Convulse - World Without God (Relapse/Riot)

One of my most frequent complaints with metal, across many genres, is an obsession with sounding old-school. As an outspoken proponent of innovation, it pains me to see so many talented bands saying "anything we do has already been done before and better". Imagine, then, my surprise at a band with what can only be described as an old-school sound who sound fresh and original in 2010 - despite the album being originally released in 1992.

Convulse's World Without God, from its particularly Stockholmesque piano intro through to the vaguely Floridan sounds of closer Powerstruggle of Belief is an album that has a sound incredibly difficult to pin down, and succeeds for it.  The Finnish band largely relies on a mid-paced chug which fits finely with the rugged but never challenging production.  The guitar tone, too, doesn't fit neatly within any of death metal's normal pigeonholes (carrying with it a bit of the famous Stockholm buzzsaw but with a clipped, treble feel which brings Morbid Angel's early work to mind) - yet it serves perfectly for driving along this varied collection of riffs.

And it's an impressively handled variety, too: unlike Entombed, who (despite being easily one of my favourite death metal bands of all time) tend to group all the black metalish riffs in one song, all the bluesy riffs in another and the doom ones in a third etc. Convulse have all of their riffs scattered liberally about the album, without the album sounding too samey and flowless, or the individual songs sounding schizophrenic in the way early Florida and New York death metal often tends to.  Convulse are hardly Opeth, but there's more than enough variety and spice in their death metal meat 'n' three veg to keep the album interesting all the way through - and it sounds remarkably consistent for that.

If I had to make a criticism - and I wouldn't be much of a critic if I didn't - it would be that for all its appropriation and absorption of some of the best features of a variety of death metal sounds, Convulse never quite reach the brutality levels of their counterparts in more well-established death metal subgenres.  Oh, sure, the closing minute and a half of Blasphemous Verses is fast and furious, and there's a few bastard-heavy Obituary-sounding riffs rolling around in there. 

But even at its heaviest and most crushing, Convulse pales before both the legends of death metal and a number of the genre's young pups.  Most death metal bands who do have this kind of mid-range sound are more likely to speed up and go for a more deathrash sound, which suits this kind of riffing and guitar sound (see Desaster for how this works properly).  This probably comes back to the old-school thing: Convulse, for all their admirable consistency yet variety, probably never managed to nail down one sound they wanted.

There's also a distinct absence of anything hooky, or any truly memorable riffs - something which wouldn't be as important if the music was driven by its own relentless brutality, as in a lot of Polish and Australian-style death metal, but without that extremity to fall back on, the songs lack a certain something, and after the album's finished you'll struggle to remember how any of the riffs actually went.

All arbitrary complaints aside, however, Convulse's World Without God is a fine death metal album, which manages to sound old-school without sounding tired, unoriginal or old.

Convulse's World Without God is out now on Relapse/Riot.