Nunslaughter – Red Is the Color of Ripping Death Review

I love heavy metal. I love the power, the emotion and the riffs. But most of all I love the Germanic approach to language, namely sticking together separate words into compositeüberwords. Moonsorrow. Hellripper. Dawnbringer. Dragonforce. And now the subject of today’s review: Nunslaughter. They’ve peddled their wares from Pennsylvania and Ohio since 1987, offering a fusion of the earliest death metal with later punk. Only 4 full records have occupied the intervening years, though they literally have dozens of other EPs, splits and live albums. 2021 brings with it their fifth full-length entitled Red Is the Color of Ripping Death, and their first release of this type in 7 years. How have things developed over the better part of a decade?

What remains is raw death metal with a thrashy punch. Almost all of that punk has been purged from the music, though its remnants subsist through the record’s kinetic energy, immediacy and bite-sized song-writing. Ripping Death features a direct, blunt sort of music which bridges the sawing tone of death metal with the speed and percussive power of thrash. The sneered shouts sometimes veer into distorted howls, an unrefined edge which is reflected by the Floridian-style guitars. Their tone doesn’t buzz as much as the Stockholm sound; it’s dirtier, like the recording was dragged through the sewer before being mastered. The result is that there’s a lot to like. Stomping, groovy rhythms balance the maniacal edge to the vocals and guitars, falling in to that bucket of ‘takes no shit’ metal. I can imagine their live show being a blast, prowling the pit in the pauses before throwing myself in as the drums kick to life.

Those punky hangovers of brevity and speed work in Nunslaughter’s favor. 14 tracks across 35 minutes is not common across metal, in an age when song-writers mistake length for quality1. Introductions are rapid, riffs are plentiful and transitions are fleeting. It’s impossible to get bored through these songs as the leads change frequently, but not so frequently as to be aggravating or discordant. But most importantly, these Ohioans know when to break down their riff showcase with punchy transitions. It speaks volumes about the value of strong transitions when they’re done in a way that improves the passages preceding and following them. Those here vary the tempo, shift the timbre and strip back the instrumentation into dramatic, and thankfully brief, pauses. They slam you, collect their thoughts, then slam you again with something even heavier.

Although Ripping Death is direct, surprisingly nifty twists on most tracks also vitalize the music. But for just a couple of these 14 tracks, each has some quirk that demarcates it from its album-mates. The gear shift following the second chorus on “To a Whore” (a wonderful little ditty about a respectable man and his copulation with a charming young woman) might be the coolest moment on the record, shifting from the shockingly catchy chorus to a headbangable groove and then taking a breath before re-entry into the song’s final lead. The staccato, shout-along chorus from the title track also stands out, as does the almost-imperceptible accelerando on “Beware of God.” Even the relatively static final minute of “Eat Your Heart” is striking for its repetition; it’s hardly slow or light but the simple act of forcing the listener into a single riff with swirling beast noises and the slow finale offers something different to the remainder. Nunslaughter write music which is simple but not stupid.

So far, so good. But why ‘only’ a 3? There’s something holding me back. Ripping Death is a classic example of less than the sum of its parts. I like most of its parts and enjoy deconstructing them, but they combine into a package that lacks that compulsive edge which makes me need to listen to it. I’m not totally enamored and suspect it will fall out of rotation within a few weeks. I’m also not a fan of the record’s conclusion. The penultimate track (“Casket Lid Creaks”) is the slowest, most doom-laden one on offer. I’m conceptually okay with this as it offers a new sound, but positioning it immediately before the true closer (“Below the Cloven Hoof”), a blast of punk-infused fury, rips away any natural momentum. Speaking of that closer, I understand the desire to subvert expectations by wrapping up a chaotic release with a sub-minute whirlwind but there’s a reason why the ‘grand finale’ cliché exists. This is bitty and unsatisfying, especially when discordantly paired with its predecessor.

It’s a shame because my overwhelming response is that Ripping Death is an enjoyable experience that’s frayed around the edges. I enjoy the diversity and speed and paradoxically fresh feel, but I think too much was mixed into the pot. With a rejig of the track-listing and just a touch more melody it could have been something rather special. As it is, it should be enjoyed by death metal aficionados but isn’t essential.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Hells Headbangers
Releases worldwide: August 27th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Stop sniggering at the back.
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