Red Rot – Borders of Mania Review

Depression comes in waves. If you—or anyone you know and love—have ever witnessed or experienced its grip, you know that it’s a battle. Davide Tiso, the slippery Italian guitarist responsible for the jazzy hardcore machinations of Ephel Duath, and the jangling progressive excursions of Howling Sycamore, seems to know this fight all too well. Two years ago Tiso unearthed Red Rot as a heart-on-sleeve death metal journey that both reunited him with his old friend and vocalist Luciano George Lorusso (ex-Ephel Duath) and explored the darkest corners of his psyche with crashing riffs and scathing, hypnotic melodies. Here in 2024, I’m not too sure that Tiso is any better, but his axe remains sharp and thrilling as ever.

Leaning further into the weirder side1 of 90s Morbid Angel riffcraft, Borders of Mania in its creeping and gothic presentation leads with a more straightforward attack than its predecessor, Mal de Vivre. That word—straightforward—is misleading, as the multitudinous layers of languished and dissonant guitar wailings continue to tell tales only of sadness, bitterness, and anger. It just so happens that before many of these spiraling and dramatic moments, Tiso lays down wide and harmonized chord grooves that set the stage both to crush emotions with sheer weight (“Compulsive Illusion,” “Agony Untold”) or inspire a windmilling headbang enough to whip them away (“Cranioscopy,” “Vindication”). And if the guitar sounds don’t sell the sullen vignettes, Lorusso adopts a discernable yet throat-tearing bellow that falls somewhere between the classic David Vincent (ex-Morbid Angel, Vltimas) bark and the snarling croak you might catch in early Ihsahn/late Emperor work.

Regardless of what tools Red Rot uses to hook and jam, the sense of drama that pervades throughout Borders of Mania defines its jagged rise and fall. Really, the album needs that emotive build to provide structure to its fifteen tracks that lack traditional death metal peaks like erupting guitar solos at chaotic bridges or crowd-pumping, throat-challenging choruses. Instead, Tiso orchestrates aggressive runs that pivot into mopey waltz-time cries (“False Memory,” “Endless Ravine,” “Misericordie”). Other times, Red Rot shifts into a gothic styling that paints with the many identities that Paradise Lost has worn over the years, including the industrial march of the blaring synth-led closer “Affliction and Relief.” And, of course, what Lorusso lacks in traditional sing-along refrains he makes up for with dripping ruminations like “I want my life back” and “Me-a culpa, me-a culpa, me-a max-i-ma culpa” (“Cranioscopy”). He also follows up that Catholic prayer by barking like a dog with an abandon you have to live to learn.

For all its eclectic flair, Borders of Mania feels like an iterative journey for Red Rot, both within itself and against what came before. Most tracks have landmark moments to separate them from each other, but the journey that leads to them doesn’t always feel all that different. “Agony Untold” and “Homo Sapiens Imago Dei” and “Inner Voice” for example, both follow a similar trajectory of double-kick death metal broken up by some warbling vocal asides. This increasing gothic nature does lead to the first low and slow croon-fest on the album, “Overlord,” which is a Paradise Lost peak that resembles the massive “After the Funeral” from Mal de Vivre. And on the back half “Not in Control” and “Cranioscopy” work similarly in groove and tumble to expand upon the front half’s heaviest moments. Atmospheric at heart, Borders of Mania thrives on these recurring themes, but with as many tracks as there are that fall on this self-reflective platter, it may not lose much without one or two of them.

Even if these recurring themes that border repetition exists, Red Rot performs with enough nuance that its goal of swallowing the audience in its downcast world succeeds. If either Tiso or his surrounding cast were lesser players, Borders of Mania wouldn’t even be half the album it attempts to be. The truth is that each track is a collection of smart details and shifting tones that make replays easy, rewarding, and necessary. Red Rot still hasn’t quite found that truly throat-closing, stars-in-eyes moment that sells these hard-to-swallow works as a breakaway success. But flaws and all, Borders of Mania commands enough attention to pose an issue to my listening time in hopes of finding the catharsis for which its bleeding words reach.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records | Bandcamp
Websites: redrotmetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/red.rot.metal
Releases Worldwide: May 10th, 2024

Show 1 footnote

  1. Specifically, the Rutan side.
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