Dim Mak-enter the dragon CD:
Not such an easy task…. summarizing the greatest Extreme Metal album of the lot (for me that is). Well, let’s get on with it.
Dim Mak strode out of the residuum of reputable 90’s US Death Metal unit Ripping Corpse, a bunch of dangerously astute musicians at the vanguard of the genre hailing from New Jersey or somewhere around the NY periphery consisting of drummer Brandon Thomas, vocalist Scott Ruth, guitarist Shaune Kelley & bassist Dennis Carroll. Dim Mak’s virtuosity was extraordinary, as was their aptitude & application. The daring, dynamism, singularity, precision & full-frontal-charge innovation & ingenuity blasts both the door off its hinges & the bricks out of the surrounding walls with the freshness & exigency still steaming out of this historic album at a still sweltering temperature even to this day (& will clearly imperviously remain so). To have such astonishing musicians, feeding off each other’s expertly sharpened expertise & channeling this collective acuity into such a brazenly unorthodox & expansive statement is a holy-grail scenario. To grasp the highest altitudes, it’s almost essential to traverse unknown or recently discovered (endogenic) territory. Fashioning radical hybrids & nurturing them on individual aptitudes & self-determined prowess begets the best results, & when consolidated by virtuosity (more scope & variations) the possibilities are endless . Enter the Dragon is a paragon of such revolutionary momentum. To simplify the analysis, these guys amalgamate technical Death Metal, Thrash & Hardcore – cross fluxing & interchanging so much between the three disciplines that the elision ultimately becomes a separate enhanced entity in it’s own right (they coined the phrase “cobracore” which is very appropriate). aside from this hybridization, these strains will surface from incognito, to vaguely recognizable to perspicuous, often with novel or contrasting twists from the supporting musicians (so a section of straighter sounding Thrash guitar would be mismatched by more complex & alternative drumming & vice versa). Bruce Lee in particular (as well as martial arts in general) are resoundingly central in ETD’s construct & concept, & Lee’s Jeet Kun Do method of “adopt what is useful & reject what is non-useful (paraphrasing here) is clearly at play as a musical adaption. The band is also absurdly tight & clearly influenced by the Jazz curriculum, maybe simply as a discipline more than anything, getting a thorough extrapolation into a Metal orbit. Clearly though, the capacity for groove (at a highly competent level) & overt attention/familiarity/influence/inclusion from “other genres” always still very much through a metal perspective, allow this group to go places that many wouldn’t or couldn’t, in terms of not just ability but the conceptualization & freedom to secure & pursue such extraordinary measures & permutations of forms. Yet again, another courageous novelty would be ushered, the production, instrumentation & sound engineering. Unlike any typical Metal record, ETD took an extremely clean, non-polished but hyper clear approach, that seemed to somersault off the zeitgeist of late 90’s high-end live music recording at it’s best. Besides some personalization’s, the production sounds almost akin to the early Primus records (but even sharper). Basically, you can hear everything, unmolested with absolute hyper clarity & immense quality (dunno’ the gear, but Steve DeAcutis (co-producer, recorder, engineer, mixer & masterer) performed a staggering accomplishment here). The bass, guitar & vocals are clean, with very minor distortion on possibly the guitar only. Furthermore, the drummer deploys a piccolo snare & seems to have all the drums wound tight, for a sharp & emphatic sound. There is absolutely no hiding, it’s totally clear & bare-knuckle. This screenless & uncontained production platform allows the crews phenomenal craft to explode with an absolute verbatim edge.
Scott Ruth. The vocals are probably closest to the “pissed-off” Hardcore progenitor than Death Metal (& thank fuck for that). Ruth spends a great deal of the album sounding like a Marine drill sergeant, or someone involved in a street stand-off, dancing between that last dial where the words stop & it all goes to the next level. Controlled rage, coherent but apoplectic on a sustained snapping-point, enraged & disparaging. The stuff is loaded with personal frustrations, & door-stoving vehemence, giving it the proverbial pissed-off authentic grade. Apparently a lot of people struggled with the vocals, too aggressive, too real, not “Death Metal enough” or whatever. I thought they were absolutely fucking brilliant personally. Macho as hell, but there is a time & a place, & it’s Enter The Dragon. There’s much skill in the lyrics as well along with the attribution & construct of the verses & vocal patterns.
Guitarist Shaune Kelley reals-off hyper dexterous, spry & surfeitly energetic, graceful aggression, jabbing & weaving with great skill & dynamism. Exceeding the merits of tightness, immaculate speed control & the requisite pugnacity & asperity of the given genres – the geezer is a phenomenal player, simply for executing such quality riffs, intonations & rhythmic inflections in the classic “musical” semantics/definition. It’s definitely not just an issue of a “great Metal guitarist” but of a “great guitarist” full stop.
Drummer Brandon Thomas just blows the bolts out of the bow! An inexhaustibly Inspirational barrage of agility, floridity, acute personalization, inventiveness, plowing out new novelties at every incident. Rapid, exact, with a razor-sharp panache to putcha’ on yer arse. You also have reams of Jazz & hard groove elixirs running through some kind of modified Metal interpretation ethic. Superb, ultra-tight & non-linear double-kick work & super ostentatious fills.
Bass players have a rough time in Death Metal bands. Follow the guitarist – exactly – on a more difficult instrument for speed – at a back-drop frequency & miss all the solos. Perhaps, For a lone fleeting four second moment on a full length LP, the rest of the band will retract before resuming, just to remind us that the bass player is actually present & participating. Dennis, clearly an immaculate player of great skill, gets a much better environment/volume treatment in Dim Mak. There is still rarely any independence as a bassist, but the stark transparency of the production completely alters the detectability & prominence meaning his inclusion is far more obvious & significant.
