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It’s one of music’s great ironies that contemporary artists routinely emulate old recording techniques that were once thought to be subpar—a phenomenon that’s particularly prevalent in death metal. When bands like Repulsion, Autopsy, Carcass, and others first started recording in the mid-‘80s, the crude production values available to them resulted in sound quality that was, to put it kindly, often as murky as it was harsh. And, even as death metal production has grown exponentially more sophisticated over time, the ratty fidelity of the genre’s earliest offerings has never lost its appeal. Just ask the members of the Portland quartet Dripping Decay.
Led by guitarist Neil Smith (aka Maniac Neil), an avid death/grind/gore enthusiast who’s been immersed in the scene since the ‘90s, Dripping Decay celebrate that bygone point in the pop culture timeline when underground metal and independent horror films shared a renegade DIY mentality. And their full-length debut, Festering Grotesqueries, fully embodies those splatterhouse values.
Take the first track, “Autocannibal Ecstasy.” Opening with a moody, John Carpenter-esque synthesizer intro that underscores the band’s affinity for film music, it employs a guttural riffing style reminiscent of Repulsion’s proto-grind classic Horrified for a gruesome, and yet faintly satirical story involving an overeager cannibal feasting on their own flesh. Vocalist Eric Stucke springs into character, grunting, howling and bellowing: “Organs rushing from my wounds/ Thinking of the things I’ll do/ Things I couldn’t do to someone else/ I climax doing to myself.” Drummer Jason Borton, meanwhile, combines off-the-rails frenzy with rock-solid precision.
As fans steeped in the history of this music, Borton and company clearly recognize that extreme metal’s drumming pioneers—Chris Reifert, Mick Harris, Ken Owen, Gene Hoglan, etc.—initially groped their way forward, inventing a new approach to rhythm in real time. Borton is far too skilled a drummer to mimic the amateurism of early death metal, but he somehow dirties his playing just enough, stabilizing Festering Grotesqueries’s feverish dynamics without compromising on brute force. Pay close attention, though, on full-throttle tracks like “Barf Bag” and “Dissolve Me” and you’ll hear Borton accenting Smith’s riffs countless times with cymbal flourishes as he blasts away in perfect time.
Oddly, although Dripping Decay clearly like to keep it raw, engineers Derek Leisy and Vincent Detto capture the band with a startling clarity that simply wasn’t available at the time records like Horrified and Reek of Putrefaction were made. Stucke’s vocals in particular are (at times) surprisingly intelligible. If terms like “exmorphogenesis,” “permaculture,” and “adipocere” suggest an intellect lurking beneath the schlock, rest assured that Dripping Decay never let up on schlock value. The most memorable scene from Festering Grotesqueries sums up the band’s ethos best, when Stucke sings a Smith lyric about a murderous zombie descending on a bunch of “douchebags” partying in a cemetery on the title track.
Of course, these unsuspecting douches all die “limb from limb”—punished for “blasting shitty pop music” and “acting like clowns.” If there are any underlying points that Smith and Stucke are trying to make here, the two of them do a rather effective job of burying whatever adult insights they might have to offer. Like so much of the music it draws from, Festering Grotesqueries is most gripping when the band is at its most lighthearted.