After nearly a decade now, Leng Tch’e is still something of an overlooked factor in the grindcore world. While they’ve blasted their way through five solid records, garnering positive reviews with every step along the way, they’ve never really seemed to garner much attention. They’re damn good and always have been, but they’ve never quite achieved the notoriety of the Rotten Sounds, Napalm Deaths, Nasums, Pig Destroyers and so on. I find that fact to be a bit odd, considering that I’ve long considered these Belgians among grind’s most accessible, listenable and (dare I say) commercial purveyors.
No matter their place in the spectrum, like all those bands above, Leng Tch’e has never been your average grind band; more so with each subsequent release, they’ve occupied territory deeper within the well-trodden paths of death/grind, and to further distinguish themselves (or to further confuse the matter), they’ve coined their own term for their blend of extremity. (They call it “razorgrind,” and they’re right – it is sharp, taut and carving, although it’s certainly a blunt-force instrument, as well.) Again like all those bands above, their calling card is a potent blast of anger delivered with a modern punch, raging fury and a zillion blastbeats, but Leng Tch’e diverges from the norm through a reliance upon their more-than-sizeable sense of groove and swagger, which is what makes them more accessible than many of their peers. Where earlier Leng Tch’e efforts saw a more diverse inclusion of sporadic non-standard grind influences ranging from stoner rock to straight punk, with 2008’s Marasmus, the band streamlined into a more traditional death/grind unit, trading their wit and their sense of adventure for a more direct attack.
Flash forward two years, and Hypomanic sees the arrival of both a new vocalist in Serge Kasongo (replacing Boris Cornelissen, also formerly of the underrated Suppository) and a new drummer in Tony Van den Eynde (replacing the band’s last original member, Sven De Caluwe, also of Aborted). While Kasongo’s approach isn’t as diverse as that of his predecessor, despite that lack of variety, it’s every bit as solid, better even than Boris’ performance on Marasmus (a fact helped by the better material on this record). Serge avoids the usual higher squealing or the grunted pig-gurgles, sticking solely to a midrange snarl that isn’t wildly distinctive but manages to circumvent that lack of immediate originality with sheer enjoyable aggression. (He’s helped out on “Totalitarian” by guest vocalist and grind master Barney Greenway of Napalm Death.) The band still tempers their violence with that hefty groove, breaking up grind’s inherent pounding monotony with moments like the swinging drive of “Obiter Dicta,” the punk-rock riffing in “The Stockholm Malevolence Project” or the flowing changes of the ambitious “Perfervid Odyssey.” (Occupying the album’s final nine minutes, “Odyssey” is something of an epic, especially by grindcore standards, and as such, it’s a pleasant surprise, and one that shows the band is still willing to experiment. It’s the most advanced and involved song I’ve ever heard from this band—a highlight both of the record and the band’s entire output.)
Jan Hallaert’s riffs are great, catchy without being overly flashy, alternating between nervous angularity, dissonant twists and chunky chug, with most emphasis on the latter. Kasongo’s lyrical inspiration is political, and between the two of them (Kasongo and Hallaert), they’ve managed to pen a batch of songs that, if perhaps not as snarkily witty as earlier Leng Tch’e efforts, are still potent and pounding and filled with memorable riffing.
And this, my friends, is my only real and admittedly petty criticism of an otherwise noteworthy modern grind disc: whilst Hypomanic is rock solid, respectable and has some truly brilliant moments, it’s still not my favorite of their records. Even now, Leng Tch’e hasn’t quite made the record that tops The Process Of Elimination as their best. True, Hypomanic is far better than the mostly b-grade Marasmus—it’s certainly a step back in the right direction after that, the weakest disc in their canon—and truthfully, the fact that Hypomanic’s only fault is that it’s not the band’s best moment is far from a bad thing, considering the quality of their work.
Grinding and often grooving, instantly accessible and yet still immensely destructive, Hypomanic is a success, a damn fun listen—it’s Leng Tch’e doing what they do, and they’ve always done it well. Fans will be pleased, and those looking to dip their toes into the chaotic world of grindcore will likely find no better place to dive in. Perhaps not the band’s personal best, but like all their discs, still far better than most.