Album Review: BEATEN TO DEATH Agronomicon
On a personal note, for most of the decade we’re presently dwelling and rotting in, Oslo’s Beaten to Death has been one of my favourite bands. Ever since these crusty ears caught wind of their Xes and Strokes debut in 2011, I knew I was hearing something special—something that absolutely upended grindcore in ways previously unimagined. Even as more traditional corners of the grind world have turned up their noses and/or hurled PBR tall boys at this band’s bent sense of adventure, over the course of their growing discography—which now totals four full-lengths and a live album—Beaten to Death has not stopped fucking with orthodoxy and kicking convention in the rump. And I love 'em for it.
Here’s a little primer: the band features past and current members of Insense, The Cumshots, Jorn, She Said Destroy, Grant the Sun, Sturmgeist, Tsjuder and more; drummer Christian Svendsen is your point man with loads of black metal background and despite his nickname being “Bartender” he’s a teetotaller; bassist Mika Martinussen has been spotted on numerous occasions making officious use of a replica of Gene Simmons’ axe-shaped bass from KISS' most theatric and classic era. Very un-grind, indeed; their sound is unique in that the guitars use little to no distortion. The bass is overdriven while the six strings plink out an arsenal of earworm melodies and riffs while “Bartender” blasts out the grindcore tempos and ferocity; guitarist Martin Rygge was at one point a dead ringer for Triumph bassist Mike Levine; the band record all their albums live in their rehearsal space; and humour is a driving force for this lot. Past song titles have included “Don’t You Dare to Call Us Heavy Metal,” “Menstrubation,” “Greenway/Harris,” “True Norwegian Internet Metal Warrior,” “The Flesh Prince with Swell Hair,” “Cat Olympics” and a bunch of others in Norwegian that are likely wry and sarcastic as fuck.
Sorry, this has turned into a bit of a small-scale history lesson, but it’s important to understand that anyone can say a band is doing something different. The proof of such is in the pudding and Agronomicon continues along the path blazed by previous albums Unplugged, Dødsfest! and the aforementioned Xes and Strokes. “Grind Korn” starts with a snarling, fuzzed out riff that quickly exhibits a melodic ability and sensibility before demonstrating just what is the uncanny talent this band has as its distinguishing factor. That being their ability to swing between and combine two extremes but still have it make total sense. Even the disparity of injecting scarf-wearing indie rock suspended chords into riffs reeking of latter-day Brutal Truth quirkiness in “Dere er Herved Oppløst” and “Catch Twentyfvck” sounds natural, slick and smooth. And then there’s “Extremely Run to the Hills” a mark of sheer brilliance that quick-changes a caustic guitar slash into the linear riff (thus, making it not so linear) and juxtaposing it with spidery and catchy clean picking and locomotive-paced guitars and pistoning snare blasts.
What becomes noticeable as the album goes on, especially during its second half, is that Agronomicon is Beaten to Death firing off at its heaviest, noisiest and most brutal. “Boy George Michael Bolton,” “Havregubbens Dolk,” “Eternally Punished Septic” and “Livet Tar, og Livet Tar” are near relentless as their focus is on the band’s more cantankerous side, especially during the latter with its machine gun picking, spasmodic snare work, and as much tunnel vision anger as you’ll ever hear from a bunch of 30 and 40-something Norwegians who’d probably enroll in clown college given the opportunity.
Even when Beaten to Death appears to ever-so-slightly veer away from what makes them a standalone proposition, they still present as a novel outfit. Their blueprint is as exclusive and brave as is it unmatched. Agronomicon is the band at its most grindcore, you could say. Still, they sound like nothing else out there and have only created an album that has shifted their own sound and style to rewrite the rulebook as they continue to play by their own rules. And if you can decode the sentiment behind that last sentence, Beaten to Death might just be the band for you.