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Friday, August 12, 2011

Album Review: Chelsea Grin - My Damnation

Chelsea Grin - My Damnation
2011 Artery Recordings/Razor and Tie
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Utah's Chelsea Grin are a bunch of pissed-off mofos.

Okay, now that I've dumbed down this review with a deliberately lame-o cliche, let's try to sink into Chelsea Grin's brackish cesspool of slow-fast math grind that borders more on seeping. That is, let's sink in graduality without losing ourselves altogether, because Chelsea Grin's second album My Damnation is what it advertises in title. Hold tight as you consume their unholy bombast, or doom yourself to your own private hell.

Over the years, bands such as Between the Buried and Me, The Acacia Strain, Fear Before the March of Flames, Quell, The Chariot and The Red Chord have pioneered and articulated death grind. Fear Factory, Botch and Napalm Death should be surveying the gory static fields they helped decimate. The young guns studying their leftover carnage have dipped into more mathematic schisms to create a nasty and unpleasant vibe. It requires far more patience to sift through than, say, the blunt precision and velocity of Fear Factory's "Zero Signal." Still, you give these caterwauling, breakdown-addled mutineers audience because it's compelling when you hear them apply actual music school theory into a cadence blacker than the armpit of Anubis.

Well in the same league as their peers, Chelsea Grin are no slouches in the brutality department. They greet you with a clout upside the temples and a kick in the balls as their winding decibels reinforce the ensuing body aches. Chelsea Grin, however, is perhaps the ultimate release for today's generation of fiercer headbangers who settle for nothing less than ear-gouging hostility.

After taking a short break to allow vocalist Alex Koehler the necessary time to heal a broken jaw, Chelsea Grin swaps a couple members for new bassist David Flinn and guitarist Jaek Hammond. Departed guitarist Chris Kilbourn, you might know, recently started his own recording imprint, Matchless Records. For good measure, Chelsea Grin thus expands to a sextet with the fortification of a third guitarist, Dan Jones.

It's the subtexts and layering that Chelsea Grin patiently threads into their caustic abrasion that demands your attention, since honestly, there's a very limited appeal to their methodic, face-ripping crunk, assuming you've been deeply following metal all these years. This subgenre of zombie-crawling tech shriek really is on borrowed time and it'll take innovation by the likes of Between the Buried and Me and now Chelsea Grin to keep it relevant as metal continues to search for further extension.

The languishing guitar lead wallowing overtop the steady terror of "Everlasting Sleep" is one hell of a trip, miserable as it may be. Chelsea Grin's sound is naturally just as ugly as their name, but at times they're savvy enough to hijack some light into their belligerent crush. The light creeps in increments, such as the dreamy acoustic instrumental "Kharon," which really stirs the pot in between the ratchety cacophony of "Behind a Veil of Lies" and the title track or the breathy, neoclassical lines barely containing the booming distortion of "Calling in Silence."

Be assured, Chelsea Grin shirks all pleasantries aside on "Calling in Silence" with butt ugly antagonism, yet they wisely return to melodic spurts on the speedier sections. Even as the song goes midtempo again, it's the swirling guitar notes that make you hold your breath as the composition skids to a bare halt. Flogging pukes from Alex Koehler spill over your head like accusations before Chelsea Grin shifts signatures at least four more times in the same damn song. Adventurous songwriting, nearly as bold as Between the Buried and Me, "Calling in Silence" is one of My Damnation's most affluent tunes.

For starpower attraction, My Damnation was mixed by hardcore/deathcore/crunk producer legend Zeuss, while Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel lends some extra yowling on "All Hail the Fallen King."

The nearly effervescent high-note guitar fills on "Last Breath" would be a stunner to some bands playing in this abusive style of shock metal, but in this case, they help Chelsea Grin legitimize their form as pure expressionism. Sure, that expression is based upon an Edvard Munchian principle of writhing outrage, but the fact they bother to show some accountability as musicians is why My Damnation is a standout album for a particular thread of metal that needs this kind of effort to stay interesting.

Rating: ****

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