I have a complicated relationship with standard death metal; that is to say, the old school, cave-your-skull-in-with-a-cinder-block variety. I love the style, but you don’t need access to our promo bin to realize how much and how often the stuff is churned out (i.e. oh, so goddamn much), and as a result, I rarely go hunting for undiscovered gems so much as I stick to what I know and cherish. However, I found myself with a hankerin’ for a hunt last week and my search resulted in an album that seemed no-frills enough to get me by. Repulsive Vision hails from Cumbria, England, and although I knew there was probably a reason why this was one of the only recent death metal albums Kronos didn’t snag for himself, its title piqued my curiosity: Look past the Gore and See the Art. Could this be some kind of Hannibal Lector themed concept album?
Well, no, but we’ll examine the title later. Repulsive Vision is… well, they sure are a death metal band. There are generically evil sounding low-end power chord and tremolo note progressions, high-velocity drumming derived from thrash and punk, and gurgly growled vocals. I know that I basically just rewrote the Wikipedia description for the genre, but from an instrumental standpoint, RV is so basic that it’s difficult to describe the nuts and bolts of their sound in anything but the simplest of terms. This doesn’t mean there isn’t anything interesting going on with LptGaStA’s compositions, though, as the band has more of a punk feel than most death metal bands. Don’t take this to mean that they’re a death/thrash outfit; there are elements of hardcore punk (“Repulsive Vision,” “Harmless Entertainment) and even crust (“Half Starved Half Killed”), and Danny McEwan’s rapid vocal patterns and occasionally political lyrics serve to authenticate the vibe. Though not game changing, the punk elements help RV stand out.
The political themes are so on the nose, however, that it’s less difficult to take the band seriously when they’re talking about bathroom surgery (“Bathroom Surgery”) than when they’re advocating for anti-censorship policies. LptGaStA opens with a collection of samples 1 from early 90’s death metal media hysteria before McEwan bursts forth with a drawn out, nearly cringe-inducing delivery of the album’s title. Turns out, the album’s title is referring to the artistic validity of the genre itself, a stance no one who encounters such an obscure record as this one will ever oppose. I don’t typically dwell on lyrical themes in my reviews, but there’s so little to talk about regarding Repulsive Vision’s songwriting chops that it’s difficult to ignore the persistent message (there’s at least one other anti-censorship song in “Harmless Entertainment;” and more samples!). Perhaps the lyrics on these tracks were meant to be played for laughs, but all I can muster towards them is an exasperated sigh.
There’s a lack of innovation on LptGaStA, but that doesn’t mean Repulsive Vision isn’t afraid to have a little fun with their formula. The band’s stuffing of certain songs with tempo changes makes for some surprisingly dynamic tunes, and others feature more rapid and technical riffing than is found elsewhere on the record. “Fragmentary” and “Credophilic” are two notable instances where these exceptions are effectively combined to create something genuinely entertaining, so the album isn’t without its bright spots. Most of the time, though, the guitar work carries a simplistic groove reminiscent of Six Feet Under, but thankfully RV is rarely as brainless as Barnes and co. (though McEwan’s one-note vocal performance is nearly as grating as Barnes’).
The production here, though noticeably more dynamic than the average death metal release, doesn’t really help RV in their duller moments. The guitar tone shoulders neither enough bite nor clarity and the bass guitar makes an appearance for all of ten seconds, but at least the drums lack the artificiality that plagues modern genre releases.
Though it’s not reprehensible, I can’t in good conscience recommend Look past the Gore and See the Art. It’s consistently fast and I admire Repulsive Vision’s affinity for punk, but the majority of it is stale and some of the lyrical content is genuinely grating. I can only imagine it serving as competent background music between now and the next great death metal release, of which there has been no short supply so far this year. Not repulsive, but certainly lacking in vision.