So long, subtlety, I hardly knew ye. Montreal’s Beneath the Massacre never met a nuance it didn’t scoff at. And so the band’s third release, Dystopia, continues undaunted down the same oppressive path to brutality as the debut LP, Mechanics of Dysfunction (2007), with the same alternation of tech-metal wheedly-wheedly and hardcore brummmm-brummmm. Dystopia sets standards for future Guitar Hero champions and soundtracks your fantasy mosh pit. It also gets tired real quick — and sounds as sterile as an emasculated donkey.
An analogy from the world of love: You know those new relationships that fizzle out as soon as the initial rush of passion subsides? That’s the kind of death metal that Beneath the Massacre specialize in. “Condemned” and “Our Common Grave” immediately strafe ears with the robotic blasting of drummer Justin Rousselle and obscenely fast sprays of guitar/bass on diminished 7th chords from brothers Christopher and Dennis Bradley. It’s an impressive display of annihilating technique, on par with Origin’s most over-the-top mow-downs, but there’s not much in the way of quality songwriting lurking (ahem) beneath the massacre.
Set against all that inhuman blasting is its antithesis, the knuckle-dragging breakdown. Christ, Beneath the Massacre dig that shit. They were so excited about the monster one at the end of “Reign of Terror” that they couldn’t be bothered to write a transition into it. When you’re this good at bringing the heavy, why bother with songwriting at all? That’s what Beneath the Massacre ask on “No Future,” which comprises a single breakdown and that’s it.
So fervently does the band love the breakdown at the end of “Never More,” from their Evidence of Inequity EP (2005), that they brought it back here for another go-round. Are these pit-pandering gimmicks or welcome oases of spaciousness in an otherwise dense-as-poundcake album? Probably a bit of both. Vocalist Elliot Desgagnés sounds at home during all these one-note bouts of punishing heaviness, saying stuff like “I can stare at the enemy/ In the mirror’s reflection” in his one-note gorilla roar.
Dystopia bests its predecessor by letting in brief flashes of light from outside the brutal-box. There’s a real attempt at expansion on “Bitter,” which fully integrates the band’s typical blitzkrieg ‘n’ floor-punch approach with strains of baroque melody, reminiscent of Montreal labelmates Neuraxis. It shows that Beneath the Massacre still slays when chops are channeled somewhere other than outright brutality.
Even the bright moments are strangled by Dystopia’s strangely clinical recording/mixing/mastering job by the normally top-notch trio of Yannick St.-Amand, Jason Suecof and Alan Douches. Tapped guitar notes tickle when they should flay skin; riffs slice cleanly instead of gouging and festering; just like on Mechanics of Dysfunction, every element of Rousselle’s kit sounds like a digital typewriter.
If that’s the whole point, then bravo, Beneath the Massacre have recorded an album as cold as the mechanically produced fetus on the cover. But considering their lyrics are so concerned with our loss of humanity in the face of a technological age, Beneath the Massacre should be the last band to excise the soul from their recordings.