Sometimes I just want to be demolished by a record, to be buried in its brutality. Sometimes I want to be bludgeoned with nonstop riffs, and for that, I always look to death metal. This genre lives at 100—songs are soaked in emotional gasoline and set alight in raging infernos of aggressive, unrelenting musicianship. The latest death metal album to bash my brains in is Haunted by Cruelty, the new EP by WA outfit Sentient Divide, and it certainly lands some powerful punches.
As soon as you press play, Haunted By Cruelty erupts like a volcano of brutality. The drums rage with thundering double-bass and furtive, booming rolls, often sprinting into an extended blastbeat that leaves my arms tired just listening. Layered guitars roar with distortion and high-gain squeals, as their chord progressions fill the sonic space with tone and color. A grim punchy bass drives along with the guitar melodies, even slipping some grumpy chords into the mix to punctuate certain notes. Viscous growls and snarling screams surf above this driving musical maelstrom, the vocals sometimes lower in pitch than the basslines beneath it, and always roaring like some pissed off ancient beast.
As Haunted by Cruelty attests, Sentient Divide are very skilled musicians, and this extends into their overall compositions as well. While much of the record is full-speed-ahead tremolo picking and cut beats, the band fills the spaces between those blast-attacks with dynamic shifts and rhythmic changes. The syncopated breakdowns in “Sacred Kill” and the title track push headbanging grooves front and center. High melodics and chuggy chord hits provide rhythmic breathers between the onslaughts of speedpicked progressions. Even small changes in the programming add infinite depth to Haunted by Cruelty: a droning French horn at the end of the title track sounds like a distant war horn, signaling the incoming doom that is “Ancient Dominion,” while the brief drop of all distortion before the coda of “Eternal Conviction” serves to ramp up the energy into the tune’s final bout of riffing.
The aspect of this record that has me most excited is actually the mix. The technician behind this record is an artist in their own right for the extremely effective way this album is put together. Every instrument sits in its proper place; there is no clashing between the cymbals and the strings, and every drum hit can easily be felt. The belligerent and guttural vocals sit comfortably low, like a supporting roar that accents the frenetic guitar melodies.
And the bass! Rather than being blended or buried in the low-tuned, high-gain guitars, the bass hunches in the very center of the mix, growling with overdrive and high note twang. It’s a baffling notion, but Haunted By Cruelty is the very first time I could truly and constantly pick out a bass guitar’s tone on a death metal record. Rather than just lumping their instruments together as so many acts do, Sentient Divide ensures each instrument has a space all its own, making for a dynamic and exciting listening experience.
Though at times a little one-note, Haunted by Cruelty is most definitely a formidable listen. Sentient Divide demolish their instruments over the course of its five tracks, peppering syncopated patterns and vicious grooves among an onslaught of driving death metal goodness. With relentless leads and crushing beats, Haunted by Cruelty sounds like the soundtrack to an army of demons marching towards heaven, ready to pull the angels down into the abyss. If you’re not careful, this record will run you down and trample you: so get to moving.
My Top Track: “Ancient Dominion”
Haunted by Cruelty is out through Expansion Abyss Records and Bloodless Dawn Records; grab some physicals through Sentient Divide’s Bandcamp page. For upcoming shows and band news, follow Sentient Divide on Facebook.