Bolt Thrower/Benediction vocalist Dave Ingram, along with Rogga Johansson and Dennis Blomberg from Paganizer are no strangers to death metal or even the idea of a side project. Ingram’s work in metal subgenres and even radio programming specifically show that he simply can’t escape the metal community (not that he’d want to). With more than a handful of metal ships sailing these days, the trio pioneer a fresh new project to further scratch that death metal itch. While it won’t set the world on fire and rarely changes itself up across its thirteen tracks, Down Among the Dead Men’s self-titled debut trims the fat from its bones, delivering a faster and overall better approach to the long-tread death metal genre.
Down Among the Dead Men is a mercilessly aggressive record. From start to finish, session drummer Erik R. Bevenrud produces a rapid, gatling gun fire of low-tuned drums, giving the album depth, while guitarists Dennis Blomberg and Rogga Johansson deliver incredibly heavy guitar rhythms, something straight from Messhugah or Fear Factory. Dave Ingram’s vocals are guttural and weighted, rarely differentiating in rhythm. The growls definitely signify the death metal standard, but they rarely achieve a complexity beyond the intense filler heard throughout the genre. It’s certainly a slam, but the layered approach of simply sitting atop such furious musicianship makes the vocals much less essential than they should be.
Down Among the Dead Men is brutal all the way through, but that is its biggest shortcoming. Despite the Messhugah-esque guitar rhythms and suffocating percussion, the album rarely deviates from its heaviness. While that’s nothing new for rhythmic metal, the number of standout moments is terribly miniscule. Melody is clearly not the focus, because aside from toned guitar solos in songs like “Bones of Contention” and “Venus Mantrap”, the album is weight first, pitch later. The band does remedy the single-note vibe by making the songs briefer than their peers do. With a punk rock pace and a blistering metal shade overhead, Down Among the Dead Men remedy the intensity by keeping their songs concise enough that they don’t blend together in a jumbled, single-piece mess. Out of all of the songs on the album, only one cracks three minutes, making the album much easier to digest than others in its genre. However, the lack of standout tracks still creeps along and the appeal is very singular by the final chord.
The rare instances of fully explicit virtuosity appear in songs like “A Handful of Dust”, whose amazing use of guitar groove is a breath of fresh air from the slamming, percussive riffs. “Adolescence of Time” also demonstrates some great guitar work from Blomberg and Johansson, and once again, “Venus Mantrap” stands tall. “Venus Mantrap” also possesses an exceptional blend of beat with guitar intricacy, where Bevenrud’s drums keep a steady pace reminiscent of heavy doom metal than the punk-infused death brew the band shows across the rest of the album. Sadly, these moments of differentiation are limited by the abundance of death metal fundamentals.
Down Among the Dead Men is sure to appeal to anyone who got hooked on Ingram and Johansson’s previous projects, but its rapid-fire percussion does bring a nice edge of thrashy punk to the mix. The rhythms are still the star of the show, with blistering drums and pounding guitar riffs. However, the intricacy is lacking, as Down Among the Dead Men extends its prowess well beyond the limits of its seams. It’s concise and furiously composed, which are still excellent qualities that set them above their peers, but it still drags on too long for a death metal album. All in all, Down Among the Dead Men may have its recurrent flaws and hesitance to stand out, but by trimming the songs down and keeping the rhythms on full view, it still manages to be a good debut that surpasses many of its peers in quality.