In the 1990s heyday of Death Metal, even the most gore-drenched, death-obsessed bands wrote albums with songs that were just plain fun. Obituary’s “Slowly We Rot,” Cannibal Corpse’s “The Bleeding,” and Sepultura’s “Beneath the Remains” are all good examples. These were albums packed with energetic tracks, great riffs, tasty reverb drums, and vocals that deemphasized lyrical content -using the throat as an instrument of aggression instead. Whether those guys were sharing their vision of dystopia, sexual acts with household implements, or putrescent bodies festering in drainage ditches, the music still had the the pure joy of rock and roll done well.
But with any emergent music, seminal bands soon get lost in the forest of derivative acts, over-saturation sets in, and death metal is no different. The “purity” of the early works was replaced by “brutality” one-upsmanship, and the technical musicianship that was always part of the genre soon became the end itself, and not merely a means to writing great songs. In short, even as death metal grew, it grew stale. And, for fifteen years or more, the genre muddled along with very few new bands distinguishing themselves. For the rest of the scene, we all just sat back, listened to the new Meshuggah, and waited for signs of life.
In Reptilian Death, a phoenix of sorts rises from one of metal’s more obscure outposts, Mumbai, India in the shape of the simply excellent “The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence.” Dormant for almost a decade, Reptilian Death is a side project of Sahil “Demonstealer” Makhija (of Demonic Resurrection). Dawn is actually only the second full-length RD release. Given the landscape of metal over the past few years, and the lag in releases, Dawn can be considered a de facto debut. But, whether you call it a rebirth of Reptilian Death or a nouveau-debut, Dawn is one damned good record.
The secret to enjoying Dawn is to go into the experience armed with the knowledge that not a single thing you hear on the album is new: it does not break any ground, nor does it even attempt to do so. While RD may be classified a tech-death band, the record seems to have painstakingly steered clear of the tech-death fetishes of bands like Cryptopsy. In fact, the charm of Dawn is that it does not skinny dip into the ’90s death metal standards so
much as it enthusiastically cannonballs into the deep end…right down to the album structure itself.
The throwback tone is set with the intro track, “Primevil,” a very short dark martial chant hearkening back to Malevolent Creation’s decade-old “Death March.” Not only is the tone of the album set here, but you get the first taste of vocalist of Vinay Venkatesh. For a guy who looks like he’d be at home in a mild-mannered folkie coffee shop, lord, does he have a great death metal voice: Falsetto screech, anguished cries, gutteral growls, decent sense of harmony, and, perhaps best of all, the ability to distract from the lyrics (more on that later).
“Primevil” yields to the punkishly-short “Inchoate,” with it’s intro progression being very much an homage to old Machinehead, and its main verse riff and bridge drums that would be at home on a mid-period Deicide album. It is only on the next song, “Stimulate, Hike, Impel, Tear,” where the more tech-aspects of the band comes through. Even then, as with other tracks on the album, these geekier moments blend organically with and naturally compliment the triplet-heavy guitar riffs of Demonstealer and session wiz Nishith Hedge. And, when the guitar parts are not moving along the funkier mathcore moments, Demonstealers’ drumwork is. No where is this more obvious on “Distorted by Bondage, Blood and Bestiality.”
But, the record reaches it’s climax -both compositionally and in sheer joy, with the infectious penultimate track “Marvelous Gods – The Apple of My Eye.” Like most of the songs on Dawn, you find your self unconsciously bobbing your head while doing the dishes or tapping along with the beat on your steering wheel.
All the praise aside, Dawn is not without its flaws. First, the mix -though beautifully done, may betoo beautiful. The guitars have a great tone and punch, and the drums are flawless, but if there’s a bass holding things down, you very rarely hear it. Bassist Ashwin Shriyan, must be the conflicted because the album was so very well done, but you can barely hear his playing. Second, the lyrical content is never going to win a Pulitzer. If there is any area where Reptilian Death lacks maturity it is in the words that Vinkatesh is actually growling. To wit: “Now open your scrotum and shower us down. / With blood, semen and poison. / We drink your seed, your elixir of truth. / Rancid and fecal, fit for a brute.”Is it brutal? Sure. Could RD do better? Absolutely. Then again, the argument is to be made that the intentional gonzo lyrics are just another homage to classic death metal bands like Carcass or Dying Fetus.
These are minor quibbles, however, when weighed against all the things that Reptilian Death do well. When Dawn’s forty furious minutes have ended, you’re left with the distinct impression that this is a band, and an album, that did not forget -despite its over-the-top ethos, that death metal is rock and roll; it is meant to kick your ass with adrenaline and leave you spent and smiling at the end of the day. This is ultimately a record you will come back to again and again.