Recommended for fans of: Grave, Lock Up, Exhumed
Choosing what band to feature for the last edition of The Synn Report for 2022 wasn’t an easy task.
While I knew I wanted to use this as an opportunity to highlight one of the many bands I didn’t get to write about properly this year, there were so many bands that fit that description that I almost didn’t know where to start.
But, ultimately, there could be only one, and that one had to be Ripped to Shreds, as not only was their latest album arguably the best true/classic/old-school Death Metal record of 2022, but it was also high time we gave their entire back catalogue the attention and acclaim it so richly deserves.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
2018 – 埋葬
While the first Ripped to Shreds album may have been a solo project (with mastermind Andrew Lee writing all the music and handling all the instruments himself) it neatly avoids all the potential pitfalls – such as self-indulgent songwriting and an inability to self-edit – that often plagues such endeavours and instead delivers eight tracks of lean, mean, buzzsaw-riffing Death Metal that’s heavily indebted to the classic Swe-Death sound, but augments it with an even more ferocious, borderline Grindcore-level, sense of intensity reminiscent of artists like Napalm Death and Terrorizer.
This is immediately apparent when opener “Craven Blood” – following its doomy introductory death march – kicks into high gear with a reckless, riff-driven gallop, and while “Open Grave” leans even harder on the Grave/Entombed side of things (all gargantuan, gargling vocals and hefty, hook-heavy guitars, and grimy, darkly melodic grooves), both “Talisman To Seal The Hopping Corpse Before It Steals Your Qi” and “撿骨 (Bone Ritual)” showcase the grindier side of Lee’s repertoire, with the former marrying chunky, choppy riffs with spasms of anxiety-inducing blasting, and the latter adding a punkier and more reckless edge to the proceedings.
What’s just as noticeable throughout these songs, however (and, indeed, throughout the entire album) is Lee’s gift for imbuing his songs with just the right amount of melody, and while most of the praise tends to be focussed on his seemingly endless capacity for penning crushing, yet immensely catchy, riffs, his lead guitar work also deserves to be celebrated just as much, whether he’s ripping out a sickening solo or laying down some moody melodies in a manner not too dissimilar to early Paradise Lost.
The nimble fretwork which propels the propulsive “Yellow River Incident, 1938” also has a fair bit of latter-day Death to it, with Lee adding a dash of Schuldiner-esque shred to the formula on this track, after which the unstoppable mid-paced momentum and subtle melodic injections of “Red Annihilation” pay tribute, in their own way, to classic Bolt Thrower and/or Asphyx.
The extra dose of melody afforded to “God Worshipping Society” helps make it the darkest song on the record, yet it also features some of the album’s heaviest, nastiest riffage and some of its most indulgently proggy moments too – making it a song of extremes in more ways than one – all of which then sets the scene for the triumphantly epic finale of “罌粟花 (Black Seeds)”, where Lee’s knack for mixing melodic might and metallic bite once again delivers the goods in the form of a series of soaring leads, dense, distortion-heavy riffs, and grimy, slime-soaked grooves, that combine to end things on one hell of a high note.
2019 – 魔經 (DEMON SCRIPTURES)
Just over a year after their debut Ripped to Shreds released this fantastic four track EP, and while not much has changed about the band’s core sound, everything about it has been strengthened, improved, and enhanced, from the more powerful production (giving everything that little bit more weight and clarity, without robbing the music of its raw intensity) to the impressive drum work (courtesy of guest member Kevin Paradis).
Despite being just four songs, however, 魔經 (Demon Scriptures) still manages to demonstrate the many varied possibilities of the band’s sound, as “Sangjia (In Mourning)” comes across like a classic OSDM anthem that fell through a time vortex back in the early 90s and ended up finding new life – as well as developing all new teeth – in the modern era, while the 45 second long “Jianghulangzhong (Pseudoelixir)” is easily the most Grindcore track of the band’s career (and remains so to this), and “Zhujiuzhu (Nine Familial Exterminations)” errs more towards the reckless, thrashy side of the Death Metal spectrum.
And then there’s “Riyueshengjiao (Sun Moon Holy Cult, Part 1)”, which swings the pendulum all the way across to the Death/Doom side of things (apart from a few moments of seriously twisted riffage and scarily precise blasting) and which to this day remains one of my favourite songs the band have ever released (largely, but not solely, due to Lee’s utterly spellbinding solo work) while also continuing to prove that calling Ripped to Shreds just an “Old School” Death Metal band misses the point entirely… they’re not “just” a Death Metal band, they’re actively trying to be the Death Metal band of their generation.
2020 – 亂 (LUAN)
Following an unexpectedly twinkly intro that sounds more like something you’d expect from a mid-90s Black Metal band, “Righteous Fist To The Teeth Of The Wicked” quickly lets you know that Ripped to Shreds haven’t gone soft.
