Company: Anticulture Records Release: 2008 Genre: Extreme Reviewer: Etiam
A brooding, surprisingly layered affair of mild experimentation and melody
In 2002, the relatively unknown Corporation 187 of Linkoping, Sweden, delivered 'Perfection In Pain'--one of the new millennium's most devastating new thrash records. This was a few years before the old-school thrash revival took center stage and many bands in the genre were fumbling with their inspirations of old, attempting awkwardly to capitalize on the "nu" phenomenon, or entering artistic declines. Thrash was a stagnant genre--still entertaining, but still refusing to grow up. The problem persists today, as new artists typically prefer to turn the clock back instead of confronting the problem of growth that lies ahead. Many fans are complacent enough to agree. To be sure, some of these new-old-school thrashers can induce serious whiplash, but it's unlikely that any will ever leave footprints larger than their idols'. C187's first LP, 'Subliminal Fear' fell into this quagmire--a solid record in its way, but lacking an original voice and ultimately forgettable.
'Perfection in Pain' was different. It was clear the band had hit the woodshed before its release, honing their chops and their focus as songwriters until they emerged with a razor-sharp new identity. 'Perfection...' was a cutting blend of thrash fundamentals--the ragged vocal attack, riffs out the ears, the distilled savagery of the production--and their own distinctive embellishments: Filip Leo's creative vocal cadences and mystifying lyrics; slippery riffing grooves unafraid of mid-tempo melodies; a bass player actually audible in the mix; and wandering, sometimes atonal lead passages that eschewed the phyrgian shredfests of old. The album didn't meet with unanimous acclaim, as some thrash fans weren't inclined to accept its modern production and the tweaks to the hallowed formula of the 80s. But those fans who did "get it" still hold 'Perfection in Pain' in the highest esteem, and close on a decade later it continues to totally rip.
And then the band essentially vanished for six years. They were purportedly writing new material, but released little in the way of updates and soon faded from relevancy. It didn't help that Wicked World Records, subsidiary to Earache, crumbled around this time and left few survivors. (Anata is one lucky and very worthy exception.) At long last, in 2008, ruminations of new material came to the surface as the band emerged with a new label, Anticulture Records. Their third LP 'Newcomers of Sin' hit the streets in spring of that year with a handful of gigs, interviews, and a music video as promotion. But the efforts were short-lived--by November of that year Filip had left the band due to chronic headaches and in February of '09 the remaining members announced the hiatus that everyone knew was coming. Today, the band is officially on a break, again "purportedly writing", but the chances of yet another revival seem even slimmer than before. In the meantime we are left with 'Newcomers of Sin' as their ostensible swansong, so we had better make the best of it.
Up front, it is not quite the barnstormer that is 'Perfection...', but considering that album's pedigree 'Newcomers...' can't fairly be called a disappointment. The biggest revelation--a long time coming, frankly--is that C187 really isn't just thrash metal anymore and shouldn't be judged by those criteria. Their songs are predominantly mid-tempo, featuring very little splash 'n' dash percussion or rapid-fire tremolo palm-mutes, and have almost none of that unbridled mania of contemporaries (i.e. those groups that started in the late 90s, early 00s) like Carnal Forge, The Haunted, and Dew-Scented.
Instead, 'Newcomers...' is a brooding, surprisingly layered affair of mild experimentation and melody. Not to say the riffs are boring, watered down, meandering, or any of the things "brooding" usually suggests--it's just that C187 has pulled back from the breakneck pace of their roots and developed the unique ideas from 'Perfection...': riffs with open string tensions and sustains (a real trademark of Knutsson), solid grooves that lock in and ride out a song's duration, and a handful of slight deviations from modal or metrical convention that keep a musician's ear engaged throughout. The bass, too, is given more room to roam, both in terms of its arrangements and its allotted space in the mix. (The band's drummer actually mixed this record, and mastering was handled by the consistently capable Peter in de Betou. Both deliver.)
It is a particular shame that we may not be hearing from Filip again, as his exit from the band seems to signal a wholesale departure from metal. Within a genre dominated by feckless shouters, he was a sensational talent who never achieved the acclaim he was due. His approach is comparable to black metal vocalists like Iblis (ex-Endstille), whose pathos, vulnerability, and desperation are almost overwhelming at times. A single, wordless scream from Filip can shock metal veterans out of their desensitized state and back into the raw, visceral wonder that first attracted us to the genre. (Only later a vocalist, Filip spent most of his career in metal as the bassist for Satanic Slaughter. 'Season of Sorrow' is a rare vocal contribution on the 'Banished to the Underworld' LP and proves to be the album's highlight. C187's 'Newcomers...' is devoted to the memory of the Ztephan Dark, the late mastermind of Satanic Slaughter.) In this latest effort, he is still a shredded wreck at the mic, but seems a bit more streamlined and a little more particular about his vocal phrasing than on 'Perfection...'.
But, again, this doesn't mean that the band has gone soft. 'Virus Nation' is proof enough of that, with its lashing verse riff and killer opening. Rather, they have matured, and can express themselves with more depth and confidence than in the past. After 11 songs, 'Newcomers...' does get mildly repetitive, but it succeeds as variations on a theme and is more consistent and well-written than comparable records from the aforementioned contemporaries--Carnal Forge's 'Testify For My Victims', The Haunted's anything post-'One Kill Wonder', and even 'Possessed 13', from the typically irreproachable The Crown. Indeed, few artists in the genre can boast such growth as C187 over the span of three records. 'Newcomers...' is a fitting culmination of this cycle, and it is an awful shame that this album--indeed, this band--never received the marketing push it deserved.
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