As I sit down to start this review, it is difficult to know where to start. There is so much to say but to put it in a cogent and natural feeling flow of thought seems impossible, and it may be that I am not the best person to be writing this review, as I am so new to the genre of deathcore, but this is the task I am assigned, so write it I must.
Voluntary Mortification is one of the newest bands to be signed to Rottweiler Records. Initially, when the band’s signing was announced, I was reluctant to give them a chance, as their name struck me as a grab at the credibility of the LEGENDARY Christian Australian death metal band Mortification (which, admittedly, is a bit of a sacred cow for me). However, in watching the company’s social media pages over the past few months, the record company has been giving this band the seat of honor on the hype train, which naturally made my curiosity override the stigma of the band’s moniker.
Before the album’s release, the band had pre-released two tracks, Death Tremors and Silence, for people to sample on their Bandcamp page. Upon first listen, I became painfully aware that I was not ready to review this upcoming album as I was woefully under-experienced in the sub-genre of deathcore. To correct this inadequacy, I went on an album binge to establish a basis by which I could judge this album. This hoarding of deathcore and deathcore adjacent music resulted in my purchasing of around 25 albums (most of which digitally and inexpensively… thank you, Bandcamp). I discovered bands that the internet had declared as the pinnacle of Christian deathcore (Abated Mass of Flesh, Broken Flesh, Impending Doom, Blood of the Martyrs, etc…). With my base of knowledge firmly established as to what constituted the elite of the sub-genre; I pre-ordered the album (the physical copy as well as the digital, thank you again, Bandcamp) and waited for it to drop at midnight on 7/22/22…. little did I know, I was still woefully underprepared for what I was getting myself into.
Suffer to Rise is an 11-track concept album (an album of songs that are arranged to tell a complete story). According to the band’s Facebook page:
“Our first album is a concept album, “Suffer to Rise,” which follows the journey of a man who descends into Hell after a life of dissipation. The first part of that story is captured in our first song release, “Death Tremors”, a pummeling track with haunting lyrics depicting the angst of a soul who experiences the ultimate regret of a life lost because he rejected the graces of God.
Yet this protagonist, named Paul (after the apostle and saint), is given a chance to realize his mistake in rejecting God and His invitation for eternal bliss and glory. He emerges renewed and reinvigorated as a vindicator for Truth in a world that has lost its way, with an abundance of grace and a mission for the remainder of his life.”
The album’s initial track, The Wages of Sin, is more of an introduction to the core narrative being presented across the album, with sound effects and an EKG flatlining going into the aforementioned track, Death Tremors. Thus begins the unrelenting barrage of musical violence and spiritual warfare.
Despite all the preparation that I had previously done for this review, I was still not ready for this album. There is a lot of innovation and experimentation that happens on this album that I did not find in my previous ventures into deathcore. There were many times I had to ask myself if what I was hearing just wasn’t hitting with me or if I just didn’t get it because it wasn’t something that I was expecting. How do you even answer that question? I had to listen to the album a few times to get my answer. In most cases, it seemed as though the unexpected approaches they would take to their songcrafting were welcome once I adjusted to the shifts. A prime example of this is demonstrated around the 3:40 marker of the fourth track on this album, Valley of Slaughter, where the band does what I can only describe as several false endings before proceeding into a slam-influenced breakdown.
As a former vocalist for a metalcore band in the early 2000s, one of this album’s biggest highlights was the performance of vocalist Conner Luttig. For those unacquainted with the sub-genres on the more extreme side of the musical spectrum, doing vocals in a non-melodic style is a lot more than just screaming or grunting into a microphone at random intervals. Instead, you become a rhythm instrument. And there are different techniques to produce different sounds. Conner seems to have spent some time mastering his craft in this area. As he produces not only the expected standard guttural growls and shrill raspy shrieks that you would expect from this genre, but you also get the “pig squeals” you would hear from bands like Abated Mass of Flesh. As well as something that I can only describe as a burning witch sound that I had only heard before from Peter Espoval from Extol (see the song The Cull). On top of this, he brings his own stylings on tracks like Demoncratic Society, which I can only imagine can be produced by a lot of quick head movement.
The music on this album was correctly classified as deathcore by their record label; however, under closer scrutiny, one can catch an incredibly diverse bouquet of so many influences and nuances they bring to the mix that this album is truly a melting pot of everything that is good about extreme metal. Touches of groove, Doom, Slam, and standard Death metal are sprinkled judiciously across the compositions on this record in a similar way a master chef would season a signature dish. Every track brings something new to the table. It’s like Christmas morning, and every track is a present waiting to be opened with a childlike wonder of what treasure you will find inside. If it sounds like I am glowing over this album, it is because I am.
Now, I need to temper my fervor for this album because where this is the closest thing to a perfect album I have heard since Living Sacrifice released The Hammering Process, I still have a few nits to pick. They are minor, but I don’t think I would be doing my job as a reviewer if I didn’t address them. First, although I understand why they are on the album, the opening intro track and transitional track (Into Your Hands) are unnecessary. A part from my initial listen to hear the album as a wholly completed work; I probably will never intentionally listen to them again. The other point that needled me with this album is the non-diversification of the guitar work. When metal bands have more than one guitarist, it is my personal preference that they both individualize themselves on songs so each one can stand alone a bit. In this case, they are a bit homogeneous in what they are doing, and I struggle to find any distinction between them. Again, these are two EXTREMELY small dings I have found in an otherwise FLAWLESS album, and as the band matures with (hopefully many) future albums, I could certainly see them being buffed out easily.
Final Score: 4.75 out of 5 bricks to the face
Standout Tracks: Silence, Crush the Serpent’s Head
Where to buy: https://voluntarymortification.bandcamp.com/