Album Review: AFTERBIRTH - Four Dimensional Flesh

Artist: Afterbirth

Album: Four Dimensional Flesh

Genre: Brutal Death Metal

Review by Brady Irwin

What a time to be alive.

And by that, I’m not giving the obvious journalistic nod to the viral outbreak currently sending the herd into a panic, although that’s a thing.

No, without taking the focal point off the band in question, it is my stern belief that death metal, as of today, is experiencing a renaissance. A new late-80’s/early-90’s period absolutely full to the brim of amazing talent and forward-thinking ideas.

In the playground of modern death metal, we currently have somewhat of a resurgence of tech-death that seems to be shouldering for space with what I’ll simply refer to as Demilich-metal; cavernous, disgusting, fuzzed out but also highly technical and proggy metal. Artificial Brain’s space-geekery-via-brutal force is but one of many examples, and the rise of bands that owe as much to bro-thug slam as they do traditional stylings (particularly talking about the last Disentomb opus, here) is exemplary of a schoolyard of death metal kids not yet in quarantine, coughing all sorts of deliciously vile gunk on one another before the scene retracts from the growing fever.

We’re at fever pitch now, however, and Afterbirth punched the tech-death kid in the head for his glasses and is walking up to the library with blood on their knuckles. Actually, no – given their inception in 1993 and recent return to form just in time for space-Cthulu-death-metal from Blood Incantation and the like, these old-school fellows are the math teacher is also a roid-rager and decided to go postal.

What does going postal sound like? At first, when the wonderfully alliterated ‘Beheading the Buddha’ steamrolls in, it sounds like a mammoth wall of chunky, slamming riffs, chock full of mucus but tighter than a fish’s backside. Clacking and clanging chords like a funk bassist with a murder weapon is David Case, his sharp and bright tones rising above the fuzz-drenched din of impeccably-tight Cody Drasser on guitar and the slamming gallop of skinsman Keith Harris. Vomiting forth somewhere in the mid-ground are the guttural burps and grunts of otherworldly caveman Will Smith (Huh - bit of a change from ‘Getting’ Jiggy Wit’ It’, eh?), punctuated by rasps only a man who stepped on Lego could understand.

Okay, my pre-frontal cortex is establishing this is another of those sla- oh no, wait, the track has ascended into some serpentine Morbid Angel style tremolo off-kilter tremolo riffing. Oh, good God yes. Putting the death metal tropes book down mentally, the spaced-out rumbles give in to thudding breakdowns and skyrocket into lung-puncturing blasts and d-beats. The writer is now losing his proverbial.

That ear-wide grin at the songs’ end at two minutes, thirty-four seconds is twisted into a skin-stretching smirk as ‘Spiritually Transmitted Disease’ (these song titles, people) just whips you from all directions in a tornado of blasting and stuttering technical riffs and rolling bass licks. This is absolutely a Certified Bruh Moment.

Swapping between pinpoint sections of devious trickery a-la early Suffocation and stomping like that guy in mosh shorts at the front, there isn’t a moment of this thickly distorted beautiful mess that lets up briefly for just a spaced-out, reverberating second before regressing to a slamming, gurgling cesspit of a breakdown. The teacher is now frantically bludgeoning some other poor death metal kid, imploring him to accept the slam.

‘Girl in Landscape’ however, is an RKO instrumental out of nowhere. Employing Opeth-like keys in an experimental sheen that gives the impression of floating amongst the nebulae, it’s a brief and prog-leaning repose that sees things slow down, the carnage of the death metal landscape momentarily abated.

Well, obviously, we’re just getting started. He’s climbing in your window, snatching your riffs up. Trudging methodically up the hallway steadily now comes ‘Everything in It’s Path’, a more measured intro before darting between blasting cacophony and expansive chunks of riffage. Taking a steady tempo, the beast of a track lurches ahead in a way that’s so much like Artificial Brain it’s not funny, but with additional layers of muck. A vocal and double-kick trade-off that is truly Neolithic leads to a rasp-laden section over frantic blasts and d-beat chugs. No time for solo. Me got to beat him on head. Spiders on the fretboard, a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a faster melodeath album, if you drenched it in slam and sent it back to 5,000BC as a cyborg. There’s really no other way to depict such a technical, thuggish contrast on offer here.

