Sweden’s Mr Death are back with their second full-length, Descending Through Ashes. Directly following 2010’s Death Suits You, Descending Through Ashes is even dirtier and less refined than that record, whose production was hardly crystal clear. Everything here sounds gloriously yucky; Alex Stjärnfeldt and Stefan Lagergren’s guitars scrape around grainily, the notes limping after the initial attack as if the amp they’re being played through is seriously unwell; even the held powerchords of ‘Bloodfalls’ don’t escape sounding diffuse and unpleasant. This is doubly true of the bass, and while the kick has been triggered, the rest of the drums are relatively unprocessed – the snare booms and rattles and the overheads are harsh and abrasive.
The band’s songwriting remains undiminished though; the standard old-school death repertoire of tremolo-picked minor runs and chunky, keyless chug rubbing shoulders with the pleasant rhythmic bounce of old-school punk and a concise, yet sophisticated sense of structure and arrangement. Take, for example, ‘To Armageddon’ – which has the kind of groove that will have your head bobbing rather than banging – or ‘Stillborn In A Dying World’, which boasts a hauntingly malevolent piano intro which gives way to very inventive semi-melodicism and finally to more traditionally relentless sections.
Jocke Lindström’s throaty bark is present as ever, and while his contribution does nothing to harm the album, it doesn’t make the record either. The man is a capable vocalist, but none of the hooks on this album are based around the vocals, and without wanting to demean him, his vocals are nothing special, and could really be handled by any competent death metal vocalist. For me, the real hero of this album is drummer Jonas Ohlsson. He isn’t hitting the ball out of the park on a technical level, but his inventive and tasteful grooves provide the connective tissue between the muscular guitar and bass riffs, acting in many cases to turn what would be an above-average or good riff into a great riff. A lot of the old school death metal I hear has drummers who play overly simplistically, whose only beats are simply straight double kick with a choice of two different snare feels, meat and potatoes blasting or simple rock beats. Ohlsson breaks out of this, allowing what would be odd chord changes and abrupt dynamic shifts to flow more organically, as well as playing drum parts that are interesting in and of themselves.
Descending Through Ashes is a good album, but its excessively grimy production renders it a far from easy listen. That’s actually quite refreshing though; it’s not something you can just throw on in the background, the unpleasantness of the sound quality works with the interesting music to encourage you to listen actively and gives the recording a character all of its own. Mr Death are making much more intelligent death metal than the average old-school band; let’s just see them write hookier vocals and they’ll be perfect.