[Artwork by Stefan Thanneur]
“Are you still with us, Mr. Niedermeyer?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, I’m sorry. I was just…I guess I was just lost in thought.”
“It’s a fairly standard question, the one I posed to you a few moments ago.”
“Yes. Yes, I realize that. Again, sorry. It’s just… I guess the bluntness of the question just struck me as…odd. I don’t suppose you ever find yourself suddenly thinking that your life has slipped into a meaningless abyss, do you?”
“Not at this particular juncture, Mr. Niedermeyer, no.”
“Right, right. No, of course not.”
“Again, it’s a fairly standard question we ask all interviewees, Mr. Niedermeyer. ‘Why do you want to work here.'”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s just… If I’m honest, I don’t really want to work here. I know that’s an incredibly inappropriate thing to say, and not very…timely. But does anyone really want to, you know, work at Kaplar Plastics? Do you… Do you wake up in the morning and roll out of bed excited about your day of human resources at Kaplar Plastics? Look at that plant in the corner over there… Is it dying of boredom? I’m so sorry I said that.”
“It’s a job, Mr. Niedermeyer. By and large, jobs are not terribly fun. Fun jobs are not reality. What you see on Hulu or YouTube or TikTok is not reality. Reality is mortgages and car insurance and making sure you don’t starve. Reality is not a fairytale, Mr. Niedermeyer. I suggest you stop trying to live in a fairytale world and…”
“OH, WE’RE GOING THERE? LEMME GET UP ON THIS DESK”[cue music]
XXI is a war against reality—a weapon against every parasitical job interview that kicks your soul directly in the groin. A champion against any and all wrongdoers, whether they be COVID deniers, science naysayers, cat-callers, handbag influencers, half-assed professors, flat-earthers or bigoted kin twaddling through Sunday dinners. XXI is a wild, barbaric explosion that liberates the listener from everything spanning interminable depression to the brain-collapsing actuality that we live amongst celebrities so wealthy they find reason to embed a 20 million dollar jewel directly into their forehead.
XXI is also quite simply an extremely enjoyable extreme metal album. As such, it is equally prepared to chum up beside you as you sit in a chair powering through a full bag of Flamin’ Hot Doritos while your cat stares out the window. Versatility can be critical when it comes to top-shelf entertainment these days.
More about that music: It’s entirely fucking lawless. The genre off-shoot already being bandied about by media outlets is “Canadian war metal,” and sure, there are plenty of pick slides front-to-back, and the overall illustration paints a storm that could certainly blow in from Ross Bay Cemetery, but there’s also enough of a disturbance to that design—often from one second to the next—that the truest of War Brothers & Sisters might get a little uncomfy with what’s going down. If the band’s debut proved anything, though, it showed that Succumb is quite comfortable with the uncomfy, and they are extremely down with risky business. BEHOLD: Where 2017’s Succumb slid across the floor like a pantless Joel Goodson slowly and grotesquely morphing into the Mental Funeral creature, XXI explodes the floor entirely and hoovers all of reality into its bestial, chasmic yap. If Succumb represented a glimpse of the beast, XXI is its utterly relentless attack. A court depiction of the XXI collision scene might unfold thusly:
Oh! There’s a little bit of Godflesh peeking in over there on the right, hoping to get into some frisky mischief. Seems pertinent to address that right this very moment, because that Godflesh energy and riffing is fairly subtle, but it’s there in the dark and clamorous corners of XXI, and it comes into distinct play in the latter half of “Graal,” which is a cut that happens to be in contention for the best death metal skull-strike of 2021.
The track is ferocious pretty much from the gate: Drums, riffs and sinewy bass plaster the walls with the sort of gruesome spectacle a grizzled homicide detective might attach “I thought I’d seen it all…” to just before breaking down in their unmarked ’93 Crown Vic. Slashes, hacks and bites come in from all angles, with everything as ferocious as a fuming wolverine possessed by Robert Vigna. Musrasrik’s vocals have always been mightily unconventional for death metal, but they’re more focused on this new record, and here she drawls and floats over the intense passages like some sort of haunted grave veil. The pace begins to slow toward the song’s midpoint, and then that Godflesh energy suddenly blows in, carrying over into the hammering riff that pounds your face around 4:00 and all the way through to the track’s frenzied close.
All the songs here fuse so many different types of turmoil to the blueprint that one can’t help but spend the first several listens simply attempting to comprehend what gets thrown at you from one 90-degree angle to the next turn. Accordingly, there is a near endless list of influences that appear to impact Succumb’s unique hodgepodge of horrors—Reign in Blood quickly gives way to a noisy stretch of racket that could very well recall bits of KEN Mode, and then a huge Terrorizer riff suddenly jumps into the picture to grind your head into a pulp.
Guitarist Derek Webster is not human; he is a nightmare wraith who attacks the poor strings of his guitar as if they hold the key to his release from endless pain. As a matter of fact, all the players here are fully possessed for XXI‘s full exploit. Kirk Spaseff’s bass sounds as if he needs to be 20 feet tall just to play the damned thing, and his coarse bark adds yet another bestial element to trot alongside Musrasrik’s ghoulish, steady gnarl. And who could guess what drummer Harry Cantwell’s been up to throughout these grisly pandemic months, but based on his strength and potency behind the kit start-to-finish on XXI, it’s reasonable to assume he’s spent the last year and a half lifting bags of concrete over his head.
Picking the album apart any further seems an almost desperate endeavor, as there is just so much to unpack from one moment to the next. The whole of the story is one of sheer relentlessness—XXI is harrowing and ruthless and AP Calculus complex, but the added grindcore element in comparison to the debut gives the record an insatiable hook that helps to ground everything. It’s all an unholy racket, for sure, but it’s just shy of fully flying off the tracks, even being so kind as to throw in a couple, um, “guitar solos” with the two closing tracks. Yes, said solos are akin to the sort of caustic eruption a cosmic vacuum might fire off, similar to the way Angelcorpse used to do it, but it’s the teensiest nod to melody some of us frantically reach for after being drubbed over the head for a half hour straight.
Will a record like XXI appeal to both Blasphemy junkies and fresh-born metalers who wouldn’t know Blasphemy if they walked in on the band kicking back incredibly far on their living room couch? Who the hell knows. Getting down to brass tacks, there’s one final selling or sticking point touched on earlier: Despite the fact that XXI packs a massive amount of destructive force inside its comfortably brief 34 minutes, it still manages to feel…strangely positive in a brutal death metal kind of way, without being Brutal Death Metal. So yeah, Succumb is a positive energy in the universe, and that appears to be by design. Closing the record with a song called “8 Trigrams” and naming the record (at least in part) after the 21st Major Arcana tarot card demonstrates a recognition of closure, clean slates, harmony and moving forward, and the music feels like the final hidden advantage necessary to detonate whatever walls bar the way for starting anew.
Reality is always out there, relentlessly lurking and forever finding new and formidable ways to challenge the balance between the good and the rotten. Gird your loins, pack a bluetooth speaker and a sweater, and add XXI to your arsenal alongside records such as Obscene Majesty and Passages into Deformity when you need some extra EXPLOSIVE power.