The Australian death metal scene continues to be criminally overlooked since even as bands like Disentomb and Psycroptic gain prominence, earlier groups like Abramelin and Misery continue to get left out of the conversation. Just as Australia has had a rich history with death metal in the past, it continues to forge some of the best bands in the scene, an example of which can be found in this, the debut demo, Mass Extinction by Melbourne’s Gutless.
Cast of Characters
Jamie Colic (Vile Apparition, ex-Rort, ex-Sewercide) – Bass
Olza (Ollie Ballantyne; Vile Apparition, ex-Sewercide) – Drums
Tom Caldwell (ex-Sewercide) – Guitars, Vocals
Although Gutless are a new band, you might have heard each of their members in great death metal projects already, as their members are in, or have been in, Vile Apparition, Rort, and Sewercide. These three musicians are a trinity to be reckoned with in the Australian death metal scene. Death/thrash band Sewercide put out two LPs, one EP, a buttload of splits, and a live album before calling it quits. Rort met a similar fate, but not before putting out their crushing debut in 2014’s Warpath, an album that I adore so much that I had to get it on every medium available. Rort sounds a bit like Bolt Thrower would if they increasingly embraced grind instead of solely groove. Lastly, Vile Apparition are another newer band out of the Australian scene, and this year saw their old school death metal debut, Depravity Ordained, released on Memento Mori. It is one of my favorite albums from this year and well worth your time if you miss the death metal albums of yore. So what does the combination of members from Vile Apparition, Rort, and Sewercide get us? We found out with their debut demo, 2018’s Mass Extinction that earlier this year (April 24th, 2019) became available on compact disc through Mexico’s Chaos Records. I just received my copy of the CD version of Mass Extinction (apparently shipping from Mexico to England takes a long time), so this detailed review will cover the complete package of the demo in that format, including the layout, the lyrics, and a track-by-track breakdown of the music.
The layout of the compact disc version has plenty of charm, as all of the artwork was hand-drawn by Jesse Webb and sticks to a simple color palette of black, white, and red. The cover artwork looks like a roughly drawn pile of bodies melting into each other, with a single form trying to reach out from the mass. The multi-page booklet continues this style, as the lyrical pages are outlined by hand-drawn cavernous structures, complete with more suffering faces. On the back of the booklet is a band photo, featuring Jamie, Tom, and Olza sitting on a couch in front of a wall covered in metal posters and metal movie posters, such as Evil Dead 2. The photo was presumably taken with a cell phone, since the picture is inverted, adding further to the low-budget charm of the layout.
Seventeen Minutes is All You Need
This is a short demo with only five songs clocking in at just under seventeen minutes, but that’s all you need to know this is a band to keep your eyes on. The production is raw but thick. The drums are punchy instead of clicky. Someone by the name of Jamo mixed the album, which was done at Magnet Studios and frontman Tom’s house. It has all the feeling of an intense live show, which I say in highest praise. This might be a demo, but the production is still far better than what many proper LP releases have. The growls keep it low and guttural, reminding of Chris Barnes in his prime, but with more tempo variety in the vocal patterns. Olza’s drum performance is worthy of praise, as his selective application of bludgeoning double-bass and creative cymbal use elevate many moments through this demo from good to brilliant. The demo does not highlight Jamie’s bass, which might be because Olza and Tom were the sole writers (as accredited by the booklet) on the release, but his bass does contribute to the thickness of the sound, and it has moments to shine through, such as during the bass lead in the fourth track. The music is essentially unbridled death metal perfection, packed with memorable riffs, great grooves, and a performance that focuses on feeling instead of mechanical perfection.
This is death metal boiled down to its most component parts. There are grooves, there are blasts, there are a couple of solos, plenty of double-bass drumming, and guttural vocals. You won’t find gravity blasting, a band trying to break the sound barrier with speed, or a bunch of technical wankery to show off their abilities. You won’t find mid-range growls, a bunch of screaming, or clean vocals. Only one song even has a section that could be considered a chorus. You won’t find introspective lyrics about feelings here, but if you’re looking for five tales about horrible ways to die, then Gutless have you covered. What you can expect from this demo is quality, catchy, and well-crafted death metal music. It doesn’t break the mold; it perfects it.
