At the Plates – Omnivore


Virginia trio, At the Plates, released one of the greatest parody titles with their 2020 debut album, Starch Enemy. As purveyors of death metal and connoisseurs of unhealthy cuisine, these fast-food loving metalheads get to combine their two favourite things in the world. Of course, they’re a dream for any aspiring reviewer with a taste for puns and food analogies, but does their culinary death metal cut the mustard (oops)?

The flames ignite at the gas cooker and the boiling pans spill over in the opening seconds of ‘With Their Cutlets, He’ll Marinate’ before a dissonant guitar arpeggio drowns them out and brings in a growled vocal. The drums simmer like pasta shells on full heat as the bass provides the low-end grind. You can feel the heat on your forehead when the band rip into a fast melodeath rhythm at 01:30 as if their name is not already a sufficient homage to At the Gates. Imagine feeling hungry enough to experience this level of gluttony. You could eat the face off a child in your crazed state. Tyler McCarthy’s guitar solos are as tasty as a succulent steak dripping in peppercorn sauce.

There’s a savage menace to Mario Alejandro’s voice transgressions throughout this record, and not in the usual monotone pitch of Cannibal Corpse. ‘Kitchen Gone’ displays some serious death metal posturing in the opening double-kick rhythms. It’s true that you can feel the saliva building in your taste buds even if the tremolo riffs drill through the speakers like a field engineering team fracking for oil. Those distorted arpeggios sound like butter dissolving in a frying pan. Make no mistake: At the Plates want you to head-bang with your arm spikes gleaming and your face engaged in a teeth-baring grimace. Yet the sheer velocity of the word-delivery backfires, like trying to squeeze garden peas onto an overloaded roast dinner platter.

The greatest asset of At the Plates is their humour. You’ve no appreciation for comedy if you sit through the chorus of ‘Punish My Waistline’ with a straight face. Sharp riffing and metronomic drums lead up to the chorus like a waitress emptying a jug of wine. Listen to the way Mario Alejandro tunes his voice to a special pleading of grisly self-hatred. “I feel the bloating reaching critical levels / A mass above what this frame can securely hold / I tell myself that this is all okay / But in reality, I look like a bouquet.” Sometimes, the scenarios are beyond ridiculous. ‘Roastwell 47’ starts with a tremendous force of double-kick beats and Gojira riffing but might be the strangest fantasy in metal folklore. How about being abducted by aliens and forced to eat their extraterrestrial food?

On a serious level, At the Plates are gifted musicians with wides tastes ranging from Behemoth’s brand of blackened death metal to the distinctive Swedish melodeath sound of the 1990s. The heavy delay effects in the opening arpeggio passages of ‘Terminal Filet Disease’ light up in the mist like Devin Townsend’s iconic guitar tone on Ocean Machine: Biomech. Here, the band lean towards doom metal until 02:30, when the drums gear up to match the change in guitars. Yet there’s a serious message behind this song: “We fail to think about the consequence / An ever present need to consume / Brought upon by this age of abundance / But we must recognize – convenience has become our downfall.” A vicious intrusion of sludgy metal chugging at 04:15 conjures images of a lobster thrashing in a boiling pot. The trio’s decision to invite former thrash metal guitarist and elected Virginian Democrat delegate, Danica Amore (ex-Cab Ride Home), to contribute vocals only adds to the fun.

Like all death metal albums, you must ask at what point your eyes become bigger than your belly. ‘Open Buffet Surgery’ at track seven is a prime candidate, despite the promising start of fast single-stroke rolls and jarring guitars. At the Plates navigate through the modern Cannibal Corpse catalogue here, yet it could also pass for Suicide Silence when they hit you square on the nose. The bass sounds like a car engine in aquaplaning mode. An instrumental before it (see ‘Omnivore’) ought to have prepared you for a second wind with clean guitar passages that call out like forlorn words to an incomprehensible future world.

Fortunately, At the Plates save their homage to Carcass for track eight with the mischievous, ‘Incarnated Syrup Abuse’. This evil thrash metal assault thrives on spit-soaked vocals before the band steer into the chorus like Dark Tranquillity at their mid-90s best. The drummer stays disciplined on this track, keeping within a standard double-timing beat until he accelerates the footwork in the chorus. “I am the incarnated syrup abuser / My only goal is to consume this amber gold,” roars Mario Alejandro.

So, what does the dessert taste like? Closing track, ‘Northern Frites’, is hard to swallow, even if the taste buds can handle more. Intense blast beats vibrate like a jacket potato beyond its microwavable limit of heat. Seven minutes of this bludgeoning is like a riff salad with no condiments to enhance the flavour. The shredding guitar solo at 04:30 gains your attention for a brief moment before you go back into your food coma. Did At the Plates cook any dishes you’ve never tasted before? The answer is no, but they did the job of satiating your appetite.

Perhaps they can add more spice next time…

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 05/01/2024

Record Label: Self-released

Standout tracks: Punish My Waistline, Terminal Filet Disease, Incarnated Syrup Abuse

Suggested Further Listening: Death Decline – The Thousand Faces of Lies (2018), At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995), Carcass – Torn Arteries (2021)