The first time I saw Mammoth Grinder live, I was wasted at a bar in Portland and had to laugh when the band announced every song as a Deep Purple track to see if anyone would notice. The second time I saw Mammoth Grinder live, I was shithoused in Brooklyn and had a Warriors-style adventure trying to find my way home on the New York subway system after the show. Point is, apparently being drunk and seeing Mammoth Grinder live is the best way to get hooked on them, because I’ve been anticipating Cosmic Crypt since before I started writing for AMG. Though they began in 2005 as a sludgy hardcore act, it was 2013’s Underworlds that first blew my hair back, a record which earned acclaim from our own Steel Druhm for its crusty take on classic Swedeath. The album was fun, burly, and direct, and its passing similarity to acts like Black Breath had me eagerly awaiting a follow-up.
Sadly the band broke up in 2014, with mainman Chris Ulsh devoting himself to drumming for Power Trip instead. Fortunately, Ulsh decided to reactivate Grinder last year with Iron Reagan members Mark Bronzino on guitar and Ryan Parrish on drums, the latter of which some may also recognize as Darkest Hour’s former drummer. With that pedigree, does fourth full-length Cosmic Crypt finally deliver on the bludgeoning promise of its predecessor?
Despite the lineup shifts, stylistically little has changed since Underworlds. Once again, Grinder specialize in short, simple songs that rarely cross the three-minute mark. Riffing alternates between chunky chords and churning downtuned tremolos, while drumming consists of bumbly, bouncy beats that rarely exceed mid-paced. Garnished by Ulsh’s cavernous roars, the overall effect is like a punkier version of Gatecreeper or a slower and heftier version of Black Breath. As expected, the Entombed and Dismember inspiration is obvious, though the band’s sheer simplicity and lack of salient melody show they haven’t quite removed all their crust punk patches.
And really, there’s not much else to say. There are highlights on Crypt, for sure: I enjoy “Superior Firepower” for its twisted tremolo lines, and “Blazing Burst” recalls Grave with its quicker pace and more manic vocals. But ultimately, I find myself thinking what Anthony Fantano did when reviewing Revenge’s last album: there’s little way to describe any song here without essentially describing the album as a whole. Each of these 11 tracks has the same tempo and riffing style, to the point where moments like the high-register chords in “Human Is Obsolete” or the diving verse notes of closer “Cosmic Crypt” feel way more notable than they should. Whereas I still remember the hooks of Underworlds songs like “Cogs In the Machine,” I’m hard-pressed to come up with memorable moments from Crypt.
Yet for as negative as this sounds, I had a weird realization on my third or fourth listen of Crypt: I was still enjoying the hell out of it. Part of it is probably the production, as the record features a fat guitar tone and a smoldering mix that crushes the listener like a prehistoric stampede. More importantly, however, is that Grinder have a great energy about them. Sure, none of these riffs will be stuck in your head tomorrow morning, but they’re more than serviceable, they’re downright propulsive, and with a 28-minute runtime neither the album nor any individual track overstays its welcome. Moreover, there’s no dip in quality, the songwriting is too simple not to be effective, and the sheer power of the bludgeoning guitars is sure to bring a smile to many a metalhead’s ugly mug.
At the end of the day, not every record needs to be a life-altering masterpiece full of philosophical musings and stylistic boundary-pushing. Crypt certainly isn’t, but it doesn’t aspire to be. This is the type of album you put on when you want something fun and simple, the type of album which is Like an Everflowing Stream both for its similarity to Dismember and for the extra long piss you’ll be taking after you spend all night crushing Miller High Life’s and blasting this on repeat. A bit of a step-down? Maybe. But a rollicking good time? Fuck yes.