Revered post-post-deconstructionist philosopher Taylor Swift summed up relationships rather well: “so it’s gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames.” Ultimately, it is a binary choice; it lasts, ‘til death do you part, or it fails, and you part ways while you’re both still breathing. The start, the “honeymoon phase” as some call it, is fresh and exciting; how could you ever grow tired of this? And then it’s a ton of work. Little irritations pop up, those things that were once charming grow stale and boring, and you begin to wonder if they’re even trying anymore. T-Swift’s flames of the end aren’t there yet, but the growing heat, edging ever closer, can be felt nonetheless.
Which brings us to Chile’s Soulrot and their debut Nameless Hideous Manifestations. The honeymoon phase of Swe-death, in its prime with Left Hand Path and Like an Everflowing Stream, still brings back those memories of the excitement we long for and want to rekindle. So, like asking her to wear that red dress from that party a few years ago to give you the same gut-punch feeling, we seem to ask little more of our Swe-death than that it remind us of what it once was. The dress is getting tighter in some places it shouldn’t, but we’re reminded enough of the good old days that we can look past it, reveling in the flesh of the past, if just for a moment. Soulrot knows what we want their music to do, and wants little more than to recapture that old magic.
The Left Hand Path is trodden well on “Infertile Anti-Womb,” which sounds more like Entombed than Entombed A.D. does; it’s even got that characteristic melody we all know, that slight variation on the Phantasm theme merged with a new but somehow familiar solo. The spiderlike riffing of “This Putrid Canvas” stands out, elevating it from mere Entombed worship to quality Entombed worship. Those old feelings come rushing back, reminding me why I’m here in the first place. Likewise with the thrashy “From My Grave,” which may have been something to emerge from the jam room of Left Hand Path times; this is, assuredly, a compliment.
And yet, like our relationships that fail, it hurts to admit when it’s just not good enough. After twenty-five seconds of pointless opening sound cut into a separate and stupidly titled track in what surely must be an act of self-awareness, “Those Who Dwell in the Abyss” brings Nameless Hideous Manifestations to a proper start by effectively reversing the “Left Hand Path” structure; it begins with the Phantasm melody riff-off, getting into more frenetic riffing before an admittedly good crushing chug comes along. It goes off the rails when bringing the melody back for a needless repetition or two, and then drags out one more verse just for good measure; the time management ain’t what it used to be, and Soulrot’s song is actually shorter by a half minute. “Incorporeal Autopsy” just meanders with stock Entombed riffing, making an impression solely because I can’t shake the feeling of how massive a difference a couple notes can make, rendering unforgettable riff patterns into boilerplate HM-2 tone demonstrations. Nothing here is intolerable, but rather too tolerable; if Swe-death fanatics needed background jazz like pretentious penthouse player parties, Soulrot could fit that bill nicely.
With all of the above said, I still enjoyed what Soulrot did here for the most part, but I enjoyed it in the wrong way. Much like one can “enjoy” their partner by merely imagining them when they were younger, what I liked about Nameless Hideous Manifestations was the reminders of old Swe-death, those Entombed moments that make my ears perk up just like when Left Hand Path walked through that door for the first time. Much of this review has focused on me, but at the same time a problem lies within the strategy of Soulrot: by simply trying to remind of a bygone time, they neglected to make me care about what they’re doing now and appreciate that, flaws and all. If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the glory years, you’d best bring your A-game or not play at all. Sure, the production is nice and crusty, foregoing the Entrails/Demonical polish nicely but still being clear and crisp, but what it’s showcasing just doesn’t live up to the standards Soulrot willingly embraced when embarking on their journey to make a Swe-death record in 2017.