What is the allure of swamp death? “What the hell is swamp death, moron? Stop making up more goddamned niches, there are already too many, most of them are horseshit, and no one likes you and you smell like mustard and sardines,” I imagine you are thinking. It is reminiscent of death metal which original masters like Bolt Thrower and Obituary tossed around in their nascent careers: slower, sloppier, less produced than other death metal styles. Most DM bands have traipsed through the swamp, but the style itself has become its own concrete niche, as exemplified by Cerebral Rot.
As to the allure, it’s a tough question. It sort of flies in the face of common sense notions about what makes music work. It is unlovely, has strange, often questionably executed time signatures – in fact it sometimes appears downright unrehearsed. And it can tread a fine line between provocative and procrastination. But there is something about it; something most death metal fans not only accept, but gravitate toward. I suggest it is the sense of the organic. The sense of purity.
But more important for this review, we also know that some of the best music we make IS sloppy. It lives in the moment and has nothing to do with songcraft or skill or boundaries. It has to do with all the people in the room hitting the same grooves at the same time with the same attitude. And it is pretty priceless. And also pretty impersonal. It is a group thing or nothing at all. I can achieve technical virtuosity, but only WE can achieve these organic moments.
I am not doubting any of the musicians, of course. This is how this style of death is done. You WANT it to sound as organic and in the moment as possible. You want the larger riff structures to creep up on you like some Lovecraftian abomination curling around your doomed body while you perceive no more than the merest sickening tentacled face upon its nethermost toe. You want to be covered in mire, screamed at by musicless guitar solos, threatened by deepened vocals beneath waves of murk.
Cerebral Rot has those moments all over the place. Gooey, wild, horrifyingly sumptuous moments. Beginning with the acoustically strummed opening to the opening title track, the band invites you into their fecund, fetid abode and proceeds to muck and smother you for the next 40 or so minutes. “Reeking Septic Mass” chugs along like a python on the hunt, occasionally submerging into slower, colder pockets, but constantly seething and ominous.
Are there blasts? Well of course there are. Gungy, sickening slabs of blast, as in the namesake song, “Cerebral Rot.” But these are mainly punctuation for the more common sludge-filled sloshing. So too in “Sardonic Repentance,” where the main riff is doom/sludge mashing, but punctuated by polka-fast thrashing.
Drawbacks? Just this – and it may be personal, so bear that in mind: I lose interest after a few songs. Which is to say, I lose focus. I lose context. It becomes background noise. There is a similarity in the music and performances that undercuts the moments. When every solo is a robust, atonal shriek, then those shrieks begin to lose impact. But that probably has as much to do with my leftover ADHD as it does with the quality of the album. Regardless, it’s my job to report.
Bottom Line: this is a soupy, godawful album which fans of swamp death will undoubtedly devour like a ‘gator with a pike it its jaws. Yes, for me Cerebral Rot could stand to be a little more inventive, but then I can listen to five Bolt Thrower albums in a row and feel a sense of fulfillment normal people get college degrees to achieve, so take that with a grain of salt. I will listen to this again, and soon. It may not be my specific cup of mud, but it is tasty mud all the same.