Odors – specifically bad ones – provide no end of inspiration for metal artists, so I was surprised to find that the simple name Stench hadn’t been taken some time back in the 80s when all these extreme metal shenanigans were kicking off (though I suppose this was also the time when metalheads collectively discovered adjectives, so we were treated to Pungent Stench instead). Containing two members of death metallers Tribulation, Stench released debut In Putrescence in 2010, mixing aggressive but melodic black metal with a good waft of Gardens of Grief to come up with a familiar but quite unique scent. I found this pleasantly fragrant.
Venture continues where In Putrescence left off, though this time they’ve upped the black metal content. “Archways” doesn’t provide the most auspicious start with its repetitive drum hammering, but things soon improve with “The Vast”, which exhibits a strong Mörk Gryning influence (particularly in the harmonies). I strongly suspect the Stench boys are big fans of the Gryning, particularly their final self-titled masterpiece, as the guitar harmonies and particularly vocals consistently remind me of that release. The early At the Gates influence is still present in patches (minus the rhythmic experimentation), along with tinges of Dissection and even early Opeth’s melodicism (e.g. “Celebration”) and Keep of Kalessin’s grandiosity (e.g. “Road,” “Small Death”).
The album has been produced very well. The guitars are less fizzy than on the debut, and the bass no longer overly prominent. All the instruments are cleanly recorded – the distortion on the guitars has been kept low, allowing them to add plenty of reverb to everything without turning the sound into slush. This precise yet roomy and full sound is quite distinctive and, augmented by the occasional introduction of a harmony vocal or synth line (e.g. “Small Death”), fits the music perfectly.
On paper, then, I should love this album – it sounds good, it’s well played, and it incorporates some of my favourite bands as influences. Of course it’s never that simple, and I do have a couple of complaints. The songwriting is generally sound, but a little too often the riffs are stale. The worst offender is opening track “Archways”, which not only features the least interesting riffs, but accentuates this deficit with the most boring rhythmic arrangement of all the songs.
This brings me to my second complaint – a distinct lack of rhythmic variation. Sometimes straight up bludgeoning is what you need, but this isn’t a bludgeoning kind of album. Too much of the music consists of repeated quavers (eighth-notes for you folks across the pond) over a basic drum blast. The drumming itself could be improved: the drums are well played, but unimaginative. When the riffs lack rhythmic interest, you really need the drummer to step up and add the necessary spice to the arrangement – even just with some more exciting fills (see again Mörk Gryning, a good example being “The Aurora”).
Finally, I’m not convinced Venture represents much of a step forward from In Putrescence. The production and songwriting have certainly improved, but they’ve lost a little bit of the raw edge in the process. I’m still trying to make up my mind which release I prefer.
I appear to have spent the majority of this review complaining, which was not my intention (it’s so easy being critical). In Venture, Stench have produced a very fine gust of deathened black metal deserving of a good long sniff. I just hope they can up the potency on their next record, or they’ll be in danger of becoming stagnant. And no one wants to smell that.