A certain suspension of disbelief is needed to enjoy all art. Would we feel the sickening tugs at our heartstrings of Oedipus blinding and exiling himself if we sat back in our seats and noted that nobody is really hurt or affected, as the actors are just playing their part? Of course not, and it would ruin the point. The mystique surrounding Ruin — the band started in the ’90s, but members were incarcerated and institutionalized, and now their twisted musical vision is coming to life and they’re some sort of cult — seems, at the very least, exaggerated. To dive fully into — and thus to fully enjoy — their sophomore release Human Annihilation, we have to suspend our disbelief and think of Ruin not as a band but as a “death metal cult,” as they would describe it. Only then can we dive into what they’re doing and what they seem to be trying to portray.
From the outset, it seems clear that Ruin is about the atmosphere. Their sound is something akin to what would happen if Coffins spent a whole year listening to old Incantation records and decided to make music in that vein. The primitive bashing of Hellhammer animates Ruin as opposed to Incantation’s finely honed skill. Mortician’s use of samples to create an atmosphere of horror is here in spades as well, as nearly every song on Human Annihilation begins with one. The production is deliberately organic and shoddy, the focus of the samples on murder and torture see Ruin intent on creating the musical atmosphere of a fictional snuff film.
The brunt of the atmospheric legwork is done by the band. The samples are actually eerie instead of stupid (no small feat), and the riffs carry a mixture of disgust and nausea about them. Add to this the “death metal cult” mystique and a song like “Purification Rite” becomes almost abhorrent. The hymn at the beginning takes on the effect of a children’s song in a horror film, and the deliberate plod of caveman Incantation riffing trudges forward ceaselessly, shambling but not stopping. The best standalone song here is “In Horrific Disgust,” which has a strangely catchy bit of dissonance repeated throughout the song. The big Coffins chug sounds like it could’ve been on Ancient Torture, and that’s a compliment. “Death Meditation Trance” does well too, riding one of those quintessential Incantation melodies for an extended period of time, drums threatening to launch into something barbaric and fast with well-placed. It doesn’t. Instead, it trudges along at a glacial pace for a solid death-doom number until a climactic explosion at the end breaks the trance. It’s a device I never tire of, best used to close out Autopsy’s incredible The Tomb Within EP.
I enjoyed suspending my disbelief for Human Annihilation and believing in the “death metal cult.” Ruin have, even without that, created a good death-doom record for people who think Coffins are a tad too simplistic but Incantation far too busy. It fills a void that, I think, exists. With that in mind, Ruin’s high water mark remains Plague Transmissions Vol. 1, and Human Annihilation doesn’t change that. The full album approach simply doesn’t work as well for the cult mythology; the compilation format sounds like we’re finding bits left behind, stuff we weren’t supposed to see but was gathered by intrepid researchers and investigators to shine as much light onto the “death metal cult” of Ruin as possible. Human Annihilation sounds like we’re sitting in on a full ceremony, and that idea of full access detracts from the fun and the mystique a bit. It’s not as lame as seeing the Cloverfield monster by a long shot, but just like that film was better when it was an unknown terror, so too is Ruin.
These are minor criticisms of a good album. The atmosphere is good but Ruin’s done it better, and the riffs are universally good. Interestingly, this record gets better depending on where you listen to it. It fares far better when you’re alone in the dark with headphones than in any natural light. The sheer devotion to a concept and the requisite lack of deviation beg for that ideal listening setting. If you’re at all interested in Ruin, listen to them that way and believe in the cult. Don’t just listen, witness it. The atmosphere and mystique are, to my ears, part and parcel of Ruin. That makes an uncomfortable listening experience, which is what they intend and achieve.