Once a musician reaches an apex of some kind—celebrity, influence, infamy—they tend to rest on their laurels a bit. Their subsequent output becomes a frail skeleton of their former work, and their talent and drive to excel as a musician plateaus.
Along with their stale musings, whatever they did to be deemed “inventive” usually becomes an old trick they abuse until the mystery is gone. Instead of treading new paths of inspiration, they become slaves to what’s expected of them. None of this equates to less success or fanfare, of course. It’s just kind of a bummer. That’s the one side of the coin that comes up more often than not, but on the flip, you will find dedicated, professional musicians like guitarist and vocalist Matt Harvey, whose passion for metal seems infinite.
Harvey formed goremongers Exhumed in 1990 when he was 15 years old. From there, the band released a slew of demos, splits, and seminal goregrind and death metal albums like Gore Metal and Slaughtercult. Despite carving a name for himself in the collective metal consciousness, Harvey hasn’t stopped with just the influence Exhumed created. Within the last three years or so, he formed Gruesome, heaved three solid homages to Chuck Schuldiner’s Death into the ether, and he manned the mic for an EP from Expulsion, a new project featuring guitarist Matt Olivo of Repulsion fame, entitled Nightmare Future. Harvey also has a more traditional heavy metal iron in the fire with Pounder. From one project to the next, Harvey seems to always be pushing himself and keeping things interesting.
Since Harvey has expanded his repertoire, it serves to reason that when he decided to go back and record a new Exhumed album, the band’s sound might consist of more than the usually hack and splatter. Enter Death Revenge, a magnum opus that sees a much more ambitious Exhumed.
Like any good concept record, Death Revenge begins with an overture. A creepy, tinkling piano and string section forewarn the listener of the horror to come. From there, Death Revenge recounts a grisly tale that took place in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1820s where murder and grave robbery were perpetrated for the sake of medical science. Not that it really matters what the lyrics say since the sneering, frog-in-throat vocals don’t allow for too much deciphering, but the subject fits Exhumed like a coffin fits a corpse. The haunting, orchestral interludes and intense arterial spray of riffs take care of filling you in on where the story is going.
As expected, Death Revenge is engorged with splattering goregrind that any die hard Exhumed fan will eat up like chum. However, the songs on Death Revenge extend way past blast beats and buzzsaw riffs. Harvey clearly took a lot of cues from his Schuldiner studying in Gruesome. There are gobs of skillfully executed guitar harmonizing and epic solos from lead guitarist Bud Burke that harken to Death’s Symbolic or The Sound Of Perseverance albums. There really aren’t any blistering, two-minutes-and-change barnburners on the record. Each song is methodically put together in an often unexpected way. The crushing, mid-tempo “Night Work” seemingly ends after two verses and choruses, when suddenly it explodes into a triple-time, whammy bar solo out of nowhere. It’s one of those moments where you will have to listen again to make sure you actually heard what you think you heard, and upon every listen after the first, have you shaking your head and saying, “Fuck,” either internally or out loud.
If goregrind isn’t your bag, that’s understandable. But for a band that sharpened their teeth on said sub-genre, Death Revenge is flying leap into so much more. Holding Exhumed up to their former work is like holding butcher knife up to a chainsaw. Honestly, which one is really gonna get the job done for you?