Imagine, if you can, the combination of brutal death metal and black metal. Sure they seem like they might go well together, but in my experience, they are more like oil and water than grilled cheese and tomato soup. I like both of the genres well enough, I cut my teeth back in the day on brutal death metal like Deeds of Flesh, Infliction, and Devourment, but I will always consider myself a fan of black metal first. So what do I do when I am given a split concept album, not just a split but a concept split, that contains both brutal death metal and black metal? Krotchripper and Plaguebearer got together and made something. Is it something good? Something memorable? Let’s find out.
First some stray thoughts on the artwork and the bands themselves. One, Krotchripper might be one of the most ridiculous names in all of metaldom (though to be fair I have seen far worse) but the music is anything but goofy and cheesy. They like to call their brand of brutal music Trollgrind and I don’t see a single problem with that. Two, their logo is the typical undecipherable scribble of a monkey of speed but nonetheless I like it, it’s a contrast the stark simplicity of their counterparts here. Three, Plaguebearer sounds like a typical, run of the mill, black metal band name (in fact I think it’s been used at least three times but I can’t confirm that at the moment), but the name evokes a sense of seriousness, of dedication to the “ideals” of black metal. This trio seems very serious about their craft, that bodes well for the music ahead. Three, the album cover is completely stark so that has me wonder, does that mean anything in relation to the music, does it signify anything? When I start to do that I know I need to stop and simply listen to the music because I can go on for a very long time about absolute nonsense.
The two bands trade back and forth on the track list, first Krotchripper then Plaguebearer and so forth for about half an hour with each band getting four songs. I’m, like most of you probably, used to listening to splits that are all one band then all another instead of back and forth. Tracking back and forth like this keeps the listener a little off balance, reminding them every few minutes that this is a collaboration between two very different styles. Nonetheless, the unusual tracking works to their advantage. The album being a concept album of sorts, the two bands are telling two different stories that are interwoven together. The events that they are describing and recounting are the same but the perspective is wildly different. The story is the martyrdom, or punishment depending on the perspective of the listener, of a group of Christians (don’t look at me like that you knew what you were getting into with an album title like Feast Upon the Lamb) and what happens to them afterwards, I’ll give you a spoiler, it’s not pretty and it involves trolls. The story is compelling from Plaugebearer’s side of the album. Even if the themes aren’t groundbreaking or controversial (again depending on your level of anesthetization to black metal) the execution is top notch, especially for a very underground band. Krotchripper’s half of the album wasn’t quite so thematically challenging, it’s about trolls ripping into the flesh of the crucified. The storyline isn’t a complicated one, but it’s an interesting one. They know what they’re doing and they don’t fuck it up.
I love split albums because I can compare and contrast the talents and esthetics of two or three different bands at a time. This album was as much a black metal and death metal working together as it was black metal versus death metal. Each of the bands brought their “A” game to the split and that I appreciate more than anything. Splits that are cobbled together from older material and repackaged ought to be criminalized because it’s a huge disservice to fans, both new and old. Splits need not have the full strength of a full length album but they should show forth the best a band has to offer at that point. Splits are a way of finding new fans in new places (either through differences in the styles of the bands or the similarities) and it ought to be treated as such. Thankfully, both Krotchripper and Plaguebearer took this split seriously and gave it the time and effort that such a release deserves. I will say, however, that if it were a sort of battle, I would give the edge to Plaguebearer, not because I like black metal more than death metal (okay not completely) but because their material and their narrative was the more compelling of the two. Their sound was fuller and richer; the atmosphere they created, even though those atmospheres didn’t last more than six minutes, were more awe inspiring and imaginative.
Krotchripper was good, even if brutal death metal is no longer my cup of tea, I can still appreciate and value the sound and the work that went into creating that sound. It was brutal and chaotic, a miasma of riffs and breakdowns that would make any fan of the genre proud. Of the two bands, Krotchripper’s songs were actually the more headbanging worthy. They had a definite rhythm got the blood boiling with trollish rage. Krotchripper, if I’m being honest, is not a band that I would have found on my own, nor would it have been one that I would have picked out of a list of names. But because of the split, I was able to listen and gain a respect for them. I’m not sure how much I will listen to them after this, whether I will follow them closely or keep them on the periphery but for this one album, I was a fan.
Plaguebearer is definitely my speed. I hadn’t heard of them before but I was able to listen to their brand of nasty, visceral black metal with ease. Everything was on point for them. The vocals were tight, with that old style nasty hiss, the guitars were screechy and violent in their riffage. The music was technical and proficient, reminding me a lot of Anata of all bands. They don’t have a huge back catalogue for me to sift through but they have a future, that’s a certainty. I’ll give it my new, patent pending, stamp of Resounding Approval. Keep an eye on these guys, they have a future ahead of them for sure.
So there you have it! Not only a solid split from two unknown bands, but a solid split with a story behind it, not one that’s thrown together. This is exactly what I wanted to see and hear in a split. Neither band may be the next big thing in their respective genres, but for half an hour, they were the best damn thing you can hear. They knew what they were doing and what they wanted to set out to do. They set about doing something that was unique and memorable. Definitely give these guys and this split a listen. You won’t regret it.
Listen and support the music!