Dying Fetus – Reign Supreme

You’ve gotta have grade-A titanium balls to pull that off” – MacDara checks out Dying Fetus‘ recently released LP Reign Supreme.

They’re not doing themselves any favours, are they? I mean, it’s hard enough being a band that trades in brutal technical death metal: not a genre that aims to garner any kind of mainstream critical kudos. But to go on top of all that and call yourselves Dying Fetus? You’ve gotta have grade-A titanium balls to pull that off.

I guess that explains the baggy trousers. But seriously, it’s to the Maryland combo’s credit that they’ve been bashing in heads with stony straight faces for nearly 20 years now, and have enjoyed a relatively high profile since debuting on Relapse in 2000 with the politically infused death-grind statement Destroy the Opposition.

Despite their name evoking sub-sub-Carcass rubbish goregrind, Dying Fetus deal with the prevailing issues of the day, mostly war and social change. And their latest platter Reign Supreme is no different – although without a lyric sheet you’d be hard-pressed to know what they’re on about beyond the song titles. Oh, record labels: is it really so hard to include a PDF with a digital release? But I digress.

It’s also a challenge to stay interesting and revelant when your music adheres to a stiflingly orthodox formula of death grunts (both low and ultra-low), hyper-fast downtuned riffing, harmonic pick squeals (oh boy, there’s a lot of those) and crushing East Coast hardcore-style breakdowns. That’s a description of pretty much every Dying Fetus track ever recorded right there, and the nine songs on Reign Supreme stick strictly to plan. They could be outtakes from any of their previous few records for all I know. But you know what? I’ll be damned if they aren’t catchy as hell.

That’s the only litmus test for music of this ilk. And really, Dying Fetus are experts at this stuff. The individual elements might be complex – the hyper-technical shredding, the widdly harmonic six-string gymnastics, the inhuman drum patterns – but the structure of their songs is so simple that they’ll worm their way into your earholes right from the get-go. Indeed, if you don’t find yourself playing air guitar along to any of it, there’s something wrong with you.

Opener ‘Invert the Idols‘ grasps right for the throat with a two-minute blast of energy that’s pretty much a Dying Fetus highlights package. ‘Subjected To A Beating‘ is all about the epic breakdown, and ‘Second Skin‘ has some seriously pummeling blast beat action, while the crushing intro of ‘From Womb To Waste‘ is little preparation for the gear change a minute in where the band suddenly hurtles forward with controlled frenzy. Even the later songs keep up the momentum with hooks aplenty. ‘Devout Atrocity‘ sounds like Killswitch Engage gone death metal, while the soloing in ‘Revisionist Past‘ and ‘The Blood of Power‘ lets lead growler/guitarist John Gallagher indulge his more melodic classic metal tendencies.

Production-wise there’s a very clean sound – almost too clean, antiseptic even, not even a speck of grime. But the odd misstep aside (the triggered double bass drumming on ‘In The Trenches‘ is glaringly weak, like a toy robot slapping plastic buckets), that attempted sonic perfection mostly serves to complement the surgical precision of their three-pronged assault.

In short? Shame about the name, but nice job, fellas.

Reign Supreme is available now from Relapse Records & on iTunes.

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