Supergroups are certainly a common occurrence in the world of music. Granted, the term is often bandied about more generously than it should be. Just because two members of a band have a modicum of recognition elsewhere does not mean their new project is an explosion of creative opportunities where brilliant minds collide to exhibit superpowers in songwriting. Similarly, one-man bands are a dime a dozen and both sides of this coin come with mixed results. Mark Riddick utilizes a mixed approach under the moniker of Fetid Zombie that falls closer to the metal equivalent of an all-star game. While he is the primary writer and performs on rhythm guitar, bass, synth and drum programming, Riddick also calls upon a series of heavy hitters to add varied yarns to his hideous tapestries. The friends called upon hail from bands including Skeletal Remains, Arsis, Inferi, Affliktor, Svierg and more.
Every track that follows offers different elements fused in a way that stands out without ever feeling like an unnatural mashing of genres. “Conscious Rot” offers death metal with a gallop, tolling bells, a vicious Dismember passage, and an ending that sounds like the guitar equivalent of bottle rockets firing off. “Beyond Andromeda” opens the door for the synths to lead the way like a more subdued track from The Key. “Dreamless Sleep” lets Claire Webster’s haunting voice waft through a Cure-soaked passage that kicks off an ever-progressing six minutes. Maybe you want a bit less fluffy stuff. Fret not because “Deep in the Catacombs” is pure pummel, whirl and wail that is extra hefty with some well-timed guest vocals.
The lead work in particular excels throughout Transmutations and each guest musician has a unique approach. Not only is the playstyle for each fretboard annihilator different, but the sound of each lead is different as well. The one on “Chrysopoeia” has a thinner high wail while committing to the shred like something off of an early Van Halen record. A ghostly message coming from a damned spirit floats through a medium’s radio in the form of the lead on “Conscious Rot.” Some guitarists like to solo by throwing shred on top of shred on top of shred on top of shred and that’s where “Dreamless Sleep” comes in.
Heavy metal was born of rock ‘n’ roll and that means guitars reign supreme. Riddick helps bolster that belief through his drum programming. The snare has a dry pop that helps it drive songs forward while the toms and kicks offer more of a booming thud that backs the haunting quality of the tunes rather than punching through them. Similarly, the cymbals are fairly low in the mix to help prevent them from creating too much distracting chaos. Riddick’s rock sensibility comes through in the writing as well. He creates hooks and doesn’t focus on making things overly technical. Hell, toward the end of the album he repeats the line “master of death” in a way that would be sure to get chants bellowing forth from a crowd.
This is an album guitar players are sure to like, but it offers such a treasure trove of small details and mixed influences that any fan of heavy metal should consider it worth checking out. Crack open a couple of your favorite cheap beers and see if you aren’t bobbing your head, pumping your fist or air-guitaring by the end of Transmutations.