Knives of Ice
traight-up death metal can look quaint next to today's metal hybrids like "blackened death," "doom death," or the myriad "-core"’s. Sure, cross-breeding is probably healthier for metal than in-breeding, but sometimes one just wants the basics: guttural vocals, downtuned shredding, blastbeats, and unreadable logos. A few old-school pioneers like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide are still going strong, but few second-generation practitioners are ably carrying the torch. To a list that includes Nile and Hate Eternal, add Dim Mak, who has been around just as long as those two bands, but whose infrequent output has largely escaped notice. Knives of Ice should change this.
Dim Mak, named for the "death touch" martial art of attacking the body's pressure points, formed in the '90s from the entrails of New Jersey band Ripping Corpse (they just don't make band names like that anymore). Ripping Corpse's most famous alumnus was guitarist Erik Rutan, who went on to play in Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal. Rutan produced Dim Mak's Intercepting Fist, which featured martial arts-inspired lyrics over technical death metal in the vein of Morbid Angel and Suffocation.
Knives of Ice retains that same style, but with better songs and sound. Scott Ruth's vocals are strong, if monochromatic. Closer to a hardcore punk bark than the usual death growl, Ruth's delivery is distinctively rhythmic. His vocals hold things down as riffs and drums fly about. The riffs are the true hooks here; "Great Worm of Hell" snakes through menacing grooves, and the deep, abstract chords of "Monolith" rival anything Morbid Angel has written. The Morbid Angel influence is strong, with twisted but catchy harmonies that take a few listens to sink in. John Longstreth, of Origin and Angel Corpse fame, provides lightning-fast, rock-solid drumming. Occasional moments are derivative, such as the Morbid Angel-esque jazzy break in "Devil Finding Mirror" and the Krisiun-meets-Nile "Weakener," but in general, the songs are tight, concise no-frills death metal.
Knives of Ice's sound is similar to that of Hate Eternal's masterpiece I, Monarch, which Rutan also produced. The drums sound natural, the guitar tones are thick, and the mix is warm and easy on the ears. It isn't quite Cannibal Corpse's juggernaut Kill, but it hits hard, and is a refreshing change from the over-polished production that's plagued metal lately. Rutan's production has steadily improved over the years, and if his name appears on a project now, it is probably worth hearing. The same goes for Dim Mak.