Until last year, Bone Gnawer was most notable as a collaboration between vocalist Kam Lee (ex-Denial Fiend, ex-Massacre, ex-Mantas) and guitarist Rogga Johansson. But Johansson departed in 2014 – presumably to form another seven bands, or maybe to focus on any of the 28 others he’s been a part of at some point; the man is a one-person Swedeath factory – and thus, Bone Gnawer’s semi-famous membership was reduced to half. (Fans of the Johansson-Lee tag team will have to content themselves with The Grotesquery, which is the… other Johansson-Lee death metal band.)
Cannibal Crematorium is Bone Gnawer’s second full-length, some six years after their debut, 2009’s Feast Of Flesh. As you’d expect, given Lee’s pedigree, Crematorium is capably executed, meat-and-potatoes death metal, and as you’d expect, given the first word of its title, Crematorium is lyrically inspired by cannibalism – everything from horror films to the 2012 “Miami Cannibal Attack.” It’s straightforward gruesome death metal, stylistically nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s certainly enjoyable, either way.
Bone Gnawer hits hardest in their mid-tempo moments – the groovy “Chainsaw Carnage,” the twisted melodies in the riffs of “Horrors In The House Of Human Remains,” the swaggering “Chewed, Mauled & Gnawed.” Lee’s vocals are up to his usual quality, a deep throaty bellow augmented with some retching growls and screams, and through them, the whole of Cannibal Crematorium has a welcome old-school touch. Ronnie Björnström’s guitars are stout, the riffs good and thrashy, if not always supremely distinctive – Crematorium’s best moments come when those guitars transcend mere chunky death metal, breaking out into something just a hair more memorable, as in those melodic bits of “…Human Remains” or “Carnivore Beneath.”
At Crematorium’s mid-point comes “Il Sesso Bizarro Di Cannibali,” a percussion- and sample-driven interstitial that overstays its welcome by about a full minute. From that point onward, Cannibal Crematorium slides into a death-by-numbers rut that it only breaks out of occasionally, most notably in those latter bits of “Carnivore Beneath,” and in the title track, the album’s closing moment. It’s not that the second half is bad, by any stretch, as much as that it so closely mirrors the first half that the listener can’t help but feel like he/she literally just heard these songs before.
Still, in the grand scheme of metal, there are far, far worse things than by-the-books death metal, and in the pantheon of by-the-books death metal, there are far worse bands than Bone Gnawer. If gory, bloody death is your thing, then Cannibal Crematorium fits your bill. It won’t blow your mind, and it won’t be the best record you’ve ever heard, but it will entertain you while it spins, and that’s about all you can ask of it.