Let’s cut to the chase: For a debut album, it’s astonishing just how good Better Dead Than Friends is. It would also be astonishing even if it were an album released by any top-shelf grindcore band far deeper into their career than the place where The Bastard Within find themselves, close to the beginning of their own. This isn’t completely shocking, given that the members of this group have made names for themselves in other bands already, but still… what they’ve accomplished on this first full-length is a big eye-opener.
Those members, spread around Italy and Switzerland, are vocalist CN Sid, guitarist Gianluca Sulpizio, and bassist Davide Stura, as well as American drummer extraordinaire Kevin Talley. And while all credit goes to them for Better Dead Than Friends, they’ve also augmented their formidable attack with an array of noteworthy guests on various tracks — Jason Netherton (Misery Index, Asphalt Graves), Trevor (Sadist), Juri Bianchi (Addiction, Any Face, Hayma), Mãra Lisenko (Mãra), and Stefania Minervino (Too Late, Cave, Spoiled).
“Dead End” launches the album in frightening fashion, with a mid-paced head-nodding drum rhythm backed by distorted spoken words and moaning, oppressive chords spiked with eerie arpeggios — and a closing bit that forecasts the mayhem to come. And the mayhem comes quickly. “Loser Division” blasts most of the atmosphere created by the opening track out of the water with flurries of vicious, writhing fretwork, pummeling drumwork, and the rhythmic expulsion of deep bellowing growls and maniac howls. The song splices together episodes of frenzied savagery and skull-busting grooves, supercharged with frequent changes in the drum rhythms and a quick burst of crazed soloing.
And from there the band don’t let up. “I Don’t Give A Fuck” is a short, sharp attack of raging vocals and blaring chords, while “Formless Mass” is a war-zone of jabbing and skittering riffs, thunderous drum artillery, and unhinged vocal rage (a tag-team of gruesome growls and throat-splitting screams). The band continue to barrel through one explosive outburst after enough (22 of them in all), with Kevin Talley putting on a show behind the kit and the other instrumental band members stitching together a cornucopia of rapidly changing guitar parts and concrete-smashing bass lines, channeling livid savagery in electrifying fashion while injecting plenty of gut-punching grooves along with ingredients from death metal, hardcore, and thrash.
The tag-team of guttural grunts, extravagant howls, and berserker shrieks continue to put on their own show, constantly keeping the music on the bleeding edge of violence, though full-throttle violence is the name of the game in just about every other way you can imagine. It’s also very easy to imagine the effect this relentless vortex of instrumental and vocal explosiveness would have in a live setting — non-stop mosh murder would be the predictable result. (You, of course, can mosh in your own head if you don’t have a chance to witness the carnage live.)
The song lengths vary — from as short as four seconds to as long as three minutes (with most in the one-to-two-minute range) — and apart from those differences, the band are so adept at shifting gears, at making effective use of compulsive rhythms, at manufacturing one head-hooking, pulse-pushing riff after another, at injecting wild, fleet-fingered, brain-boiling arpeggios, and at salting the songs with weird and wondrous surprises here and there (“Aware of Slavery” and “Pay” being just two examples) that the album doesn’t wear out its welcome.
It’s a hell of a blood-rushing half-hour experience, but one that’s easy to be carried away by from start to finish, and easy to go back to you when you need an adrenaline-fueled fix of balls-to-the-wall, bone-smashing, head-spinning excitement, or maybe just want to feel like you’ve slaughtered every motherfucker who has ever plagued your life.
Is this one of the best grindcore releases of 2019? You bet it is.
Better Dead Than Friends was self-released digitally this past September, but it’s now being released in a physical edition by Immortal Souls Productions on December 24th, just in time to burn Christmas to the ground. For the production credits, the album was mixed at Ironape Studio in Vigevano (PV), where guitars, bass, and vocals were also recorded; the drums were recorded at Brochacho Studios in San Antonio, Texas; and the mastering was performed by none other than Dan Swanö at Unisound.
For info about how to pick up the album for your very own, check out these links:
THE BASTARD WITHIN: