I like my death metal like the Swedes like their herrings: putrefied to the point of being potentially hazardous to consumers. Come to think of it, that’s also how the Swedes like their death metal. No wonder I’ve been enjoying the waves of throwback Swedeath that have splashed across my eardrums with remarkable frequency since Bloodbath‘s debut re-popularized the Stockholm sound over ten years ago. But even the pungent flavor of semi-rotten fish becomes bland and unsatisfying when consumed in bulk, and so it is with retro death metal. Rex Shachath‘s debut EP “Sepulchral Torment” was undeniably old-school, but distinguished itself by looking to the US for inspiration, blending early Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, and even finding time to swing past the UK to pilfer the odd Bolt Thrower riff. Though derivative, the riffs were good, the production straight from Morrisound Studios circa 1991, and it didn’t sound like Entombed.
New EP Revocation of the Blood Elect presents quite a different sound and makes me question whether the old-school vibe of their debut was more by accident than design. The songwriting has not advanced greatly, though the riffs have returned to Europe, primarily referencing Vader (check out the Litany-worthy opening to the record) rather than the USDM old-school. While the arrangements and performances are a bit slicker, they have also become more uniform – save for the My Dying Bride-esque doom riff that concludes the title track, the songs are relentlessly mid-tempo, resulting in an overall sonic impression as monochrome as the EP’s artwork.
This defect is further exacerbated by the other main change Rex Shachath have made to their sound: the production. The Sepulchral Torment EP had balls: satisfyingly dynamic, rough around the edges and with a fantastic natural drum sound, it sounded every bit like it was made twenty-five years ago, pre drum triggers and loudness wars. By contrast, Revocation of the Blood Elect was very obviously recorded in 2015: little bass, less dynamic range, horribly plastic drums and performances shorn of any rough edges that might have imbued them with some character. They’ve further distanced themselves from the old-school by over-using those infernal bass drops so beloved of deathcore bands eager to signpost their phat breakdowns. Mercifully, Rex Shachath don’t go so far as actually writing deathcore riffs.
Though entirely competent, Rex Shachath are hardly going to set the world ablaze with their music, so it’s disappointing that they’ve decided to relinquish one of their main selling points in favor of sounding more up-to-date (read: sterile). They can still pen a good riff, and if a Cannibal Corpse/Vader blend appeals to you then this is certainly worth a few spins, but the replay value is severely limited and overall it has done the opposite of what a good EP should do: I am no longer looking forward to hearing their debut full-length.