"Plagues and Ancient Rites"

By El Chief

At first brush, Chile's Disemboweled come off as a novelty act. The song titles and lyrics are all pulled from the works of horror master H.P. Lovecraft, including the names of the three band members (Goat, Azathoth and Leviathian). One can't help but roll one's eyes at the cliché. Lovecraft is the go-to author for metal acts since at least the early days of Iron Maiden. If you want to grab my attention right away then base your death metal on the works of authors like Nicholas Sparks. That subject matter might even make Psychostick pause.

But when the needle dropped on the second track of "Plagues and Ancient Rights," my misgivings faded away. "Lord of Shadows" can barely contain the power of the group straight from the opening note. A quick yet suspenseful buildup ripped me from the safety of my suburban home and savagely dropped me in the strange world of Lovecraft (where, say it with me: "even death may die"). The riffs from guitarist Azathoth are as plentiful as the demons his namesake commands, and vocalist/bassist Leviathan strikes the right chord with pipes that manufacture mystery and menace.

Near the end of "Lord of Shadows," Azathoth twists his notes into something that can only be described as Lovecraftian. If you know your Lovecraft, then you know his forte was in not describing the definite shape of the monstrosity. Azathoth's wails sound like a beast that doesn't have a clue what it is or how it came to be. But it understands it's alive and it demands to be heard. The solo lives for but a brief, wondrous time before it's forced to fade back into the silent depths like good ole' Cthulhu itself. 

Ultimately, Azathoth ultimately succumbs to the same problem that haunted Lovecraft: sameness. The bizarre, frenetic solos continually pop up in the waning seconds of the first four proper songs (I should note here that the opening track is one of the utterly forgettable mood setters). Kudos for not always planting the solos in the middle of songs, but placing them at the end only serves to let the listener know that the ride is over. Lovecraft tended not to lift the curtain on his beasts until the third act, so it's entirely possible that Azathoth is paying homage to the literary device, but going to the well too often can cause the audience to get bored and restless. 

Perhaps, though, Disembowel is merely setting up its audience for the middle part of the album. The titular track uses the wails to open the song and set the band off on a gallop faster and tighter than in the previous songs. Like writers, a lot of bands struggle to prop up the middle sections of an LP. Disembowel, though, is clearly not like those groups. Their middle section is as massive as a biker's after a week guzzling beer and gorging on brats during a Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

"Plagues and Ancient Rites" is not without its weak spots. Goat continually loses the beat by trying to do too much. It's a problem shared by many extreme metal drummers. Even Lamb of God's Chris Adler struggled with playing to the right tempo during his band's early albums. But something clicked during the "Ashes of the Wake" sessions and he's now one of the best drummers in any genre. Goat would do well to pay attention to Adler's development. If not, then Disembowel is doomed to sound as disorganized as they do in "The Pact with the Sect of the Sea."