10 Steps To Hell
posted on 11/2005 By:
Okay, so I took the album’s ten steps, but instead of them leading me to the hell that Grimfist promised, I’m in the thorny position where personal taste and “critical” evaluation (well, less subjective at any rate) become entangled. Despite the fact that 10 Steps to Hell is a quality effort and based on a design that, at least on paper, sounds like it would be right up my alley, I just can’t really get excited about this album. Still, that won’t keep me from recommending it, albeit with qualifiers. 10 Steps to Hell is Grimfist’s second album, and the first since drummer Horgh left the project to join Hypocrisy. His drum stool is not easy to fill, but new guy Christian Svendsen has shown himself to be, in his own right, a suitable monster of the percussive variety. The rest of the changes for the new album are a bit more polarizing. There has been a lot of positive press and word of mouth for 10 Steps to Hell, and some people are even calling it one of the best albums of the year. But what impresses so many listeners is the same thing that has left me disappointed. 10 Steps is a well-blended amalgam of contemporary metal, combining death, thrash and black metal, and it’s that inclusiveness that will make this album attractive to some, while the balance of this blend is precisely what may frustrate listeners hoping to hear a wholly aggressive death thrash album. It’s tough to deny it’s a good album (note the score), and it’s equally tough to claim the album is unfocused. What can be argued, however, is that for some listeners this album simply strays too much from a consistently brutal tempo and approach, to one of run of the mill mid-tempo melody. So while some listeners will be impressed by the band’s ability to develop a typical death (and/or black) thrash album into something more dynamic and broad in scope, others, probably less enamored with at least one of the interloping styles, will wonder why Grimfist keeps interrupting such a vicious approach.
Without exception, each song on the album has at least one highly headbangable part, it’s just that several also then transition to much more mundane segments. The album’s first track, “The Power” is a pleasingly noxious opening salvo. Choppy, rapid fire riffing, busy drum work and Frediablo’s snarling vocals set the stage for spine damaging explosiveness. During the outro, when the band kicks it into neutral and slides into an open, Down-ish bout of swampyness complete with some impressive clean vocals, it becomes clear that 10 Steps to Hell is going to offer something out of the ordinary. It’s this kind of cross genre layering that best serves the album. Similarly, few will complain when the band vaults into high-speed black (especially “Reap the Fire”) or death passages; it’s when the band’s tendency to slow to a mid tempo melodic approach that tends to muzzle the ferocity of the album. On the other hand, occasional mid paced Pantera-invoking groove laden stomps (“Breed Apart”) are interspersed with few seams. The occasional layering of clean and gruff vocals during choruses (see “Unborn”) will also be another of the techniques which either draw listeners to the album or push them further away. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s leaving me lukewarm, but it just seems that somehow the whole of the music is less than the sum of its parts. The band integrates a lot of styles, but it’s almost like at times those contributions negate one another and rather than dynamic, the material sometimes comes off as exactly the opposite: nondescript. Which is unfortunate, because when Grimfist bare their teeth they can really do some damage. In the end, the majority of these complaints are less about quality of work and more about listener preference. 10 Steps to Hell is a well-done and entirely respectable album that succeeds in most ways, and I definitely recommend finding some samples and checking them out for yourself, because a lot of people will love this album. I’ll just sit this one out.
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