It’s great news for Combichrist fans in the US, as the band head out on their ‘Blood, Lust, Death Tour’ with Dope later this month. So, to gear up for them hitting the road again, Loud-Stuff have been given a fantastic opportunity to revisit and review their latest album ‘This Is Where Death Begins’.
Before moving on to the review itself, it has to be said that a number of songs on this album convert extremely well to the live gig environment, having supported the release with a European Tour last year. For some of the Loud-Stuff staff that were lucky enough to attend their show in Bristol, the new material complimented the energetic, no-nonsense party vibe that emanated so passionately back-and-forth between band and audience.
One of the first things of note is that ‘This Is Where Death Begins’ is arguably the heaviest studio album to date and has an increasingly Metal influence, moving away from the grass-roots of its purely Electronic foundations. This is partly due to the fact that Oumi Kapila (Filter guitarist) co-produced the album with Andy and it was Oumi’s influence that helped provide a heavier, guitar-driven sound this time around. Whilst this deviation has received a fair share of negative feedback from a handful of EBM and Harsh Electro stalwarts, I completely understand and support the need for the band to progress. Looking at this from a musician’s standpoint, whenever the feeling arises that either the sound or the band itself has run its course, it’s time to consider options, look to other influences and other avenues. Despite the change of direction, the electronic elements are still very much present in this album, albeit in a different form and style – after all, it’s part of the band’s foundation and would be a shame to remove the electronic elements outright.
Opening with ‘We Are The Plague’, this is a dark, venomous Heavy Metal track with an infectious vocal hook and chugging guitar riff at its core, which mixes nicely, straight into the up-tempo, stand-out track ‘My Life My Rules’ with its equal measure of infectious riffing and chant-along lyrics.
‘Skullcrusher’ is another stand-out song, with its catchy riffs and galloping rhythm heard right from the get-go. As well as being great listening at home or on the move, this song is perfectly suited to Combichrist’s live shows. Practically purpose-built for gigs, it’s guaranteed to drive the live crowds into a frenzy and provides the album another stand-out song to boot.
The most vitriolic track on the album has to be ‘Destroy Everything’. The lyrics are delivered ferociously with such seething distain and venomous anger towards Andy’s intended target. Vocally, it’s got emotion by the bucket-load, although some may find the frequent, strong language a little too much to handle. Strings playing a Middle-Eastern melody are introduced towards the end of the song and for me personally, it’s the best part of the track. Many would probably disagree, but I would have enjoyed hearing more of this – sadly it’s appearance is very short-lived.
Catching me somewhat off-guard, there’s something about the instrumental aspect of ’Time Again’ that reminds me of One Minute Silence and yet tonally and vocally in the vain of 3Teeth. It’s partly tribal and mantra-like, whilst the drones and simplistic riffing has a powerful, hypnotic effect. This track may not have instant appeal but it’s definitely a grower.
Switching things up, as I mentioned previously, the electronics still play a part in the album. It’s worth pointing out that there are a selection of songs on the album that lean more towards Industrial or at least have a much stronger presence.
Beginning with ‘Glitchteeth’, this track features minimal, bass-heavy verses that draws the listener in, focussing largely on Andy’s vocal phrasing and lyrics, whilst the chorus is a harder, heavier guitar-driven affair. It’s one of their strongest tracks in terms of structure and its musical ebb & flow.
Next up is Industrial Metal track ‘Exit Eternity’ with its sinister, searing saw synths and tribal drumming to set a dark tone. The chorus on the other hand is tuneful and dramatic both vocally and instrumentally – the highlight for me. On the flip-side of this is ’Tired Of Hating You’, which begins with an atmospheric, gritty Industrial soundscape but surprises with an almost Thrashy guitar-driven chorus.
‘Don’t Care How You Feel About It’ is a full-on stomper that musically sits somewhere between Andy’s Panzer AG side-project and Mortiis. The clean vocals are perfectly suited to this sound and are simply a joy to listen to, whilst grimy, lo-fi synthesis, glitch effects and treated guitars further emphasise the heavily rhythmic feel.
The seething synth-line of ‘Blackened Heart’ brings back memories of the familiar harsh, Terror EBM sound of the mid-2000s, but mixed with the deep vocals and chugging guitar, it moves towards a Rammstein-like Industrial Metal domain.
Continuing the Electronic fusion, the bass-line of ‘Pay To Play’ is very reminiscent of a typical old-school EBM melody. Hearing such an established, recognisable melody ramped up with heavy Metal instrumentation is brilliantly refreshing!
Towards the album’s close, things get a little more experimental. ‘Slakt’ is perhaps one of the most surprising tracks on the album. During parts of the song there is a hypnotic vibe to it, yet this time with the addition of orchestration too. On the other hand there is slow-burning ’Black Tar Dove’, which is like some sort of melting-pot of Stoner Rock, Drone and Dark Country, but somehow it doesn’t end up sounding specifically like any of them. It’s an odd song for me to grasp if I’m completely honest, but I must admit that I do kinda like it.
Andy’s clean vocals return in ’Homeward’ to close the album, only this time he’s singing in a style more reminiscent of his previous band Icon Of Coil than that of Combichrist. Introspective in nature, dark in tone and beautifully composed and performed, the song grows heavier towards the close and even has a female vocal accompaniment for the final chorus. The song reaches a perfectly timed crescendo, providing a wonderful end to a strong album, from a band that is really establishing their sound and forming the foundations for a new and growing audience.
For fans of their early, purely electronic style, this may feel like too far of a departure from what they were once familiar with, as the band certainly seem to have placed much of the core danceable element of their sound firmly behind them. If this is in some way “where death begins” for the Combichrist sound of old, it’s time to decide whether you embrace the band’s evolution or accept this musical departure and move on. One thing is for certain though; there will be a growing Metal-centric audience ready to get on board and I sincerely hope they decide to experience at least one Combichrist gig (or should that be party?!) in their lifetime. Combichrist bring the energy on this album and will no doubt do so in the live environment too – they are notorious for their intense performances, always having fun on stage and engaging with their audience.
Combichrist’s latest album ‘This Is Where Death Begins’ is available now on Out Of Line Records.
Fans in North American can look forward to Combichrist supporting Dope on their upcoming ‘Blood, Lust, Death Tour’, heading across the US throughout February, March & April this year.
Full tour details and ticket information can be found on enterthevault.com, or via the official Combichrist Facebook page.