In fact, if anything, they’ve gotten harder, tighter, and more merciless than ever, to the point where there’s even less distance between the Death Metal and Grind sides of their identity – as songs like the aforementioned “Righteous Fist…” and its even more rifftastic companion “白骨精 (White Bone Spirit)” are essentially massive, horrifically hooky Death Metal tracks stripped of any excess fat or wasted space and delivered with a caustic intensity reminiscent of Exhumed or Lock Up at their most focussed and ferocious.
“Eight Immortals Feast” is another reminder – if one were needed – that Lee is a master riff-smith, its neck-wrecking grooves and twisted tremolo runs interspersed with sudden eruptions of expurgatory extremity, as is the titanic “Throes of a Dying Age”, whose slower pace and darkly melodic proclivities give the record a chance to breathe and flex its moodier and more “morbid” muscles, before the song puts the pedal firmly to the metal in its second half, going from brooding to blasting almost in the blink of an eye, only to slam on the brakes right at the very end for its suitably sinister finale.
Following an atmospheric (and aptly named) “Interlude”, the band’s second album continues rolling on with the Grave-meets-Bolt Thrower bombardment of “Opening Salvo”, whose catchy-as-fuck riffage, impressively creative drum work (provided by session sticksman Justin Bean), and shamelessly shreddy soloing (courtesy of Phil Tougas) make this one of the most overtly “Old School” – yet never dated – tracks on the album.
“黑木崖 – 日月神教第二節 (Massacre At Blackwood Cliff – Sun Moon Holy Cult Part 2”, by contrast, strikes a much better balance between the Death/Grind sides of the band’s identity, resulting in a much more timeless mix of chunky, hook-encrusted riffs and heaving, churning percussion, all of which builds to a devastatingly doom-laden finale, leading into the eponymous blast of extremity that is “Ripped to Shreds” (it’s just a shame this album isn’t self-titled, or they’d have the unholy trifecta).
Concluding with the bombastic buzz-saw riffs and howling vocals of “Remnants” – another one of those tracks which reminds you that Ripped to Shreds isn’t just defined by Lee’s “gift of the riff” but also by his songwriting skill and ability to take familiar sounds and make them feel fresh again – 亂 (Luan) easily sets itself up as the definitive album in the band’s catalogue.
Or, at least, it was until 劇變 (Jubian) usurped it…
2022 – 劇變 (JUBIAN)
As I intimated earlier, there were a lot of good Death Metal albums – we’re talking straight up, no foolin’, Death Metal to the bone – released this year. But, from where I’m standing, only a handful of them were truly “great”. And the greatest of them all was 劇變 (Jubian).
Right from the start you could tell this new and improved version of Ripped to Shreds (now expanded to a full band) was on to something great, with the frantic intensity and lethal precision of “Violent Compulsion for Conquest” taking all of the band’s influences – Morbid Angel, Grave, Entombed… Terrorizer, Lock Up, Exhumed… the list goes on – and distilling them down to their purest and most powerful form.
The improved production certainly doesn’t hurt either, as the band have never sounded as massive or as menacing as they do here, with the album’s mix finding extra space to give the riffs more body, the vocals more depth and heft, and the melodies more room to breathe.
“Split Apart by Five Chariots” is all reckless fury and spitfire speed, and features some of the nastiest growls, howls, and ugly ululations we’ve yet heard expelled from Lee’s tortured throat, while the humongous “獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt 3)” really showcases just what can be done with the band’s signature sound when they choose to push the envelope that little bit further, taking in elements of Blackened Death Metal, Death-Doom, and even a dash of proggy, technical wizardry, along the way.
In contrast to its more outlandish predecessor, “Harmonious Impiety” is a short, sharp assault on the senses – part stomping Swe-Death hooks, part grinding, wide-eyed fury – that goes for the throat right from the start and never deviates, and which in turn sets the stage nicely for the more epically-inclined “漢奸 (Race Traitor)”, whose technically challenging riffage and utterly sublime lead guitar work help make it not just one of the best songs on the album but also one of the best songs of the band’s career.
With “Reek of Burning Freedom” Ripped to Shreds crank up the intensity yet another notch, marrying frenzied, face-melting energy to a sense of almost zen-like mastery – no matter how chaotic things might seem, no matter how many twists and turns and brutal, barbed riffs the song might throw at you, it never feels like the band aren’t in full control – which then carries over into the irresistibly neck-wrecking strains of “Peregrination To The Unborn Eternal Mother” before the ridiculously-titled (and ridiculously nasty) Death/Grind explosion of “Scripture Containing The Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render The Practitioner Invincible Throughout The Martial Realm” signs things off with a savage, sadistic flourish that seems to say “follow that… if you dare.”