BEST OF BRITISH 2019: GEIST / GÉVAUDAN / GODEATER
(In this edition of Andy Synn‘s series on recommended releases by UK bands (presented by the letter “G”), the focus is on Geist, Gévaudan, and Godeater.)
Being a British writer for what is, primarily, a US-based (though not necessarily US-focussed) publication like NCS occasionally puts me in some odd, awkward positions.
For one thing, the level of autonomy afforded to me here is far greater than anywhere else I’ve written for, and, due to our location/reputation, there’s never any pressure on me to blindly “support the scene”, something which often forces other, UK-based, sites/zines to grit their teeth and find ways to be gratingly polite/positive even when they don’t really want to.
On occasion this “outsider” status has come back to bite me, for instance when a band (or their fans) decide I’ve not been nice enough about them, or when I’ve simply refused to cover a band because I didn’t think they were all that good, but, for the most part, it’s a very freeing position to be in, and not one I take for granted.
Hopefully it also absolves me of any accusations of bias or favouritism – I’m not covering these bands because I’m trying to ingratiate myself with them, or “the scene” in general, I’m doing it because I think our readers will want to hear them!
GEIST – SWARMING SEASON
We’ll start things off with my personal favourite of the three, and by god, is this one pissed-off album. And that’s an understatement.
Across these eight songs (clocking in at a lean, mean twenty-six minutes) Geist unleash some of the angriest, most vitriolic Metallic Hardcore I’ve heard in a very long time, pulling a total of zero punches and taking no prisoners in the process.
But lest you think the band are a one-note, one-idea wonder, let me tell you now that there’s a real method to the band’s “mad as hell, and not going to take it any more” approach, and a sense of control underpinning the chaos that reminds me of Converge (even if Geist haven’t quite made it to that level just yet).
Put it this way, if Converge are a machete, Geist are a switchblade. Smaller, yes, but no less lethal in the right hands.
The long, drawn-out introduction to “Unnatural Selection” is both an apt scene-setter and a final warning for the unsuspecting listener, as when it finally explodes out of the speakers you’d best be prepared for some of the most furious, frantic music of 2019.
And while “Unnatural Selection” does, in a sense, capture the tone, the tension, and the terrifying rage of this album in microcosm, it goes without saying that each of the subsequent songs also offers a slightly different take, or a slightly different angle, to keep things as vital as they are venomous.
“Western Medicine”, for example, has a touch of wild groove reminiscent of early Every Time I Die, galloping along with reckless abandon for just over three thrilling minutes, while “Breathe Soundless Light” eases off on the gas ever so slightly to revel in stomping dissonance and savage disorder.
By contrast, “Sleep Deprived” goes even faster, even harder, and errs more towards the Grindcore side of things, while also adding an unexpected dash of melody to the proceedings along the way, something which “Election Day” then picks up and cranks all the way to eleven, positively crackling with the sort of electric energy that, in my opinion at least, the most recent Martyrdöd album could have done with a lot more of.
After five tracks of face-melting fury, Geist then unleash their most secret of secret weapons in the shape of the doomy, mid-paced menace of “Silent Hive”. Gloomy, grim, and hypnotically ugly, it’s the sort of surprise haymaker that an album like this should always have in reserve, ready to unleash just as the listener is starting to get comfortable.
Concluding with the killer combo of “Kennel Cough” and “Buried Language”, the former half groove, and half grind, the latter arguably the most chaotic, cathartic, and crushing track on the entire album, Swarming Season ends as it began, with an eruption of filth and fury and pissed-off, punk-fuelled attitude.
If any of that appeals to you, then give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.
GÉVAUDAN – ITER
After two well-received, EPs, Hertfordshire’s Gévaudan have finally seen fit to grace us with a proper, full-length release, and it’s a damn fine one, if I do say so myself.
The band’s modus operandi hasn’t changed much, of course, blending the classic sounds of bands like Candlemass and Trouble with just a touch of Bathory-esque grim grandeur, but the songwriting is stronger and more streamlined, and the delivery far more confident overall.
What’s more, the band’s ongoing synthesis of old-school influences sounds neither dated, nor derivative, and reminds me of the similar approach taken by US Doom-darlings Crypt Sermon (though I’d argue that Iter is a stronger album overall than the uneven The Ruins of Fading Light).
That’s not to say it’s perfect by any means. “Saints of Blood” would probably benefit from a bit of judicious trimming, and there’s a specific moment in “The Great Heathen Army” (trust me, you’ll know it when you hear it) that raises the cheese levels to a point that anyone even mildly lactose intolerant will find difficult to handle.
But these are, ultimately, minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, especially when the rest of the record proves to be such an engaging and enervating listing experience.
Opener “Dawntreader”, for example, opts for a sombre, slow-burn introduction which really sets out the emotional stakes of the album, before metamorphosing into a fittingly “epic” piece of strident, emotionally heavy, Doom, whose embrace of the classic, quiet/loud dynamic provides a simple, but oh so effective, structure for the listener to latch onto, after which the mighty “Maelstrom” provides a slightly more energetic, though considerably darker, spin on the band’s signature sound.
Both songs are, of course, dominated by the dramatic vocals of Adam Pirmohamed, whose evocative delivery goes a long way towards investing this album with an extra dash of glamour and grandeur.
But while it would be understandable to focus in on his performance as the album’s emotional linchpin, Iter is clearly a team effort, and wouldn’t be half as good without the equally important contributions from guitarist Bruce Hamilton, bassist Andy Salt, and drummer David Himbury.
That being said, one of the smartest, and most effective decisions which the band make on Iter is to minimise the use of harsh vocals and place the focus purely on Pirmohamed’s striking clean voice, which not only helps set the band apart from many of today’s more deathly doomsters, but increases the impact of these harsher moments when they do make an appearance.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on spellbinding closer “Duskwalker” (easily the album’s best track, and wisely saved until last), whose second half features an almost Primordial-esque explosion of primal energy and howling fury that ends the track, and the album, on a brilliantly high note.
It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be totally original to be a little bit exceptional. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that matters.
GODEATER – ALL FLESH IS GRASS
Scottish Tech Death crew Godeater have been receiving a lot of praise recently, both for their obvious technical talents and for their shamelessly pro-environmental lyrics.
But let’s get one thing clear right way – they don’t sound anything like either Gojira or Cattle Decapitation, and any writer/reviewer you see claiming otherwise should be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism and suspicion from now on, as it’s likely that they’re just getting all their opinions second-hand from stuff they’ve seen written (wrongly) elsewhere.
There’s nothing wrong with making comparisons between bands of course – as a matter of fact, probably the biggest issue with All Flesh Is Grass is that it sounds a little bit too much like several other bands – but if you’re going to do so you should at least pick the right ones.
It would be far more accurate to say that AFiG deals in a very American sounding, post-Black Dahlia Murder brand of Tech Death – think Inanimate Existence, Alterbeast, Inferi, etc – and that while this means that Godeater ultimately come up a little short in the originality stakes (which, as I said above, isn’t always a fatal flaw), you also can’t doubt their sincerity or their skill.
The band’s penchant for slick, high-velocity riffosity is made immediately apparent by songs such as blistering opener “Anoxia”, the blast-fuelled, tech-tastic “All Flesh”, or rapid-fire first single “Silent Spring”, each of which is a top-notch display of light-speed energy and lethal technique.
It’s not all about speed though, as the band do have their proggier moments too, valiantly channelling The Faceless (albeit without the incipient megalomania) on “Eternal Ending”, and really pushing the boat out on the almost-eight-minute “Salvation”, with the latter inarguably being the album’s high point, demonstrating what the band are capable of at their very best.
As talented as they are, however, the band still have a few improvements left to make if they really want to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
This is especially true when it comes to songwriting/sequencing, as the group’s odd inability to properly “end” many of their songs (too many of them just “stop”, without actually climaxing), coupled with more than a few moments of random “riff salad”, means some of the tracks do end up blending together as the album goes on.
I also have to point to the ostentatious, occasionally obnoxious, synth work as somewhat problematic, as while there are definitely occasions where it works as intended, giving the album a pseudo-epic vibe as befits the lyrical content, (“Blood Moon”, for example, is a great closer whose impact is only enhanced by these extra embellishments), far too often they came across as superfluous and/or distracting (or, worse, a crutch for some weaker moments, i.e., “The Dreich”).
Still, it’s not so much that these flaws totally ruin the experience (“Salvation” and “Blood Moon” rank amongst the best Tech Death tracks I’ve heard this year) and more that they leave you wondering what might have been if the rest of the album had been as good as its very best moments.
So while All Flesh Is Grass might not be the masterpiece I’ve seen it hyped as elsewhere, there’s still more than enough meatmuscle, and more than enough conviction, here to provide a solidly satisfying experience that will, hopefully only lead to bigger and better things in the future.