Review: Kruelty mines death metal for the best beatdowns with Untopia
Beatdown has become more popular in recent years, so bands like Kruelty have more wiggle room to rep their unique niche in the genre. In line with No Zodiac and Xibalba, this Japanese band owes a lot of their riffage to old school death and doom metal. Their debut LP A Dying Truth is very easy to appreciate on those terms alone. This helps Kruelty sidestep beatdown’s ongoing pitfall of forsaking interesting songs for pure ignorance. Bands like this prove that it’s possible to play beatdown with tight songwriting. Primitive violence and tasteful arrangements continue to set them apart on their sophomore full-length Untopia. It strikes a compelling balance between unfiltered hardcore and gory death metal without sacrificing on either end.
“Unknown Nightmare” finds Kruelty setting a demonic mood of Sumerian chants and ominous drones. This adds more weight to the entrance of gnarly distortion, and a beat driven by a so-bad-it’s-good snare tone. Tatami’s vocal range has certainly taken a step up, now using more shrieks to contrast his low growls, but the songwriting remains deliciously meat-and-potatoes. Mani’s drumming gives a distinct punk feel to fast parts, with sparing use of double kick, but also knows when to lock in with guitarists Zuma and Ken for jaw-breaking mosh parts or lay back on some Bolt Thrower-style grooves. Kruelty‘s devotion to resonant licks and deep atmosphere gives their songwriting more to work with than many of their contemporaries in the heavy hardcore movement.
Kruelty doesn’t start throwing in slammy fight riffs until “Harder Than Before.” But even then, such a staple of modern beatdown only accounts for 10% of the song. The rest relies on grimy tremolo, jack-hammer thrashings and bull-dozing grooves to compete with the best of throwback death metal, with mint NYHC toughness to keep the mosh pits scary. The point being, “Burn The System” isn’t the work of a heavy hardcore band ripping off death metal. These guys know their history, and it shows in their lethal use of time-tested tropes. The hardcore influence manifests more through bestial intensity instead of jarring transitions, leaving room for massive riff changes and natural tempo shifts before dropping into chest-beating breakdowns.
Untopia‘s heart of darkness continues to reveal itself through deeper cuts like “Maze Of Suffering,” as Kruelty nods to concussive, bomb-blasting East Coast brutality, and nasty splatterings of early Carcass. And yet, the midsection seamlessly builds to skull-splitting half-time hardcore riffs. Tough guy strut and knuckle dragging chug-a-chug notwithstanding, the first half of the song could easily appeal to fans of Kruelty‘s country-men Coffins in its respect for savage riff-mongering and, yes, catchiness. Like 200 Stab Wounds and Sanguisugabogg, it’s not the progressive flair or technical prowess that makes songs like “Manufactured Insanity” satisfying, but how intuitively Kruelty incorporates (almost) melo-death passages, or a stomping two-step. This way, the customary decelerated breakdown feels like a legitimate pay-off instead of a crutch.
Kruelty has an uncommon ability to write parts that cross genres without trying too hard. It’s easy to imagine hardcore kids two-stepping during the bouncy intro of “Reincarnation,” or death metallers circle-pitting to the galloping thrash section, but the real bridge building occurs with mid-tempo beefiness and bottom-end abuse. Genre distinctions become irrelevant, as Kruelty clearly doesn’t care about pronouncing “the spooky doom metal section” or “the part to make you punch your friend in the face.” They just let the protracted tone worship or battle-ready mosh parts speak for themselves. The bone-rattling sensations could swing in either direction, whether it be ninja moshing or head-banging.
To the band’s credit, they save the album’s hardest beatdown for the final 40 seconds of closing cut “Untopia.” Kruelty doesn’t have to attempt that level of aggression on every track. The song absolutely stands on its bewitching tremolo lines and bottom string abuse, with punk-ish speed and eerie chord progressions added for good measure. The parts that aren’t distilled mosh fodder stay engaging, so that the part everyone would normally be impatiently waiting for comes like a surprise left hook to knock a fool out cold.
Kruelty treats their stylistic combination like a contest to see how much punishment they can derive from each genre they take from. Like the legends of metallic hardcore, they thoughtfully take elements from both ends of the spectrum that best help them serve up a healthy dose of adrenaline. To that effect, these guys continue to set a standard for the Japanese underground with Untopia.
Kruelty’s Untopia comes out on March 17 and is currently available for preorder via Profound Lore Records.