Who would have thought that a Salt Lake City deathcore outfit would have risen to the apex of a rejuvenated genre that many left behind in a noughties-based memory? It’s been a hell of a long way since Recreant, Chelsea Grin’s flagship so-gross-it-makes-the-live-show-security-force-wince breakthrough which, while a memeworthy popular moment for heavy music, now seems relatively flat and by-the-numbers.
Even greater, conceiving a double album within the genre would’ve been a bizarre notion for those that mocked its antics, including the ever-iconic Entombment Of A Machine video back in the day. As contemporaries of Job For A Cowboy, Chelsea Grin aims to musically display how far the genre has come with an ambitious project; thematically devised but delightfully concise in its first released instalment, Suffer In Hell, an impressive study of modern metal.
Having (near enough) held down the same lineup since guitar noodler extraordinaire Jason Richardson left, Chelsea Grin have upped the ante from the genre’s pigeonholed expectancy of crowdkill catnip. Just as Tom Barber’s ex-band Lorna Shore are now making waves with Will Ramos at the pig squealing throne of the symphonic-metal scene, he brings a whole repertoire of otherworldly voices to carve a new path for the usual breakdown-heavy brand. The tinkering minor key scale-runs are still there (a wonderful little verse lick in The Isnis will attest), and the 7/8-string force is still a musical slap in the face, but now greater mood highs and terrifying lows are added into the mix alongside better musicianship.
Origin Of Sin kicks off the narrative: like an action movie soundtrack, bellowing gate-opener drums and ominous choir chants leads to a slathering of slam chords and pounding double-kicks. It’s heart pumping stuff. As the instruments swirl around in a tornado-like dervish, true to the title Barber rakes up the most cynical of Biblical teaching that humanity’s downfall has stemmed from the very beginning: “And so it was written and spoken to few / Empty brotherhood from tainted truth / From the Egyptian times to modern rule / We asked for truth, but were only fooled”.
It’s a delightfully sinister theme that runs throughout. Forever Bloom layers the vocalist’s high and low snarls of “damnation to us all”. We are supposedly suffering in hell here after all. The track features moments of symphonic atmospherics, before guitarist Stephen Rutishauser piles up trademark death metal riffs, culminating in a ferocious guest feature from the scene’s late, great master Trevor Strnad. Rutinhauser’s switches from speedy neck runs to laboured palm-muted chords which add ever-interesting dimensions to Deathbed Companion, while Crystal Casket is the vilest of treats for conveyors of ear pounding drums and that vomit sound breakdown call.
The welcome variation along the River Styx throughout marks the band’s successful adoption of techniques from traditional death and blackened metal while occasionally implementing the neck-breaking moments that hardcore kids wait for. Barber shows himself to be human after all with some select yelled and sung moments, and Flood Lungs leads itself in with a soothing waltz of sorts. A fleeting break, as the crushing low end provides a slow tempo surge for its main duration, but both sounds collide successfully in its meditative outro. As for the closer Suffer In Hell, Suffer In Heaven, it acts as a theme for what has arrived and what’s to come musically too. Artificial and natural harmonics play off interchangeably, the light and the dark musical notes rubbing noses. Acting as a hellhound, Barber signs us off, for this episode at least, with a cheeky “arf arf”. For a record heavy in lyrical content, there’s fun to be had in all the intensity.
Continuing in their Miltonian task, what will Suffer In Heaven bring? The similar ferocious, contained evil of Suffer In Hell? Or an ascent to brightness in more cherubic pastures? Spring lambs? Probably not, as Chelsea Grin aims to provide a titanic document of what the genre should be these days which, as it rightly should, still involves sacrilege and menace, but now a range of exciting experimentation which makes the journey to hell’s depths well worth the ticket price. The Utah natives are no doubt finally cementing themselves as deathcore’s forward-thinking torchbearers.
For fans of: Suicide Silence, Thy Art Is Murder, Lorna Shore
‘Suffer In Hell’ by Chelsea Grin is released on 11th November on OneRPM.
Words by Elliot Burr