(Grant Skelton reviews the new album by the resurrected Brutality.)
Is it just me, or do you ever feel like you enjoy your metal in absentia? The best tours never pass through your city (and perhaps not even your state). Or you discover a new band only to find out they play just 30 shows a year and you’d have to cross an ocean to catch them live. Indeed, the worst possibility is hearing an album, buying said album, then heading over to Encyclopaedia Metallum to get more information on the band. Then, your eyes widen. Your mouth is agape with terror as you behold the 2 most foreboding words in all of metaldom…”split up.”
This was me when I discovered Brutality in recent years. Along with my zeal for the Bay Area thrash scene of the early ’80s, I’ve made no attempt to hide my similar interest in ’90s Florida death. The digital age affords us the capability to hear music from previous aeons of metal history. We can watch interviews and concerts (in all their archaic VHS glory). For some obscene amount of money, we might even find a so-rare-it’s-still-throbbing copy of a band’s demo cassette on eBay. But none of that can replace being part of a scene. Buying CDs and tapes, handing out show flyers. Actually witnessing local bands play for dirt cheap (or nothing at all) just so that they can get their music heard.
The ’90s Florida death scene was something I would love to have been a part of during my teenage years. To see Brutality play local shows with the likes of Obituary, Death, Resurrection, Massacre, Solstice (whose Facebook page says they have a new album due in April), Monstrosity, Killing Addiction, Malevolent Creation, Morbid Angel, and Deicide — I’m salivating just thinking about it!
While the digital age has afforded bands new ways to market and expose their music (how else does anyone find new music nowadays?), metal fans still definitely have a taste for arcane artifacts. In keeping with that same arcane spirit, Brutality’s new album Sea Of Ignorance will not see a digital release. According to the official Brutality Facebook page:
“This album is for all of our fans who have been waiting almost 20 years for our return. We have started relationships world wide over the last 4 years with fans old and new that have their own labels, distros, merchandise and recording studios and started our own label to make this happen…. This release will be on cd and later on vinyl only at this point, we have no plans to put it out digitally. We want fans to have the real deal not a MP3 version.”
Sea Of Ignorance was funded by fans, recorded for fans, and released for fans. It has arrived 20 years after its predecessor, into a vastly different musical landscape than 1996. Nevertheless, the music that Brutality have provided us is surgically sharp, unrepentant, and utterly barbaric. Their music is ageless and for that reason is even more relevant today than it was in years past.
I featured the album’s title track in a Seen & Heard roundup back in December when the lyric video premiered. If you’ve heard Brutality’s previous output, then this track should be exactly what you’re looking for.
“48 To 52,” the album’s second track, is an ode to yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for the spread of the bubonic plague across Europe. Fitting subject matter for a death metal band, no? This is definitely my favorite song on Sea Of Ignorance. It opens with a spoken-word sample (presumably from a documentary film about the Black Death). Brutality build tension and angst with the introductory chords of this song. Rather than launching immediately into a bevy of blast beats, this tune opens with a slow, eerie riff before escalating into an absolute maelstrom at the 1:25 mark. For this reason, this song would make for an outstanding set opener.
Compared to the other tracks on this album, drummer Ruston Grosse is (slightly) merciful to the listener on “48 To 52.” Brutality have a more technical edge than many of their FLDM peers, and Grosse’s presence on this album is remarkable and proficient. Given the other bands on Grosse’s resume, his name is one that should be a topic of conversation among death metal drummers in 2016.
Jeff Acres’ bass has always been consistent and distinguishable in Brutality’s work. His tone on this album is healthy, thick, and robust. Fortunately, you won’t find yourself having to dig too deep to hear Acres’ performance on this record. The bass, without overpowering the guitar, is perfectly audible in the mix. So much so that it’s possible to actually hear the small idiosyncrasies in Acres’ choppy licks.
Another track of note on Sea Of Ignorance is “Shores In Flames.” Brutality’s take on Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” remains my favorite cover of that particular Sabbath song. Therefore, I had no doubts that Brutality can do proper justice to a cover song while still putting their identity into it. “Shores In Flames” is originally by Bathory and you can find it on their 1990 album Hammerheart. The track exceeds 11 minutes, a feat I’ve yet to see from any of Brutality’s musical peers. Guitarist Jay Fernandez steps to the microphone to handle the (gasp!) clean vocals on this opus. But fret not. You’ll soon find that Brutality do redecorate a bit, leaving a slamming slew of slain bodies in their wake.
While we’re talking guitarists, I’ve always appreciated Jay Fernandez. Whether it’s his military-grade riffing or his sweeping solos, his guitar work stands out. Now, I’m no guitarist. But I hardly think it acceptable to wank on your whammy bar for 6 seconds and call that an appropriate guitar solo. This type of Kerry King imitation is far too prevalent in death metal solos and it needs to end. Fernandez’s solos, even among individual Brutality songs, are unique. They’re vivid, lively, and soulful. The kind of solo you’d rewind the track for, just so you could hear it again. Put simply, his solos are memorable and, dare I say, emotive.
Though there’s gore aplenty to be had in Scott Reigel’s lyrics, I’ve always observed them to be a bit more politically and socially conscious than many other FLDM bands. Surely someone out there will say, “This is death metal, not Shakespeare. Who listens to death metal for lyrics?” Notwithstanding, the band chose the album title Sea Of Ignorance for a reason. Consider the opening lyrics to the title track.
“Fools wearing blinders
Unaware of their surroundings
It has made them, what they are
Looking for, their own glory…”
The album art, created by Teratogen, depicts the concept behind the song. A world ravaged by tyranny, war, nuclear devastation, and state-sanctioned violence. Depending on which version of the album you order, you may see a child clutching a teddy bear while observing said travesties in front of a wall of televisions. Or you may see a massive pile of televisions in front of an exploding nuclear power plant. Brutality named the album Sea Of Ignorance and opened the album with that track for a purpose. The rest of the tracks that follow elaborate on legitimate sociopolitical dilemmas facing the world today. We may observe news stories about these events. But are those news stories really informative? Do they actually provide us with the information we need to be aware and take a purposeful action?
Consider the following quote from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves To Death. The emphasized words in bold are mine.
“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”
Postman originally published these words in 1985. The more I thought about the concept behind Sea Of Ignorance, the more I found myself drawn to similar ideas presented in Postman’s book. I could elaborate much further on this point, but that’s a topic for another day. But anyone who tells you that death metal lyrics have no greater meaning is hopelessly misguided.
Brutality’s new album Sea Of Ignorance is available now on Ceremonial Records. Order from the links below; the band are on Facebook here.