Combichrist may not have been around for as long as most of their industrial peers, having only formed a short 13 years ago, but they have been very prolific in that timeframe. Their eighth release, This Is Where Death Begins is more of the same, which is both excellent and frustrating in turn.[columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: This Is Where Death Begins
Release Date: 03 June 2016
Label: Out of Line Music
Andy LaPlegua is the sole studio musician and songwriter for Combichrist, and his formula on This Is Where Death Begins is slow, mechanical, but very driving and focused rock fused with the clanking machinery and electronic warbles common to industrial. This Is Where Death Begins is a dark album, but not a particularly heavy one. The occasional screams aren’t as powerful (or overpowering) as some of his contemporaries, and the “sung” vocals are mostly half-spoken prose, coming across like an English version of Till Lindemann from Rammstein. The monotonous vocals are both the album’s biggest weakness and what ties the album together. When they fit the mood that the music sets, they sound great, creating a palpable mood, but when they seem too detached for the tone of the song, they can drag the entire track down with it.
Opener “We Are The Plague” is a prime example. The unmusical, spoken word vocals in the verses clash with the aggressive, almost nu-metal guitar attack and the pounding beat. Just a switch to making the verses screamed or snarled (which DOES happen at the end of the first verse and through the chorus!) would make this a really good song instead of a bland one. “My Life My Rules” features another great riff, with the guitar and drums intentionally off rhythm from one another in the intro before coalescing into a danceable verse hook. The vocals are still a little talk-y, but they’re also filled with fire and match the pulsing beat perfectly. It does get a little repetitive by the end (one less verse and chorus would make the song significantly stronger), but that’s a forgivable sin. “Glitchteeth” is a perfect counterpoint to “We Are The Plague”: the minimalist electronic background with almost-sung vocals builds atmosphere, and the gang-vocal bridge over still-minimal music works wonders. It also features a massive chorus that will surely make this a live staple. “Exit Eternity” throws in a 90s style build to an EDM drop, and tears through the verses with a clanking, glitchy charm, and gets even more lively by the time the outro rolls around. “Skullcrusher” follows with a lively, radio-friendly hook that blends industrial and the swing of dance-club techno. The repetition of “I’m not forgiving you!” is equally bitter and playful, thanks to the downright bouncy guitar line.
My personal favorite track is “Time Again,” which opens the excellent second act of the album and is carried by a slow-burning mechanical stomp accented with echoing electronics and quick, sharp guitar leads. It’s not the most energetic song, but it’s a masterpiece of mood. Follow-up “Destroy Everything” keeps the pace from slowing down too much with a riff straight out of the Disturbed book, although the turntable-scratching electronics bring to mind Linkin Park. Once the snarled vocals enter, though, the end result is more Fear Factory than buttrock. “Tired Of Hating You” begins life as a crawling, buzzing Nine Inch Nails clone (it could easily be a With Teeth b-side), which is by no means a bad thing, then halfway through it morphs into an angry yet fun anthem much like “Glitchteeth.” “Don’t Care How You Feel About It” plays with the listener, constantly building to an explosion that never comes, instead slowly adding heavy elements piece by piece. Switching from the start to end of the song would be jarring, but it’s done gradually enough to be seamless. It also showcases how LaPlegua can use his spoken-word vocals to enhance a song when the two styles match.
This Is Where Death Begin‘s third act bounces back and forth between excellent and utterly bland. “Blackened Heart” is very driving, with a pounding drumbeat and sinister electronics, but it doesn’t include much of a hook. “Pay To Play” does, though, with a Rob Zombie inspired dance-metal groove and growled, vicious vocals. Then again, next track “Slakt” drops the ball. The string elements add much-needed texture, but to someone like myself with knowledge of neither German nor Norweigan, the vocals just sound like a copy of Rammstein. “Black Tar Dove, Pt. 2” (Pt. 1 is just an intro of random sounds) digs into a killer doom-rock beat the vocals fail to deliver on. The screaming gets intense, but it’s buried in the mix enough to lose the necessary power to deliver on the song’s promise. That said, closer “Homeward” is a serious highlight, with a horror-influenced minimal keyboard part leading the dirge-like, detached vocals. The difference here is those vocals are sung instead of spoken, giving a tint of Joy Division or Interpol to the proceedings. The majority of the song builds as if it will explode into chaos and anger at any moment, and it does eventually become heavy, but opts for a brief scream and an almost hardcore sludge riff rather than a cacophony of shredding guitars and squealing electronics. It subverts expectations, but it works, and I’m glad they went the path they did.
This Is Where Death Begins has moments that are among the genre’s best, but also features enough filler to lessen the impact of those phenomenal tracks. However, I can’t suggest sticking to individual songs: mood is vital to this album, and the flow from track to track sets that mood. Even the pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit are part of a greater whole, and they’re worth the effort to dig into.