Landmine Marathon are a competent death metal band. To their fans, that may sound blasphemous; to casual admirers, it may sound like I’m underselling them. But, really, isn’t that a compliment? To be a band that a) can play their instruments, b) can play their instruments without Pro-Tools tinkering, c) leave something of an impression all while d) still playing ball in the rigid rules and orthodoxies of death metal is quite a feat; we’re so conditioned to seek out the BEST OF THE BEST that sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are competent bands out there doing great work. So while I don’t think the metal world would be any different if Landmine Marathon weren’t in it, I’m certainly glad they’re around to roundhouse kicking motherfuckers in the face. And Gallows, their latest, is a great front-to-back listen of gruff, unpretentious death metal. Nothing more, and that’s for the best.

Not that Gallows is dull or predictable, though. It’s full of punky d-beats, death metal both melodic and of the tunneling/atonal variety, Carcass-style deathgrind, sweet trade-off leads, and grimy doom trudging. And it’s burly as all hell, too: the riffs are all scowling and mean-spirited, not serving to impress but instead get the job done. And once again, that’s not a bad thing: psychedelic or jazzy wankery can turn a good death metal band into a great one, but it can also lead one jumping to the stop button. The subtle purity and humanity of Landmine Marathon is a wonderful thing. Whereas even some of the best death metal bands come off sounding like machines, LM are warm and realistic but also incredibly proficient. Sometimes all you need is some beefy riffs, vaguely unsettling song titles (“Dead Horses,” “Knife from My Sleeve,” “Beat and Left Blind,”), and energy to spare to get your point across. Gallows gets this across quite nicely.

Of course, the vocals are noteworthy, too, in no small part because they’re provided by a small woman. The inherent sexism of pointing this out, though, ignores the simple fact that Grace Perry’s voice shows admirable range, from gruff barking to a serrated melodeath high end (like Tomas Lindberg after stubbing his toe). Theoretically, so much ink has been spilled on Ms. Perry’s behalf because it’s hard to pin down why the band are so likable without using terms already used on like a billion other death and grind bands (in truth, it’s because asshole metal writers like yours truly are looking for an angle to begin with and opt to play into the aforementioned inherent sexism of metal they claim to despise by bringing up their singer’s gender). And that’s no fault of theirs: by eschewing frills or gimmicks, they’ve had to get by on being good. And maybe that’s why their name has been on the tongues of metal folks for the last few years. Which is more important: attempting to change the game or playing the game exceptionally well?

(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)


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