I recently read a review of Ripped To Shreds' latest and third album which commended the band for catapulting the thematic side of death metal to areas beyond the usual. Chances are you know what we're referring to: fits of claret-stained gore, rightfully putting religion in the crosshairs of sadly theoretical annihilation, salutation of horror movie classics and the increasing numbers of creative ways there are to kill a man.
With a decidedly staunch and proud Asian-American lineup behind him, band focal point, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Lee has used 劇變 (Jubian) as a platform to address and bring to light issues pertaining to racism, stumbling blocks as first generation Americans of immigrant parents and Taiwanese/Chinese visibility in extreme music. As well, significant events are brought to the table like the early 1930's Mukden Incident, which led to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the American bombing of North Korea during the Korean War as Ripped To Shreds shines light on a different side of history, one beyond the standard evisceration of WWII that death metal often finds itself engaged in. An analogy would be if death metal was the History Channel and Ripped To Shreds was the new indie documentary streaming service that's come on the scene and is all the rage at coffee shops, tap rooms and loft spaces.
But, as someone who knew the value of swing once said, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. All the novel cause elevation, historical exposés and learnin' that's not fancy book learnin' will collapse by the wayside if it's being presented via music to which the most visceral/physical reaction is a shoulder shrug. Luckily in this case, 劇變 (Jubian) is an album destined to squeeze, pull and draw positive response from listeners in a number of categories; everything from furious air instrumenting and spontaneous living room/office space mosh pits to mile wide grins and the standard of throwing horns at anyone wearing a black Gildan brand t-shirt.
It all starts off with "Violent Compulsion for Conquest," a rip-roaring banger that barrels out of the gate like a spliced manifestation of Carcass and Exhumed as curated by the unsung genius of Matthew Widener (Cretin, County Medical Examiners, Citizen, Liberteer). It's a track that very obviously sups at the death grind well as it utilizes a guitar sound the size of Mt. Shasta to spit out tonal leaps and sonic warfare that may be familiar, but brims with a lilting triplet-ed two-stepping vibrancy all the same. This track is also where the listener is introduced to Lee's overwhelmingly awesome punctuated grizzly grunt. Imagine a vintage Tom Warrior ‘Oough' (variable spellings accepted and welcomed, actually) taken to a throaty extreme then doused in European suspense film reverb and echo. It may sound ridiculous on paper, because it is, but Lee's liberal usage and spot-on placement add an element of fun to tracks like "Reek of Burning Freedom" and "Split Apart by Five Chariots."
The grunts counteract the obviously sun-shine-y subject matter of the latter, adding to the Swe-death thrash metal gallop with a sidewinding hardcore punk feel to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it shifting assault chord progression, a mid-section angular breakdown heavily inspired by the combined world of Crumbsuckers and Wormrot before a second middle-eight that recalls the minor key melodies of Left Hand Path, both the song and the album.
"獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt. 3)" is a beastly 10 minute epic that goes from a burst of giddy up death-infused thrash to exploiting bouts of blackened grind, Death (the band) and even some dirty rotten punk before an abrupt run on cut-tempo, gothic doom that would make Celestial Season, Paradise Lost and Hooded Menace proud.
One thing that 劇變 (Jubian) has obviously addressed is the importance of sequencing and pacing. The way the band comes out of the elegiac moroseness of the concluding moments of "獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt. 3)" into "Harmonious Impiety" with the most ridiculous blast pattern/solo squall this side of a mid-day Birdflesh set at MDF before diving into the scalar and arpeggiated melodic death metal of "漢奸 (Race Traitor)" is a masterful stoke of contrast and dynamics. And of course, coming in at a terse 50 seconds of gut punching death metal is the song with the most ridiculously long title of the album "Scripture Containing The Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render The Practitioner Invincible Throughout The Martial Realm" proving that smart guys can be wise guys too.