Oath of Cruelty are a name I’ve been familiar with for a while even if their output thus far has been extremely limited. Formed in 2010, this Texas trio play a combination of death and thrash metal that first came to my attention with 2014’s lean and mean Hellish Decimation EP. Consisting of just two tracks, Decimation seemed to show Cruelty had a mastery of their style, with the EP’s five minute runtime being filled with absolutely fierce riffing and crunchy rhythmic breaks that made it impossible not to bang your head. In retrospect, this level of quality wasn’t entirely surprising given the band consists of former and current members of Blaspherian, Morbosidad, P.L.F., and Thy Feeble Saviour (in other words, a bunch of respected and underground extreme metal bands). Their work as Cruelty was good enough to gain the attention of Dark Descent Records, who are now releasing the band’s debut album Summary Execution at Dawn. And despite a quibble or two, the record is just as merciless and cutthroat as its title suggests.
Execution‘s 33 minutes are loud, relentless, and punishing. Cruelty operate at an almost universally fast pace, charging forward with a blistering urgency that makes me imagine a more extreme and less groovy version of Demolition Hammer. I thought I knew what frantic riffs sounded like, but the staccato assault of songs like opener “Pounding Hooves of Shrapnel” contain such kinetic force that I’m left reconsidering my previous uses of that term. Though death and thrash metal are the clearest ingredients in the formula, the band’s incessant pummeling almost gives Execution more of a blackened death metal feel, an effect which is furthered by the maniacal rasps of vocalist and guitarist “Dave of Death.”
In the spirit of Slayer‘s Reign in Blood, this is the sort of album that causes constant headbanging while it’s playing but doesn’t always leave memorable songs or riffs in one’s mind afterward.1 Initially I thought the relentlessly pounding rhythms were the cause of this, but the real source is that many of Execution‘s riffs have a similar feel. Most of them are short, urgent thrash riffs that come across as vicious and commanding but don’t always sound that different from one another. Likewise, Dave’s vocal delivery gets a tad monotonous and his somewhat phlegmy inflection isn’t something I’m in love with.
Fortunately, that’s about the extent of my gripes. In all, these nine tracks are positively bristling with energy and aggression, with several enjoyable moments spread throughout. Both aforementioned “Hooves” and the closing title track deliver nice crunchy rhythmic breaks, bookending the album with the most headbangable moments. “Stabbing Forth with Invincible Damnation”2 and “Into the Chamber of Death” both pound forward on fast and evil stomps that sound like Morbid Angel‘s Altars of Madness with some extra thrash in the formula (it doesn’t hurt that Dave’s vocals actually remind me a bit of David Vincent’s during that era). “At the Tyrant’s Behest” features some riffs that almost veer toward melodeath territory, while the cover of Merciless‘ “Denied Birth” makes for a fitting penultimate track with its titular vocal hook.
The production is a little on the loud side, but that’s fitting given the band’s style and is never much of an issue anyway given the relatively short runtime. Beyond that, the album sounds dry, forceful, and clear, with every riff biting right through the soundstage and into your fukkin noggin with full predatory force. All told, even if the riffs aren’t always the most distinct and the memorability isn’t always the highest, Summary Execution at Dawn is still a potent and wholly enjoyable release. It’s clear the goal here is to be vicious, extreme, and relentless, and the way Oath of Cruelty barrel through this half hour so relentlessly is sure to please fans of acts like Merciless or Morbid Saint. I’ll be eager to hear what these gents produce in the future, but for now, Execution serves as a nice little dose of extremity to close out the year with a bang.