Mammoth Grinder’s Underworlds Crushes Us Into Prehistoric Pulp

  • Dave Mustein

In the world of extreme metal, truly fitting band names new are few and far between. Artists too often overload their band names with clichés, blending in with the rest of the brutally branded (Prostitute Disfigurement? Guttural Secrete? Anybody?). The best artists forge an optimal marriage between the name of their band and the sound of their music, so that we’re unable to mentally separate the two. Austinites Mammoth Grinder are one of those bands; their name and music together evoke Proboscidean lumbering mixed with artery-shredding speed. Their 2013 full-length Underworlds demonstrates that the band are only getting better at crafting distinctive music while keeping the furious connotations of their name in mind.

Immediately, Underworlds constructs an atmosphere of primeval power, structurally supported by crags of riffage. Circle-pit inciting lines thunder into existence from the first click of the play button, accurately predicting the pace for the rest of the album. It’s not so much about the individual songs here; it’s more about the sheer experience of listening to the riffs, affect, and sonic textures in any capacity. As a result, there’s some blurring together of tracks – no standout singles here – but if those tracks weren’t passing by in a blur, they wouldn’t be effective in the first place. Underworlds is meant to be listened to in sporadic bursts, and whether that’s a five-minute pair of tracks or one sustained, 30-minute aggression, that aggression is constantly present.

But even though the album’s brutality is largely defined by its vigor, sludgy elements find their natural niche within Underworlds. Even on an album that’s less than half an hour, we get swamped in passages of lethargy – like in the sewer-filth of Alex Hughes’s bass on “Moral Crux,” which drips molasses-dense to mire every organism in its path. There’s also a tension to the music, a taughtness defined by the unrestrained nature of riffs and Wade Allison’s frenetic, atavistic solos. Vocalist Chris Ulsh possess a cavernous geology that actually sounds its angriest towards the end of the record, prolonging the album’s climactic energy. The varied textures are what makes Mammoth Grinder’s name so applicable – their music stomps with titanic heaviness, but carves with the swift predation of a sabertooth, evoking grisly, detailed imagery over the course of the listening experience.

Much of that imagery is made more visceral by the album’s production (not to mention the phenomenal cover art). Underworlds is raw but intelligible, elements blended haphazardly in a kind of demonic titanium mélange. Genre labels have been generously tossed at Mammoth Grinder as they’ve progressed over the years, but the band’s style hasn’t ever been consistently or easily pinned down. Their music does not conform to any one genre, but satisfies a narrow and relatively untapped niche between a number of vast subgenres of metal. The spiky parameters of dissonance erected by the murky trawl of “Roperide” directly follow the roll and thrash of “Cogs In The Machine,” which borders the frenetic vitriol of “Breeding.”

These kinds of protean musicianship and patterning have been present on the band’s previous releases, too. Underworlds might not offer us anything radically different from 2009’s Extinction of Humanity, but Mammoth Grinder don’t need any revolutionary changes at this stage of their existence – it’s enough for them to proceed with refining their competence across a variety of different styles. Underworlds‘s coherence makes it the band’s most appreciable album yet, a tightly focused affair that, more than ever, embodies the essence of millions of pulverized prehistoric mammals. 

Mammoth Grinder’s Underworlds comes out July 23 on 20 Buck Spin. You can stream the track “Paragon Pusher” here and pre-order the album here.

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