A plethora of who's who of old school death metal have collaborated to keep the music of the legendary Death, well, alive. Though there needn't be much help there as Chuck Schuldiner and crew had crafted a discography that will more than stand the test of time, and one of the few discographies that doesn't contain a single bad album. But there's no reason for one not to pay tribute to one of the greatest (arguably the greatest) metal forces in history. From the ashes of the Death to All tours comes the snide, unrelenting force Gruesome.
If you've heard the word “leprosy” thrown around when reading up on Gruesome, it is absolutely true. Rather than working to pay homage to the full breath and length of Death's illustrious, multifaceted discography, the super-group works to contain its sound to the the first two releases, Scream Bloody Gore and more importantly, Leprosy.
There is no better man in metal to take to guitar and vocals than Exhumed's own Matt Harvey. The man's voice and guitar skills have lent themselves to death metal since 1990. And though the band panders in Death worship more than Cannabis Corpse's From Wisdom to Baked, the fact of the matter is that Gruesome pull it off so perfectly. Harvey's vocals push a Schuldiner attack. The gruff bark and screams sometimes sound dangerously like they're going to burst into the chorus: “Leprosy will take control and bring you to your death!”
Much like Leprosy, Savage Land spans eight tracks. Where the album shines, where it utterly fucking kills, maimes, destroys, and mutilates everything in sight is in the guitar work. There's Harvey on vocals and guitars but there's also Daniel Gonzalez of Possessed and Occisas fame also pushing guitar duties. The synergy between the two is perfect. Harvey and Gonzalez grind out some savage guitar bits, never boring the listener with predictable licks and leads. Savage Land even hints at plenty of progressive structuring much like the early works of Schuldiner. The opening title track speaks of this in spades. Perhaps the most fun piece, and the best soloing the album has to offer, comes in the song “Gruesome” which begins with something that hints at a bit of “The Philosopher” worship (from Individual Thought Patterns).
The deal with Gruesome is this: the album is relentless Death worship. No frills, no fucking around, no deviation from the formula. Do they do it well? Hell yeah they do. Savage Land is a banger, but the album also strictly and solely lives in the shadow of '87/88 era Death. You might notice the band name Death is dropped in this review as much as Gruesome's. But that also showcases the, well, gruesome amount of love the band has for the genre and one of its deceased kings.
Some may be wondering why a band called Gruesome would limit themselves to emulating and pretty much perfectly nailing the Death sounds of '87/88, I would point them to both the album artwork and band name. There is a talent and certain amount of obsession needed to bring an idea like this to life, and Gruesome have nailed it. Though the idea and approach of the band brings to mind questions like: what are the limitations? Does Gruesome's primitive ways exist more as an extended shadow that dances around the ground work which Death so tirelessly set and continued to expand? Will the band push itself to Symbolic or Sound of Perseverance standards, or will they ever come into their own? Death is the reason of the season when it comes to a large chunk of death metal, and Gruesome are a fine reminder of that. But what do these savage slabs tell of future endeavors?