Taken in totality, the album is a cardinal classic that transcends genres. It commands so much variation, scope & contrasting details that this review could (& ultimately should) turn into a full thesis. This level of skill, detail & complexity, mixed with the open-mindedness & deeply courageous exploration means that things meta-mutate completely beyond the core components/styles/ingredients. Inevitably, a ridiculous crown of singularity is achieved. For me, there’s not a bad track on the album, I literally like everything. Despite my favorites (Tribulations, Royal Ass Whipping, Defy The Clouds) anyone that goes anywhere near this opus will always be insolubly affected by the insane Cobra’s Eyes, a fast response epic of jaw-loppingly invigorating intensity. Hard to overstate, & from a constructive/”song-writing” perspective, it’s literally perfect, with the most flawless flow, progression delivery & duration.
This album should appeal universally to proponents of Metal, Hardcore & Grindcore (although there is no clear Grindcore employed on ETD, traces of the practice can be detected in various applications) & even further to a Fusion, Prog & Jazz demographic (providing they are not repelled by the aggression).
The obscure & short-lived label that released the album was Singaporean based Dies Irae. They did a remarkably adept job regarding the physical CD, pressing the album on a deluxe Digipack with excellent design & a very high quality finish, adroitly capturing the albums energy & significance. Unfortunately, shortly after the album’s release, Dies Irae got into fiscal tribulations which culminated in bankruptcy. I am unaware of the exact details, but this adversely affected exposure & distribution for ETD quite badly.
As a result, in part, this album has a fairly obscure status (as far as I can determine), not enjoying anywhere near the popularity it blatantly warrants. It’s unfortunately far from the first time that something so emphatically excellent undergoes such an unfitting fate. My experience is that anyone of any significance or considerable power in the, shall we just say “extreme” music circumference swears by Enter The Dragon. It gets a totally unique rank of respect & has (& will continue) to quietly influence some of the best & most radical musicians performing & entering the contiguous genres (& beyond). At some stage, hopefully sooner rather than later, this album will probably be resurrected & rightfully extolled openly for the utter fucking indelible classic that it so obviously is. This album was so ahead of it’s time that the world has still not caught-up, & it sounds, very literally, as dazzlingly fresh, inventive & contemporary today as it did at the tail end of the 90’s, which is an exceptional achievement of the highest order. Much like a parchment of alternative history, where you learn that most of what you have been taught is a crock of shite, Enter The Dragon is a game changing disk for those astute & durable enough to understand it & take on it’s implications.
Label-Dies Irae Productions
Dim Mak-intercepting fist CD:
So, this is a major deflatory maneuver on behalf of one of Extreme Metals most seminal entrants. Following up on the historic Enter the Dragon was always going to be a “bated breath” moment, & although by absolutely no means is this release without resounding merit, it’s nowhere near in the weight category of it’s remarkable predecessor. Detractions first – the biggest diminution seems to be an overall commercial push (production, vocals, riffing, compositions). Commercial is probably too dysphemic a tag (although the production is shamelessly commercial), but certainly a massive conventionalization effort has been induced. Scotts vocals have lost the Hardcore edge, now opting for quality, but much more predictable, bland Death Metal standardization. No longer sounding like a mad man engaged in a violent altercation in the street, you now have typical DM stereotype with almost all the idiosyncrasy purged. The drummer Brandon has also somewhat been tranquilized. This was the last Dim Mak album he played on, leaving the band shortly after. His drumming here is marvelous, but there seems to be some kind of restraint, particularly in the insanely imaginative & distinct fills that he had previously embellished the trax with. Maybe after whatever disagreement or fracas that prompted his exit, he felt less naturally flamboyant in the creative exchange, completing the recording sessions/album but not feeling stimulated to fully devote his skills or energy to the process? His playing here is seriously astute & still very singular, but it’s not at the rate of sheer brilliance dished-out on ETD & seems to have something hanging over it’s head. The guitars probably emerge most unscathed, but they still suffer hindrance & reduction from a much less derogating grounding. Essentially, whereas Enter The Dragon totally shredded the form & reinvented it anew, Intercepting Fist returns to the book, still maintaining some of the groups exceptional innovations & customizations. Lastly the production…it is fuckin’ dreadful. Massively’ massively overproduced, like polished plastic, scrubbed & sprayed until it shines. 2002 was a bottom of the barrel moment for production in Metal (& other shit equally). I think the increasing “professionalism” of Metal & it’s monetary potential drew a lot of suits to the trough & a certain paradigm was established & replicated for the bigger bands. It was truly fucking dire & destructive, & made for a much less tangible, solid, human experience, akin to junk food or artificial flavoring. Eric Rutan produced this album (replacing Steve DeAcutis), so perhaps on his advice many of these adjustments were performed? It was a bad move & knocked the wind right out the sales.
Still, with all the negatives dismissed, it’s still Dim Mak. These guys are extraordinary musicians, versed in many practices beyond simply Metal, & all dampeners aside, this is still both special & terrific shit. The term “crushing” has been so worn within the Metal argot, but really, sections of this album are among some of the most truly crushing I have heard. This is not noisy/distorted shit, everything is hyper precise, which means to escalate such intensity takes formidable expertise as there is no shortcut. When juxtaposed with Enter the Dragon, this album is bland. But taken by itself on it’s own terms & providing you can endure the sparkling production finish, it’s a great record with some extraordinary moments &/or components.
Rekd – 2001
Label – Mighty Music