[Artwork by Paolo Girardi]
Let’s gather ’round and throw a few more reams of newspaper and some decayed office chair cushionry into the burning barrel and speak of sprinklers, “The Jacket” episode of Seinfeld, and notably complex equations. And let us relate these things to the brand new recording from New York, New York’s Thætas and their style of brutal death metal frenzy.
If you were born and raised outside the confines of a mercilessly concrete metropolis, you’re very familiar with the mysterious attraction of the yard sprinkler. You have likely forgotten the full value of this wonder, though, because that particular form of magic departs the human heart around the same time that homework begins to loom and the trash is no longer too big for you to strong arm to the curb. But you still witness it every now and again while passing some indiscriminate house where kids are laughing and running through playful spritzes of water as if doing so splashes the nectar of the gods directly into the soul. But these days you can’t help but wonder just what in the flying bonk could ever be so fun about jumping through such an insignificant amount of water, especially when the shower is, like, literally right over there.
Well… Rejoice!! Shrines to Absurdity is the sort of album that will make you feel as if you’re running through the sprinkler again. Maybe it’s the 20-something youthfulness of the members? There’s certainly a level of unrestrained vitality tacked to this lovely debut. Or maybe it’s because, like a number of things related to major cities like New York, this record sees your sprinkler and raises you a hydrant, which is even more preposterous. Shrines to Absurdity delivers a very swift, torrential spray of brutal death metal wonk-a-donk that’s ludicrous and ludicrously stimulating, and it sometimes even manages to feel a bit Artsy with a capital “A”, but very much in a raw form of Basquiat kind of way that suddenly pops up overnight on the side of the building that you normally run into for a Yoo-hoo and a pack of AirHeads.
The riffs here are rawboned and largely irregular, which is something we creaky writers love tacking to volatile brutality such as this whenever it comes time to connect words to things, but make no mistake: These fellows very much enjoy throwing some wrenches into the works. Despite all the zig-zagging and the wealth of requisite pinched squealing up and down every song, however, Thætas still manages to deliver riffs that are sneaky (and not-so-sneaky) contagious.
THERE. That riff about 1:07 into “Dearth.” There’s an episode of Seinfeld called “The Jacket” where George waltzes into Jerry’s apartment singing a simple little ditty from Les Misérables that’s gotten stuck in his head. Jerry warns him that allowing a catchy tidbit to grab your brain could conclude with institutionalization, citing composer Robert Schumann as an example, so George of course panics. By the end of the episode, ol’ Georgie finally passes the earworm off to an unlikely victim, Elaine’s exceedingly cantankerous father, who can’t help but sing “Ready with a handshake and an open palm” as he quietly drives off into the night. By the same token, there’s a lot of sneaky catchiness going on across Shrines to Absurdity, and that “bah-boom…dun-duddle, bah-boom…dun-duddle” that first crops up approximately 1:07 into “Dearth” is going to wedge itself into your brain like a snuggly parasite. Enjoy the tapioca pudding, Herr Schumann.
Also adding to the virtue of Thætas is a smart and exceedingly playful undercurrent that blooms throughout these 30 minutes. Not playful in a silly pizza thrash kind of way, but something born from a modern, novel perspective and an unmistakable extra bounce in the step that gives much of the twists immeasurable strut and others an almost grinding effect that’s certainly magnified by a vocal approach that goes from gurgle to squeals to full-on squawking in less than an instant. Down in the deepest depths of the innermost underground, Thætas does for brutal death metal what DeathgraVe does for grindcore: The influences are clear—in this case, Suffocation, Gorguts, Defeated Sanity, et al—but the vision is wholly fresh and thoroughly fun. So, veterans of the style will find enough innovation via a number of modern variables to feel inspired to sprint through the sprinkler again, and those with little-to-no skronkpertise will find the Thætas equation to be as complex and frustrating as attempting to solve quadratic equations while riding The Rotor upside down.
A fifty-foot vertical drop of ferocity opens “Envy the Stillborn,” quickly followed by an equally severe strut once it hits the concrete. It’s fun to be forcibly dismantled by music this way, no? By now you can tell that the band’s approach is several levels above the typical threshold of self-flagellation fans of the style perpetually cheepcheep about as they wait on the Allmother Bird of Relentlessly Brutal Death Metal to stuff their faces with the motherlode of wriggling, maggoty chow, and the fact that the band throws in loads of quirky WTF’s like the suddenly bright 4-second lead toward the close of “Envy the Stillborn” pretty much ices the victory.
Even the cover artwork manages to feel refreshing. Not that we haven’t seen countless albums that feature hellish cityscapes in the grip of some sort of cataclysmic climate fuckery, but if you’re familiar with the artist—and if you’ve been into metal for more than 10 minutes, you know Paolo Girardi—you’ve come to expect some level of enormous pit fiends, apocalyptic warfare and most anything dealing with the hugely fantastical, so it’s pleasing to see him deliver hell with a more modern, urban and realistic approach. In short, it suits the record and the band perfectly.
Thætas ain’t about to change your mind if you’ve never been a fan of brutal death metal that goes deep with the crookedness—in fact, they’ll almost certainly beat you back even further. But if you can’t get enough of that drill-press drumming, warped riffing and vocals burped from the beast on the cover of Mental Funeral, you’d be very wise to give their novel approach to the game valid attention.
Now get out there and hit those sprinklers (or hydrants), kids. bah-doom…dun-duddle, bah-doom…dun-duddle, bah-doom…dun-duddle…
Can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Jimi Hite – bass
Cory Monster – vocals
Pat Hawkins – guitar
Nick Crifo – drums
Terrell Grannum – guitar