The God That Never Was
posted on 2/2006 By:
Dismember have always been the middle children of classic death metal. Lacking the explosive popularity of hometown fellows Entombed and not as widely revered for boundary-pushing extremity as a Morbid Angel or Death, their name rarely comes up during discussions of the genre’s early heroes. This is, for lack of a better descriptor, a cryin’ shame. As nearly as I can tell, Dismember is and has been the most consistently excellent and talented metal band to have ever come out of the Stockholm area. More melodic and musically ambitious than neighbors like Unleashed and the aforementioned Entombed but more viscerally straightforward than the oft-esoteric American deathsters, Dismember developed a basic template early in their career and have been gradually developing and improving upon it for nearly as long as death metal has existed. More impressively, they’ve never committed any notable stylistic mistakes or put out any truly subpar albums, including the slightly flat but satisfying Where Ironcrosses Grow. I’m happy to report that Dismember still have that je nais se quoi that always made their music so enjoyable. In fact, they’ve got quite a lot of it; The God That Never Was is an incredibly strong release, and it ranks easily with classics like Like An Ever-Flowing Stream in terms of quality.
It warms the br00tal heart to hear such a fresh, energetic release from the old masters. The God That Never Was features all of the trademarks that have garnered them their sizeable fanbase and more besides. Core members Matti Kärki, David Blomqvist and Fred Estby are all in top form here. Kärki has always had one of the most commanding and identifiable voices in death metal, and he’s done an excellent job maintain its invisible-softball-clutchin’, funny-face-makin’ power over the years of performing, while Blomqvist churns out riffs that mix sinister melodic vitriol and meat-and-potatoes brutality with intimidating charisma. Estby, the band’s longtime producer, delivers another characteristically awesome mids-heavy job behind the boards on top of his rock-solid performance as skinsman.
But where Estby and company have really outdone themselves is in the songwriting. Dismember’s strong suit has always been their capacity for delivering varied, catchy, full-throttle collections of songs that scarcely ever cross the five minute mark, and The God That Never Was is a veritable clinic on crafting non-homogenous death metal. The opening title track, “Never Forget, Never Forgive” and “Blood For Paradise” show that Dismember still haven’t lost their penchant for two-minute Slayeresque scorchers, but the most scathing and memorable cuts on this album are more deliberate. “Trail of the Dead” and “Feel the Darkness” see the band revisiting the pounding mid-tempo minimalism they employed so deftly on Massive Killing Capacity, while “Time Heals Nothing” mirrors the epic tremolo-picked riffage of vintage tracks like “Override the Overture.” This album isn’t nonstop retread, though; Dismember's melodic edge is on more prominent display here that it’s been at any point in their career. I’ve always thought that Dismember could easily have developed into an unusually savage melodeath band, and there’s plenty of proof here. The aforementioned “Time Heals Nothing” features sweeping, infectious Blomqvist leads under which newcomers Martin Persson (guitar) and Tobias Christiansson (bass) growl away, and the excellent instrumental “Phantoms (Of The Oath)” boasts some stratospheric soloing that very nearly reminds of Jester Race-era In Flames without all the fruity men-in-tights twiddling. The real stunner, though, is climactic finisher “Where No Ghost Is Holy.” In all of Dismember’s illustrious career, they’ve rarely produced a track this powerful and immediate; addictively harmonized thrash melodies dart and dodge between massive slabs of corrosive Stockholm riffage while Matti Kärki absolutely unloads on the listener with his emphatic roar. The song (and album with it) closes with a rollicking gallop and a final, tasteful solo. It is one of the best pieces of music the band has ever written.
I’m frankly stunned by the sheer level of craftsmanship present here. Dismember have more musical chutzpa left in their battle-scarred bodies than most bands half their age, and if this release is any evidence, they’ll continue to show up the youth for years to come. The God That Never Was kills. It slices, dices, intimidates, punishes, and sticks in your head for weeks on end. In short, it’s everything you could ever want from a death metal album. Looks like Stockholm’s middle children have once more come into their own.
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