I guess combining brutal death metal and mathcore is something to be commended, in that it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole if the peg and hole are screaming at each other. And France’s Zubrowska do it fairly well: the line between brutal death and tech-death is razor-thin, yet Zubrowska manage to sound more like a decent mathcore band in their noodlier moments than Necrophagist Ripoff Collective #687b. They even sprinkle in bits of latter-day DEP weirdness and post-hardcore dust. The thing is, though, by keeping so many elements reined in and sounding coherent, the band don’t manage to do anything particularly memorable. They’re pretty formidable and manage to avoid the whole train wreck thing, but one almost wishes they’d be a train wreck so they could leave more of an impression.

Not that Zubrowska Are Dead, their latest, is a chore to listen to, though. The band keep things interesting by illuminating the fairly unexplored common threads between brutal death metal, mathcore, and post-hardcore. Hammer-ons/pull-offs rain down frequently, jagged chords are hit like a nail, and vocals veer back and forth between esophagus-scraping screaming and brees (hell, clean vocals are kept to a minimum, so you know they’re trying their best to make this easy for us). The hypothetical chaos is kept at bay thanks mostly to drummer Theo Astorga, who kind of brilliantly navigates between math-y jazz drumming and tight death metal blasts. But… there’s nothing to grab on to. There’s no juicy riff that embeds itself in your head, no moment of overwhelming chaos, no brutal death extremity eviscerating whatever flesh isn’t attached to a bone. Zubrowska do everything competently, often exceedingly so; but is that enough for what they’re trying to do (or, possibly judging by the album title, did)? The album is never really boring, but one can’t help but feel they’re coming up short.

On the other hand, sometimes being exceedingly competent can make a band worthwhile, and even endearing. In a field like deathgrind especially, competency with a pinch of esoteric ingredients (well, being deathgrind, mildly esoteric) goes a fuck of a long way, which is why Zubrowska’s fellow countrymen Benighted take something overly familiar — unabashed Carcass/Napalm death worship — and make it immensely appealing. If you’ve listened to metal and grindcore without ties to the mall in the last decade, the band don’t really offer anything new on Asylum Cave. But what they do offer is familiarity done awfully well, and since this ground hasn’t really been tread to death by deathcore Neanderthals or metalcore dandies, Benighted can still manage to pull out a few worthwhile stops.

Of course, the fact that they’re pretty decent songwriters doesn’t hurt, either. The riff hodgepodge that plagues most vicious death and grind is mercifully eschewed here, with parts going into one another with considerable fluidity. Add meaty deathgrind riffs, thrashy solos, and a little bit of what’s behind door number three (a Melechesh nod toward the end of the opening title track, a Lamb of God-like march in “The Cold Remains,” what sounds like record scratching on album closer “Drowning”) and Benighted are immediately at the head of the pack. Of course, the fact that this is their sixth album in seven years shows that they know what they’re doing. Even “A Quiet Day,” a flirtatious handshake with deathcore, isn’t that bad. If you like your deathgrind fierce, blistering, and occasionally groovy (which, um, I don’t know how else one would want their deathgrind, really…), Benighted scratch a necessary itch. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but what’s better: reinventing the wheel and not doing it well, or sticking with the OG wheel?

Actually, I don’t have an answer to that.

Zubrowska, Zubrowska are Dead

(2 ½ out of 5 horns)

Benighted, Asylum Cave

(3 out of 5 horns)


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