Saints of Death – Ascend to the Throne Review

Come on, groove metal. I know you can do it. Elitists tend to treat you as the secondary antagonist of metal’s story, behind only to nu-metal, but between genre founders Pantera and the best bits of Machine Head’s discography, there’s still a lot of potential in this particular sound. Hell, I’ve even enjoyed the occasional DevilDriver when craving musical fast-food, which seems to be considered a heinous crime amongst some1. But so few bands manage to do anything more than ridiculous prancing, posturing and posing like gangster rappers who barely manage to spell the word ‘attitude.’ Saints of Death put a pinch of death in the groove and hope that’ll set them apart with their short debut Ascend to the Throne. Can they avoid the genre traps and come out swinging, or is it yet another miss in the ever-growing list of cringe-inducing groove?

The performances on Ascend to the Throne are its strongest quality. The band claims to mix groove metal and death metal, and though the death metal component is less a full half of pure death metal and more a whiff of Scandinavian melodeath, this is indeed a tighter and more energetic take on the usual DevilDriver and Machine Head influenced fare. The title track, following almost 2 minutes of atmospheric nonsense, displays a melodic sense that sounds like the distant cousin of At The Gates. Even beyond this passing influence of the Gothenburg scene, the guitarwork is sharp and direct, the gruff death-thrashy vocals consistently convincing.

But performances alone are not enough, and what Saints of Death have in terms of technical skill, they lack in songwriting skill and inspiration. The title track has perhaps the most engaging riffwork across the skinny 25 minutes; afterwards it’s a miasma of chugga-chugga riffs and nondescript rhythm work, steadily decreasing in quality and increasing in cheese. Frontman Twan Holliday delivers a performance that is spirited and earnest and as cringeworthy as a neckbeard’s premature marriage proposal. The lyrical work is less subtle and sophisticated than DevilDriver at their most meatheaded. They might as well have repeated ‘I am a tough guy’ for the album’s duration, and it would hardly be more ineffectively cliche, peaking with the frankly embarrassing anthemic rallying cry “Soldiers of Metal” that would make even Manowar roll their eyes.

Furthermore, the promo sheet boasts about a bottom-end the size of Kim Kardashian’s, owing to a bonus 8-string bass, totaling 12 bass strings where most bands get stuck at 4. Alas, whereas a double guitar setup is practically standard since Thin Lizzy and Maiden, and even a dual drum kit has shown to be conceptually effective with Kylesa, the Saints’ bass boost does nothing that a singular setup could not have. Groove and nu-metal always have a hefty rhythm section, which is one of the best features of these sub-genres, and while Ascend is no different, the production feels pre-programmed, a drag-and-drop package of Pro Tools settings that does the job it’s supposed to but does not elicit any personality or recognizability. It’s commendable that the band avoided the all-too-common brick wall, but when you go for an uncommon instrumental setup, the production should reflect that unique selling point, and in this the record falls short.

All in all, Saints of Death do not represent the redemption groove metal is still awaiting. Though they start fairly strong, the quality quickly dips as the record moves on, and most of the short album turns out a cliche-riddled bucket of underdeveloped riffs that cannot be saved by the competent and energetic performances. Rather than carrying out the missive of its title, Ascend to the Throne descends to the gutter.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Head Rattle Productions INC
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: July 10th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Thou art a poser. – Steel
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