with the scene wouldn’t be pointing you towards Meshuggah and Godflesh unless they’d just awoken from a decade-long coma. Sure they’re both great bands who made their mark on what it means to be heavy and extreme, but the metal scene already kind of got over emulating them and has moved on to new things. There’s no shame in throwbacks either, but to throwback to this weird djent-death that was never really important or even popular is just bizarre. Sure, Krysthla have been playing music like this from the beginning, but you’d at least hope they would respond to the last decade of death metal. But they can’t. I can never shake the feeling that I’m listening to Worldwide Negative files that I pried out of a .7z file that took ten minutes to download off of got-djent.com.2
Worldwide Negative is not just a bad record; it’s a dumb record. There’re plenty of bad records out there for subgenre fans to defend — think of all the Nightwish ripoffs. Krysthla have nothing new to say but don’t even play music that has a diehard fanbase that won’t care about originality. Worldwide Negative would be utterly forgettable were it not forgettable in such an odd way. The album is a portal back to a time and place that nobody wanted a portal back to, dated in the extreme way that only something barely dated can be, like last year’s fast food ads or memes from six months ago. It’s metal vaporwave, but of course, grounded not in geocities nostalgia but the incoherence of shady torrent mirrors with red text and sidebar ads that equate Farmville knockoffs with an erotic experience. I simply can’t think of a good reason that this album should even exist, let alone be listened to.