‘Never Ending Teeth’ bares said incisors with a long, guttural roar that’d send a pig running. Thinking it’s going back into slam territory, the nausea sets in amongst a clamour of harmonics and tremolo, easing off for a while then charging back in for the headbutt. My cochlea has been bashed in, there’s cerebrospinal fluid leaking from my ears and I’ve developed Stockholm syndrome in a sickening daze. More. More! That’s right. Punch with more with that dual grunt-rasp vocal attack. Cough on me. And then out of the soup comes a palm-muted thrashing riff, fighting desperately with turns on a coin before an off-putting ‘clean’ section that’s more Cthe’ilist kicking In Flames’ head into a pulpy mess than anything else.

The drenched-in-sweat production gives a warm and organic feel to the album, something that makes the more experimental sections an eerie feeling.

Huh, that is actually a very timely title – ‘Minimum Safe Distance’ is anything but, getting hurriedly in your face with razor-sharp riffs that wouldn’t be out of place amongst a black metal record. A riff like Enslaved sped up and shoved into the movie Event Horizon, the super-psychotic tremolo and breakdown riff are fingers around the throat of modern death metal.

And then… silence? Huh? Has the captor experienced remorse? They’re not looking too good.

And that’s only a good thing for you, the listener. ‘Rooms To Nowhere’ rings in with sickly electronica style guitar that gives an old-school Meshuggah feel, the prog rock echoes of the bass over methodical drums spinning into a sickening, twirling (always twirling! No, seriously) giddy mess of harmonics, descending and ascending fretboard trickery, tempo changes like epidemic patterns. These guys have run outside and are coathanger-ing the whole death metal playground with reckless abandon. Vacillating between speedy progressive death metal and riffs thicker than a certain Prime Minister, it’s both heady and primal. Calculating and flecked with spittle like a true psychopath on the loose. It’s almost too much to watch, but it’s a bloody spectacle that can’t be put down. It’s the informative murder porn episode of South Park, but it’s metres away and someone’s screaming violently.

That’s when the shotgun comes out. ‘Swallowing Spiders’ brings out the apex of whatever mania has enveloped this brute, pellets of riffs embedded into your ears. A truly schizophrenic meltdown of crazed riffs, grunt, barks and screeches, this is your old school death metal friend (we all have one, it’s probably you if you’ve read this far!) on copious, copious amounts of PCP. They’ve just joined up with their slam-bro friend and, oh my, now they’re all running amok! A denser mess than a neutron star on the verge of collapse, there’s another brief unsettling reprieve or two with some nasty arpeggios before things return to head-punching tremolo and blasting. The brief breaks are progressive metal dying in their own bodily fluids, kicked lifelessly out there by more death metal bludgeoning. If this were real life, you’d have them surrounded with riot police and snipers by now.

It’s actually becoming almost too much, now. ‘Dreaming Astral Body’ then unexpectedly lulls us with a clean instrumental section that feels unashamedly Mithras, a pedal-soaked pause, kind of like the human-Xenomorph hybrid holding onto Ripley before losing its’ cool.

And there it is. ‘Black Hole Kaleidoscope’ kicks things back off and up a notch once more, a murder-happy and strange mix between muted riffing, buried harmonics and guttural slamming sections. Lightspeed blast-beats take things into orbit almost without warning before sapping us of oxygen. Okay, then, a prog section once more. A thumping crescendo towards a breakdown that blots out the background of space before us, we’re tossed into the sickly waves of Hawking radiation of a jumbled but calculating mess of a technical breakdown. Chuck Shuldiner would be so proud.

Possibly the most consistent riff of the album, this slowly fading breakdown is a final reprieve, the regaining of awareness of surroundings for our murderous album. ‘Four Dimensional Flesh’ says its’ goodbyes from the electric chair, a grooving and progressive short riff-fest that shows a lighter, more remorseful touch. A last pained touch of regret, and a really nice instrumental send-off that isn’t without heaviness.

Like a formerly latent professional in the midst of a psychotic bloodbath, whilst also experiencing the height of viral fever, this is a thinking man’s album - for people who want to be repeatedly being kicked in the head during their ponderings. An unrelenting and off-putting mishmash of death metal stylings, this should not go under any extreme metal fan’s radar during our current crisis.

Four Dimensional Flesh is out now via Unique Leader Records.

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