Landmine Marathon demolish senses on ‘Gallows’

I like an album that sounds like a 50-trucks-full-of-gasoline demolition derby. As much as I like spacious, atmospheric stuff, and as I get older, that tends to be my preference, I still dig a collection of songs that feels like war is being made and there’s true, bloody attrition.

That leads me to Landmine Marathon, who have been making crust-and-grind-stained death metal only since 2004, are one of those bands that seem to have won unanimous approval with those who have seen them live. They already have four full-length albums to their credit, as well as splits with Scarecrow and Funeral Pyre, and haven’t made their name by just sitting around. They’ve been road warriors in a time when, because of insane gas prices, it cannot be an easy thing to do. But they’ve done it, and show by show, person by person, they’ve developed a reputation as one of metal’s most vicious, exciting young bands.

My issue with Landmine Marathon has been their studio output. Not all of it, mind you. I love their 2006 debut “Wounded” and am pretty sure I was listening to that bastard from the moment it came out (granted, I was lucky to have a promo from Level Plane), and the follow-up “Rusted Eyes Awake” was a decent outing, though not quite up to par with the first one. Level Plane originally released that disc, too, but it was reissued by Prosthetic once the band signed a deal with the indie metal powerhouse. Last year, the band offered up “Sovereign Descent,” their actual Prosthetic debut and one of the most anticipated records of last year, from an underground metal standpoint. I know I was excited to finally hear it, and once I did, my hopes were deflated. It just didn’t get my juices flowing at all, and I blame most of that on the compositions. They sounded mailed in (though I’m sure they weren’t) and kind of uninteresting, something I never dreamed I’d say about this band. Over time and subsequent listens, my opinion hasn’t changed, and when I go back now, I still don’t find a lot about it that holds my attention.

But that was 2010, and this is now. Their new record “Gallows” is an absolute ripper, the heaviest and most explosive of their run. It’s a burly assassin. It’s that demolition derby I mentioned in the opening. Almost like how their last record drained my excitement from the first listen, this one ignited a fire in me from the first time I pressed play, revealing a band that has no interest in playing it safe or regurgitating the same thing over and again. Yes, they still have an unabashed affinity for the early Earache years in their music, and you’ll still probably get kicked in the face by singer Grace Perry if you get too close, but they’ve freshened up the guitar lines, added some doom and power metal flourishes, and the drum work is just nasty. Oh, and Perry is a fire-breathing she-demon, growling and shrieking in a way no human should be able to do without permanent throat damage. Here’s hoping her pipes are in good shape.

We get rolling with opener “Three Snake Leaves,” a classic death metal-laced anthem, where Perry howls, “Bury me alive,” as the rest of her bandmates sound like they’re ready for a battle. “Cutting Flesh and Bone” has a punk flavor to it, and a spastic one at that,  and “Cloaked in Red” is built in the same fashion. “Knife From My Sleeve” boils in a cauldron of doom, with Perry going more guttural with her vocals, and there are some guitar flourishes toward the end that remind me of Nile. Closer “Morbidity” also reeks of the same stench, with some wicked guitar lines over top. “Liver and Lungs” is a gorefest that would make Pig Destroyer jealous; “Dead Horse” is ravaging and thrashy; and “Beaten and Left Blind” has a bit of a hardcore groove that, at times, gushes into speed metal fury. It’s an astonishingly good record where every player showed up with her or his best, and I can’t state enough how much I like the guitars. They sounds great, they shred and slice, they gnaw on crust and filth, and they help elevate these songs to greatness.

Landmine Marathon always seemed like a band whose live fury would surpass their studio work, and there’s no sin in that. In fact, it’s great when you go see a band you already like on the strength of their records and are just flattened when you experience them on stage. But with “Gallows,” the band is proving they’re just as capable of boiling flesh making a record as they are reinterpreting their songs live. It’s the best thing they’ve done since “Wounded,” and I keep going back and forth on whether this new disc is the superior album. It just may be, and perhaps once I get to see the band live in support of “Gallows,” my mind will be made up for good. Until then, I’ll enjoy the carnage spilling from my speakers.

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