(DGR reviews the new album by Wretched from North Carolina, and at the end we have a brand new video from the album.)
My history with Wretched is a spotty one at best. I discovered The Exodus Of Autonomy way too late for my own good, on the insistence of a fellow writer at a previous website, and really enjoyed it — but it was one of those situations where I felt I had really missed the zeitgeist on the band. Thus, when Beyond The Gate hit, that was my legit starting point with Wretched and I found a group who had gone really far into the melodeath spectrum of things, which I still feel was so odd given Victory Records’ slate of artists at the time.
In fact, they still feel like they were then one of the more intense groups on Victory’s roster, not prone to overindulgence on breakdowns and instead an intensely guitar-heavy, straightforward band who bounced between the various spectra of death metal at the drop of a hat. They were a band who were hard to pin down, moving between a variety of genres and landing them with tags like “progressive death core”, “tech-death”, “thrash”, and everything else that could have “death” suffixed or prefixed to it.
Son Of Perdition, on the other hand, is the brand of Wretched that I absolutely fell in love with. Joined by new vocalist Adam Cody (of Columns, Vehemence, Glass Casket, and a handful of other bands), the group took a turn for the absolutely manic.
Son Of Perdition was a panicked-sounding album. Everything was on edge for much of the disc, and the group were just a flurry of blasts and guitar work with very few breathers. I came to find out via my recent interview with guitarist Steven Funderburk that the panicked feeling may have been an unintentional yet subtle nod to the situation surrounding the band at the time. Put bluntly, if Wretched wanted to run with the Son Of Perdition sound for a bit, then I’d be right there alongside them. Needless to say, the hype was very high on this end for Cannibal.
The lineup change that saw previous guitarist Joel Moore returning to the band was a point of interest as well. Guitarists all have a certain style and often, even unintentionally, a lineup shift in guitarists can produce an alteration to a group’s overall sound and writing style. With Cannibal, though, Wretched sound the most cohesive they’ve been in some time.
Cannibal is an album of multiple personalities, keeping with the recently discovered frenetic nature of the band’s sound, yet I’d be lying to you if I didn’t confess that based on the album’s opening track “Gold Above Me”, I thought Wretched had somehow transformed into Behemoth, because wow — the guitar tone and everything else in that song, including the pacing and the blasts, turned an intro track into a curveball from out of nowhere, until Adam Cody shrieks his way in from the side in order to drag everyone into the actual first song on the disc.
Of course, this means “Gold Above Me” functions in part as an extension of track two, “Morsel”. But “Morsel” sweeps away any questions about where the band might have gone exploring for their sound. It shows them continuing down the Son of Perdition route, but instead of that panicked feeling it reveals them building upon that foundation and giving everything a little bit more room to breathe.
The pace of Cannibal is still mainly breathless, but this time the band do create a little bit of room in which the listener can slow down and take in the surroundings. Wretched’s brand of death metal is relentlessly sleek, more hellcat than sludgy, gurgly monster from the bowels of hell. That can be a turn-off for the more low-end-focused death metal fans out there, but the speed at which they play means that the group can shift into a bass-heavy chunk of music before immediately throwing themselves back into a buzzsaw of heavily picked guitar work.
There’s a lot of finesse in Wretched’s playing as they move from note to note, randomly tossing in leads amongst their relentless bevy of riffs, and Cannibal, even more so than Son Of Perdition, moves really fast when the group decide to crank up the tempo. Wretched even manage to sound almost apocalyptic in the song “To The Flies” — the whole back half of that song sounds like Armageddon, filled to the brim with chords crashing all over the place like waves slamming boats into a cliff side during a storm.
Wretched’s instrumental tracks have always been something of an unheralded highlight as well, something many of their stylistically similar contemporaries have never even tried to do; it’s an eclectic habit that has been one of theirs and theirs alone. The instrumental songs have always fit in well with the flow of each disc, and Cannibal is no exception, this time with the two tracks slotted into the regular flow of the disc at separate times, instead of being batched together as some overall movement.
That represents a change, but it helps the tracks stand on their own as well. They also unfold naturally right into the next song, making Cannibal, with all its obsessions with death and destruction, feel like a living organism. It helps, too, that these songs have always been expertly written and are often quite experimental compared to what you might expect from the more usual Wretched stock and trade. They’re one of the few times Wretched don’t exist in their standard form of either being at 0 or 100mph.
They also tend to differ from the kinds of instrumental experiments that other bands try; more often than not, they feel like the band just told the frontman to take a hike, and otherwise could have easily been performed with a vocalist slotted in. They allow the band to exercise and play around a bit before getting back into the business of smashing people in the face like a brick-wielding maniac. Since the two instrumental songs on Cannibal are separated from each other, they also have two very different feels, but both are worthy to join the collection of instrumental songs that Wretched have tucked into their vest already.
Vocalist Adam Cody still remains one of the goddamned best additions to the group that they could have secured. I know I’ve already sung the man’s praises up and down in the context of Son of Perdition, but he still adds a layer of vicious intensity that amplifies the Wretched sound beyond the good thing they already had going. He’s also partially responsible for why the group sound so manic these days; as precise and surgical as the band behind him is, Adam is still up front like a rabid animal, and through a variety of vocal styles he can make Wretched seem like a character in the process of losing his mind.
Honestly, I would not be shocked if the first fifty seconds of the song “Salt Lick” captured his own personal realization of that idea and he just decided to run with it. In fact, he makes the first seven songs pass by within the blink of a single breath — and that is with the relatively ambient “L’appel du Vide” providing one of the few breaks that you get on Cannibal.
As I mentioned, there has also been a change in the guitar barracks as well, with Joel Moore rejoining the band alongside longtime guitarist Steven Funderburk. Joel has played in the band before, so the change in sound isn’t a massive one; they remain as terrifying as ever on the stringed instruments, which is sort of like stating that the the Earth orbits the sun; it’s a known fact and one of the reasons that you come back to Wretched in the first place.
If anything, perhaps the people who really deserve a medal are the members of the rhythm section (consisting of Andrew Garvey and Marshall Wieczorek) for rolling with every single change as if it were nothing. Marshall is absolutely deft with the blasts on this album, too, and he’s yet another one of the reasons why listening to a Wretched disc often feels like being strapped into a chair and accelerated in a G-force test chamber.
Cannibal is an intense disc, roiling around in a sea of flame, less panicked than Son Of Perdition but just as manic, as the group effortlessly sweep from one song to the next, leaving the preceding three minutes in ashes. Despite the album’s simple single-word title, Cannibal is as instrumentally complicated as anything the band have ever recorded, and their newfound amplification of the more violent and death-metal tendencies is one that I continue to enjoy.
Wretched have always seemed to be a band fighting for respect, with each milestone earned by clawing their way there. It seems that nothing has ever come easy for them as they were lumped into a billion different genres during the metalcore explosion due to their Victory Records association, and they’ve never compromised on the fact that they were a melting pot of thrash, death metal, melo-death, -core, and technical influences. But they’ve now achieved a new milestone.
Cannibal is just as biting as any of their previous releases and a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, which had already set a high bar in my own expectations. It’s a fast and intense ride, one that I’m tempted to compare to a roller coaster, except that it really isn’t — because there are no up’s and down’s. Cannibal is acceleration into a wall — with the hard stop coming only at the end of the disc. Cannibal is more of a rocket sled. You start, you gasp, you blink, and you slam into the cement wall at the end and are disintegrated.
Cannibal will be released June 10 and can be pre-ordered from Victory Records. Wretched’s Facebook page is here. Below you will find a brand new official video for “Cranial Infestation” as well as a previously released animated video for “Morsel”.