Convulse – Deathstar


Convulse were one of the first bands to come out of the Finnish death metal scene in the early 90s but were always one of the most unusual. Their bizarre 1994 death metal hip-swayer, Reflections, saw a release via Relapse Records before they called it quits not long after. Come 2012, they decided to reunite and revisit their original death metal sound with 2013’s Evil Prevails record. It won the respect of the underground for its raw brutality and progressive forays, but they decided to explore a progressive death ‘n’ roll sound with 2016’s Cycle of Revenge, which proved to be as bewildering as it was ambitious. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a different band.

Fans of Convulse’s death metal legacy are in for a harsh dose of medicine with Deathstar. Apart from the vocals, there is nothing evil or savage about this record. If you want some fast tremolo-riffs like Benediction or some goregrind drum accents from the Autopsy school, you should check out the French death metal bands on XenoKorp Records or the latest Exhumed release. The band stated their aim with Deathstar was to write a successor record to their landmark 1994 opus, but they fall well short with this effort. Not because the music is dull and inspiring or more slanted towards the classic rock of Led Zeppelin. Reflections combined the extravagant guitar work of the 1970s gods with a heavy metal stew of harsh vocals, pentatonic blues rock and punk. Deathstar does the same but drops the spazzing dynamics for an Opeth approach. In other words, an interpretation of 70s rock with a metallic aesthetic.

It all starts with promise. ‘Extreme Dark Light’ thrives on a Black Sabbath ‘Children of the Grave’ riff as the foundation for the superb lead melodies that follow. These give the brooding rhythms an impressive effulgence that would light up a stadium of psychedelic rock fans and stoners alike. ‘Whirlwind’ goes one step further and asks how Tool would interpret the holy grail of 1970s progressive rock. But it’s clear what the problem is by the time we reach the third track, ‘The Summoning’. The music is well-crafted and full of intrigue, but the vocals are feeble. Why bother to retain the dry death metal rasp of the vocals if you’re unable to match Mikael Åkerfeldt. Compositions of this sophistication demand more than a half-hearted growl. Double-track them, enhance them in the studio, make them bark like the devil’s guard dog, but don’t add them as an afterthought with no passion or aggression.

‘We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘N’ Roll’ is atrocious. Reflections included a few weird punk moments and humorous party tangents among the death ‘n’ roll, but Rami Jämsä’s voice is pathetic on this latest effort. The same thing happens on ‘Make Humanica Great Again’, which combines some magnificent interplay between ringing arpeggiated chords and expressive bass scales only for the vocals to spoil everything with their emotionless drawl. Only on ‘Chernobyl’ do they remind us of their former glories. This is a mix of chunky metal riffs and 1950s pop guitars in the mould of Mr Bungle with a set of pipes that dare to register a note beyond a droning E2.

Listening back to 1994’s Reflections, reminds you how much energy, genre-hopping and demented humour Convulse put into their death ‘n’ roll blues all those years ago. Unfortunately, Deathstar is a pastiche of mature progressive music with uninspiring vocals and a substandard Opeth outlook. Many will prefer the macabre brilliance of 1991’s World Without God or 2013’s Evil Prevails any day over this affair.

The message is clear: hire a competent rock singer to give this instrumentation the respect and sophistication it deserves. The metal world still needs Convulse, but it needs them firing on at least one cylinder.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 30/10/2020

Record Label: Transcending Records

Standout tracks: Extreme Dark Light, Chernobyl, Light My Day

Suggested Further Listening: Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear (2020), Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (1973), Opeth – Heritage (2011)