A rare thing in the first round of The Arsies, this match-up allows us to make a more straightforward apples-to-apples comparison: Exmortus versus Revocation! Similarities between these bands abound. Both hail from the United States (albeit from opposite coasts), feature four-piece two-guitar attacks on top of harsh vocals, are at about the same stage in their respective careers, and are generally described as purveyors of thrash/technical death. All in all, these two bands probably represent as well as any what younger fans think of as "modern metal."
Beginning on the balmy Left Coast, Exmortus are up first. Slave to the Sword is a thrilling romp through musical territory designed to be the soundtrack to Robert E. Howard's novels. Indeed, even beyond the Conan-inspired lyrics, Exmortus's sound has an unmistakable power metal flavor that at times comes across like Manowar on meth. Call them the Dragonforce of thrash/technical death. Although the individual songs tend to blend together due to a general sameness in tempo, length, and structure, the title track stands out in its heavy groove. Classical influences can be heard in a number of tracks, an accent that is brought to the foreground in their cover of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Leads are uniformly over-the-top, giving the album a frenetic energy that never really dissipates. For a death metal album, Slave to the Sword is surprisingly fun and leaves a lasting impression of a band at the height of their technical prowess having a good time. The bright and full production amplifies this atmosphere.
Moving east to frozen Boston, Revocation give us in Deathless a trashy death metal album that is at once darker, more varied, and (dare I say) more mature than Slave to the Sword. From the less campy and more socially-conscious lyrics to the variety in tempo and song structure to the tasteful use of cleanish shout vocals in the title track and elsewhere, Deathless reveals a band trying to communicate more than just raw energy and using all the tools at their disposal to do so. What Deathless yields in energy it gains in memorable song-writing that creates a cohesive atmosphere of frigid desperation across a number of different song templates. The leads show this dynamic perhaps most clearly, with David Davidson trying more to inform than amaze. Progressive influences can also be heard throughout. At times this experimentation, especially in the clean vocals and strange interludes, recalls Cynic's classic Focus, as does Zuess's somewhat subdued production. Witch Trials, a mini-epic at just over six minutes long and an appropriate topic for a band based not far from Salem, concludes affairs with the overbearing sense of suffocating frustration and desperate anger at society that permeates the entire album.
Who wins in this round of West Coast-East Coast beef? Although I appreciate the fun energy of Slave to the Sword, I can't help but be more impressed with Revocation's ability to evoke more complex emotions and craft a more meaningful lyrical and musical statement. Plus, shouldn't death metal be depressing? The boys from Boston advance!
Arse returns tonight with The Austerity Program vs... Steel Panther.