Mental Cruelty – A Hill to Die Upon Review

Everyone loves a good comeback story. For German brutal deathcore quintet Mental Cruelty, their comeback story begins in 2018, wherein they rolled up on your beach brandishing a weapon of divine destruction named Pergatorium. Then, Inferis dropped less than a year later. To my dismay, that record abandoned much of what made Pergatorium fun and compelling, instead resorting to cheap genre tricks, lifeless breakdowns and unsatisfying symphonics. Looking back, I probably overrated Inferis by a half-point, such was my disappointment with the album after such a strong debut. Enter third installment A Hill to Die Upon; a feral and uncompromising expansion of Mental Cruelty‘s brutal arsenal built with the sole purpose of obliterating my expectations and launching the band straight into the upper echelons of the genre.

If you think you know what this album is about based on the last, think again. Brutal death metal and slamcore still heavily feature, and Mental Cruelty‘s symphonic bent survived the zombie Pope invasion, but a delicious swirl of melodic black metal invigorates the band’s sound in 2021. Another one of our esteemed staff commented that it’s like the band could not choose between death metal and black metal, and I for one could not be happier with that description. I get the best of both worlds, and to these ears the band are having an absolute blast playing it. A Hill to Die Upon brims with enthusiasm and vigor, crushing riffs and blistering solos, and a renewed lust for destruction the likes of which I haven’t witnessed from this particular subset of modern brutality in what feels like years. And, just in case you’re worried that these gents defenestrated songwriting excellence entirely to bear this fresh fusion, rest assured that said songwriting is precisely the reason why this album works.

The following isn’t my favorite song on the record, but it’s a fine example of what makes A Hill to Die Upon special. “Abadon,” the third cut on this beast, contains what feels like a million cool moments. Right off the bat, the symphonics and acoustic breaks introduce actual drama where there once was none. Melodic leads and vicious blasts stoke the fires that motivate the movements, and emotive tremolos supply the heart and soul of the first quarter. Afterwards, a massive chorus that your brain will never forget launches into being like a bat out of Hell. Before long, you’ll be screaming, “DRAG ME BACK TO HELL, THE PLACE WHERE I BELONG!” in your living room while your kids watch in horror and your dog pisses itself in fear.[1. This is more commonly known as Tuesday in the stately House of Steel. – Steel. Breakdowns and slams rush in to slap your dick into a wall of spikes, after which the final clause fades into the foreground as your vision blurs from the pain of having your dick slapped into a wall of spikes. In this final minute, all the buildup Mental Cruelty generated thus far detonates, a truly desperate blackened wail haunting the spirit as a high-pitched tremolo brings a tear to the eye. Simply put, “Abadon” is glory and anguish personified.

A whole paragraph for a single song is a little much, I’ll concede, but that certainly doesn’t mean this album is a one-trick pony. For example, there is no moment more gratifying on A Hill to Die Upon than the King ov Slams unleashed on “King ov Fire.” That riff singlehandedly interrupted whatever I was doing so I could jam like a wild gorilla on PCP for damn near a month, not to mention the fact that the track features the most perfectly excecuted “LEEDLE-LEEDLE-LEE” since the OG. Even “Fossenbrate,” an instrumental, earns a spotlight, functioning as a refreshing palette cleanser before Mental Cruelty deftly flips the ratio between death and black for the final three songs—which by themselves constitute one of the strongest closing trios I’ve heard this year. “A Hill to Die Upon,” “Extermination Campaign,” and “The Left Hand Path” all drip with drama and passion. The effect their blackened melodies and immense riffs create simply by coexisting within this space is palpable. Moreover, strong songwriting aesthetics, incredible drumming, and sharp hooks allow these final tracks to land with maximum impact, and the orchestral embellishments participate only when most effective.

A Hill to Die Upon surprised the hell out of me. After Inferis I figured Mental Cruelty had become another brick in a beige wall. I was fucking wrong. Sure, the production is bog-standard Unique Leader fare (although I do like the cymbal tones a lot), and “Death Worship” overall leans too heavily on beatdowns and breakdowns for my taste. Other than that, though, I struggled to find anything about this record I didn’t like and/or love after listening to it for three-and-a-half weeks non-stop. There is no doubt. This album is awesome, and I’ll die proudly upon that hill.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kb/s mp3
Label: Unique Leader Records
Websites: facebook.com/MentalCruelty | mentalcruelty.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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