Originally written by Jordan Campbell
To the dismay of those that don’t boast an affinity for professional wrestling storylines from the early 90’s, I’ve often stated that Samoth is the Marty Jannetty to Ihsahn’s Shawn Michaels, with Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise serving as figurative plate glass window in Brutus Beefcake’s barbershop.
Since The Rockers’ / Emperor’s breakup, Ihsahn has been rising steadily, becoming something of an icon within the progressive metal realm. As for Samoth? After blasting out three overrated-by-association Zyklon albums — dull, overprocessed death metal powered by the vapors of IX Equilibrium — he’s found himself rudderless in crowded waters, attempting to carve out a role for himself in an increasingly competitive field.
His latest venture, The Wretched End, was built from a solid foundation, at least on paper. He recruited drummer Nils Fjellstrom for the project, a man that has padded his resume with absolutely insane performances on In Battle‘s Kingdom of Fear and Aeon‘s Bleeding the False. The mission? Create some furious, no-frills death / thrash, a sub-subgenre which has been decidedly lacking in quality participants.
There are two reasons for this style’s downturn in popularity. First, it essentially peaked ten years ago, with bands like The Crown, Impious, Hatesphere, Corportation 187, and even The Haunted (remember them?) taking the style as far as it could go, bloody rivers flowing in their wake. All these bands have since softened or crumbled into irrelevancy, as straight-up thrash saw a resurgence and death metal splintered in different directions, becoming progressively more twisted along each path. By comparision, half-split death / thrash sounds quite tame, and when stacked against the recent spate of top-tier blackthrash bands out there, it’s practically childlike.
Secondly, this is a deceptively difficult style for artists to cultivate. Most often, its creation just a matter of circumstance; the bands bash something out, and we (the press or the fans) tag it after the fact. But Inroads is a tough one to tag. There’s something to be said about records that defy categorization through artistic brilliance, or artists that shed predetermined shackles by crafting a work of stunning originality.
Inroads is not one such record, and The Wretched End isn’t a collection of such artists. This is a record that is, indeed, difficult to peg with a prefix, but not on account of any wing-spreading adventurousness. Inroads merely comes off as a collection of generic and formless ideas that have been squashed into a semi-cohesive whole; its genrelessness would only be virtuous in a world that regarded casserole as haute cuisine.
Inroads is fast, it’s heavy, and it’s metal. For many, that’s enough, and its single-mindedness alone makes it a massive improvement over the band’s awful debut, Ominous. Mr. Fjellstrom punches his ticket and turns in a performance that will likely propel him to a higher-profile gig down the road (because no drumkit mercenary wants to be blasting behind Dark Funeral’s panda paint forever), giving these songs the appropriate weight and propulsion. Samoth’s guitar tone is utterly antibacterial, as expected, but bassist Cosmo (also Samoth’s cohort in the aborted Casey Chaos project Scum) lends just enough gnarliness to keep the band from approaching outright sterility.
But as a vocalist, Cosmo doesn’t fare quite as well. Fjellstrom does a great job lighting the match with the intros to tracks like “Death By Nature” and “Cold Iron Soul,” but when Cosmo emerges with his halting, mid-range bellow, the momentum grinds to a halt. The fact that his delivery rarely varies is made all the more obvious by his apparent graduate degree from the Blake Judd School of Static Vocal Cadences. For such a straightforward album, he spends too much time chewing scenery.
While there are highlights of heaviness, such as the latter half of “Fear Propaganda” and the closing track, “Throne Renowned of Old,” it’s a bit troubling that the coolest moment on the record — found in the latter track — is merely a Gojira-esque pick-scrape beatdown. A new record from a semi-legendary guitarist shouldn’t be highlighted by a homage to a bigger, better, contemporary band. Nor should it be driven by a drummer that already has his eyes set beyond the horizon.
There’s something to be said for Inroads‘ workmanlike qualities, and it’s good to see Samoth plugging along. Sentiment, however, isn’t going to make his journeyman, sometime-IC-title contender post-Emperor career any more compelling. But, as long he’s content to keep jerking the curtain, the least we can do is maintain the ruse of relevancy.