Track by Track
In this section, I’ll dive into my impressions of each song on this demo, including thoughts about the lyrics, musical components, performances, and the songs in the context of the album.
“Brutalized into Submission” kicks off with a groove with melody that eases you into the fray, before jumping into a faster section complete with a Tom G. Warrior “ugh!” This song sets the tone for the rest of the album, as it has the two staples found in every song on the demo: groovy/breakdown sections, and faster blasting parts. The lyrics tell of a man locked in a mausoleum, who starts to lose his sanity, only to be strapped to a machine that crushes his bones, and then bugs hatch from his open wounds. It’s uplifting stuff.
“Evil Incarnate” kicks off with an audio sample from famed mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, who was known as the Iceman killer. In the audio clip, Richard is asked if he was an assassin, to which Richard responds, amused, that assassin “sounds so exotic.” He corrects the interviewer with the bone-chilling line, “I was just a murderer.” Immediately after the quote, we’re hit with a heavy groove that I could easily imagine prompting a massive pit in a live setting. This transitions into a faster blasting section with another “ugh!” This sets up the pull-and-tug format of this song, jumping back and forth between faster parts and heavier grooves. This album is full of intense moments, largely due to the perfect implementation of double bass drumming over Tom’s brutal riffs, such is the case a minute and a half into the first chorus of the song when Tom spews out the words, “Macabre desecration.” Also of note is the solo featured in the song, which is expressive and melodic instead of just a bunch of random notes played quickly. It adds character to the song but without detracting from the brutal intensity of it. The lyrics on this one are about evil taking over a person, causing them to kill and mutilate people.
The subject matter of the next song, “Boiled Alive,” is self-explanatory. As for the music, it’s another quality banger. After a brief musical passage, it jumps right into the full cacophony. This song has one of the most memorable slams on the album, commencing with a build-up that continues to build in intensity and brutality for nearly a full minute. “Boiled Alive” has a lot of the my favorite riffs on the demo too, which utilize pinches and bends in a way much more restricted than a band like Malignancy would use, but they’re still prominent enough to add some flourishes that make this song stand out from the rest on the demo.
Cnidocyte plays off the function of a cnidocyte, which is a type of cell found in organisms that excrete toxins into predators and prey, depending on if they’re hunting or defending themselves. The lyrics describe the experience of being stung by one of these organisms, which results in the nervous system shutting down, resulting in a slow, agonizing death. This song is a good example of the catchy vocal delivery and great vocal patterns by Tom, who isn’t afraid to change up the speed of his delivery, or elongate notes for more emphasis. This song is the shortest and most blast-driven track on the album, which also stands apart due to the bass lead which opens the groove that closes the song.
The final track on this five-song demo is “Carnivorous Flesh,” which opens up with Olza’s drums before Jamie and Tom join in with another one of the sublime grooves that are so prominent over the span of Mass Extinction. Throughout the album, the synchrony of Olza’s drums and Tom’s vocals often make both feel more intense, which is an aspect that sets Gutless apart from their predecessors. Somehow the album manages to feel both raw and organic while also having brilliant, nuanced moments, like the aforementioned, which is prominent through this final track. This song features another solo and has some of the wildest lyrics on the demo. From what I can gather, the song is about getting abducted by some kind of ancient space carnivores that devour the organs of the victim and drink their blood. Good times!
I imagine it’s pretty obvious that I loved this demo. I love the previous and other bands of these members, and I’m excited to hear what they do next. Other than being such a quality death metal release, I feel that the strongest accomplishment of this demo is how effortlessly it walks the line between old school death metal and brutal death metal. It is often the case that a death metal band will only appeal to one or the other of those crowds, but I feel that this debut demo by Gutless will appeal to both OSDM and BDM fans alike. It isn’t as suffocating as brutal death metal can be, but it has plenty of brutal moments that will appeal to BDM fans too. It is everything I enjoy about death metal, and if you’re a fan of the genre too, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check it out and join me in supporting Gutless’ Mass Extinction.
Check it out on Bandcamp (where you can also get the demo on tape):
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