Scordatura – Mass Failure Review

Traditional death metal has, to my ears, endured more strongly than the base forms of other metal subgenres. Second wave idolizers have me regularly convinced that options for tremolo riffs dried up around the time Darkthrone released Panzerfaust, while modern practitioners of power metal infinitely scrawl tally marks on the tomb of Helloween’s “Eagle Fly Free.” But something about classic death metal has proven impossibly recyclable; from Blood Incantation to Necrot, many of the best bands keep the style fresh by doing hardly anything new at all. Enter Scordatura, who do little to break this trend. Irritably, from a writer’s perspective, Mass Failure is a success nonetheless.

Google tells me that a scordatura refers to the unconventional tuning of a stringed instrument; ironic, as nothing seems immediately out of the ordinary with Scordatura’s sound. This is classic-ass death metal through and through, stylistically falling somewhere between Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation. Occasional outbursts of dizzying dissonance (especially in “Nothing but Dust”) lend Mass Failure accents of brutal and technical death metal, spicing the proceedings without betraying its classic core. But where Scordatura really sells the record is in their unpredictable songwriting turns. While there is rarely a line of logic linking the movements of a given song, the tempo changes and stylistic shifts are often delightfully disorienting, and nearly always kept me engaged.

I say “nearly” because it does take a couple of tracks for Mass Failure to find its groove. The opening two cuts, “Disease of Mind” and “Skin Trophy,” boast decent riffs, but the rhythmic execution feels stiff when stacked against the effortless flow that defines the bulk of the record. Sailing is ideal (read: tumultuous) from track three on, but certain cuts display excellent melodic ideas that I wish defined all of Scordatura’s compositions. The title track in particular bolsters a helluva tremolo riff at its core, catchy as fuck and instantly memorable, without sacrificing the band’s caveman ideals. Meanwhile, “Contorted Existence”1 and “Collapse of Humanity” display the best of Scordatura’s unpredictable songwriting tactics, but are less memorable from a melodic perspective. It rarely feels like the best aspects of Scordatura’s sound meet in cohesive agreement.

Of course, this does not mean that Mass Failure’s quality is reflected in its namesake; it is merely solid and enjoyable, rather than ideal and compelling. The instrumentation isn’t revolutionary, but Scordatura’s well rounded line-up handles the technically demanding performances with seemingly little effort. Vocalist Daryl Boyce, then, is where Mass Failure draws much of its personality. Boyce’s barking, raspy grunts are distinct in a way that few death metal acts achieve beyond bog standard roars and gurgles, and bring significant character to what is often an overlooked component of the death metal toolset. The mixing balances all these elements decently, despite a predictably buried bass, which I rarely heard doing anything beyond aping the rhythm guitars in any case. Appropriately, the engineering here is solid but unremarkable, with the tones sporting an unobtrusive synthetic gloss. This puts Scordatura in line with their contemporaries, but the clinical production means they don’t stand out from them, either.

Ultimately, the biggest knock against Mass Failure lies in its failure to tie together its best elements. That doesn’t seem to matter much when those elements excel in isolation all the same. I was a bit surprised to find that Scordatura actually hails from Scotland, because they realize the spirit of American death metal more effectively than many of their American contemporaries. This is a breakneck album peppered liberally with unpredictable songwriting shifts, and while this doesn’t exactly set them apart from their influences, it does make for a suitable alternative that many genre heads should find immediately likeable. If Scordatura can find the magic formula to unify the best corners of their sound, then Mass Failure may one day be recognized as a precursor to bolder ventures.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Gore House Productions Official | Bandcamp
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 25th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Featuring a sampled news report on the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer, which, after 35 years of death metal iteration, is borderline painful to listen to.
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