Premonitions of War / Benumb
n punk and metal, lo-fi production values aren't necessarily a bad thing. Raw, dirty sound can help convey angst and energy, as well as make records sound more "underground." On this split CD by Premonitions of War and Benumb, though, a bit more polish would have helped.
Ohio's Premonitions of War contributes four songs here, and the sound quality is shockingly bad, even by underground metal standards. The songs sound like they were recorded on a cassette tape; the sound is muddy, boxy, and dull, with little stereo separation. This is a shame, as two of the songs, "Written In" and "A Useless Language," are brief but brutal grindcore, with heavy, vicious breakdowns sure to incite moshpit mayhem.
The other two songs are lumbering, downtuned covers of "Mississippi Queen" and "Born Under a Bad Sign." Premonitions of War has always had a bluesy side, but with their noodly solos and cookie monster vocals, these covers seem like jokes. Still, the idea of hardcore kids karate chopping to Mountain and Albert King is hard to resist.
California's Benumb contributes nine songs of blistering grindcore on this disc. The production here is a little better, although the guitars are buried in the mix, and the kick drum is too loud. The snare drum is comically tinny; not since Helmet's Betty has a snare sounded so pitched-up and ping-y.
But the vocals are clear and prominent, and vocals are what set Benumb apart from other grindcore bands. Instead of the usual low death growl, singer Pete Pontikoff has an anguished midrange scream that sounds like an office worker gone raving mad after one too many staff meetings. Indeed, his vocal delivery is more like a stream of consciousness rant that happens to have paint-peeling metal underneath.
Pontikoff has plenty to be pissed off about, judging from song titles such as "0% Down Enslavement for Life," "Free Trade Abolishment," and "Christmas Morning in the House of Poverty Two Weeks After Bi-Partisan Procrastination on a State and Local Level Failed to Provide Extensions on Existing Unemployment Claims, Before Leaving on Paid Holiday Vacation," a Fiona Apple-esque title that almost takes longer to read than the song's 30-second length.
Obviously, Benumb has a social conscience. How effective is a message, though, if no one can understand it? The lyrics are unintelligible amongst the screamed vocals, and the liner notes provide lyrics to only one song. Despite his rants against oppressive free trade and systemic inefficiency, Pontikoff is an Army reservist currently serving in Iraq. There's a lot going on here, and deciphering politics through song titles seems incongruous for such bluntly forceful music.
In contrast to the lo-fi production is the album's incredible artwork. Relapse Records in-house artist Orion Landau pulled out all the stops here. The cover image is a decaying face curtained by a Medusa-like tangle of computer cables. The background is a textured photo of business-suit-wearing drones. The layout is clean, the reds are fierce, and the overall design rivals Landau's amazing artwork for Nile's Annihilation of the Wicked.
For both bands, the production holds back what is otherwise solid material here. Better introductions to these bands would be Premonitions of War's spectacular Left in Kowloon, and Benumb's By Means of Upheaval, which carries on the socially conscious grindcore tradition of Napalm Death, Nasum, and Dying Fetus. However, this CD is worth it for the artwork alone, and should tide fans over until the bands' next full-lengths.