Back in the day, Chuck Schuldiner and Death singlehandedly changed the landscape of heavy music forever—particularly across their first three releases, which remain highly influential on countless death metal bands and artists to this day. That’s where Gruesome comes in. We’ve seen them tackle covers of early Death material with ease on the highly regarded Death to All tours, but their debut full-length Savage Land introduces original material to the mix, creating their own vision to celebrate and pay homage to this era in time. This album piqued my curiosity when it was announced and, ultimately, ended up delivering on its promise.
The members of Gruesome are metal royalty—the band comprises Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Gus Rios (Malevolent Creation), Daniel Gonzalez (Possessed) and Robin Mazen (Castrator & Derketa)—so before even hearing the first note, you know this album’s in amazingly capable hands. The attention to detail here is striking to say the least, from the striking cover art and logo (check that logo with the inverted crosses and flames perched atop!) to the insane riffs and incredible vocal delivery. Harvey’s spot on with his Chuck-style delivery, but packs a bit more viciousness.
Damn near everything on this album is done to almost-perfection, and the first example of this is in the first minute of the album opening title track, when the guitar breaks the salvo of speed and goes into a fretboard assault that wouldn’t feel out of place on any one of Death’s first three albums. “Trapped In Hell” has several eye popping moments as well, but the guitar solos are amazing in sheer technicality, and the drumming shifts from a frenetic pace to slow and methodical in tune with them. Speaking of drums, “Gangrene” opens with a whale of a death march, no pun intended.
The remainder of the album is truly straight ahead, 100-miles-an-hour death metal that you can tell was created by seasoned vets of the scene. The guys show their reverence not just for the legacy of Death but also that of the entire early Floridian death metal scene. Obviously the intention of Savage Land is to honor a moment in time and absolutely have fun with it, which is precisely what Gruesome have accomplished here. As a fan of death metal I can attest this album is a fist-pumping, head-banging, good-time throwback perfectly executed.
Ultimately, the album’s replay value will depend on the listener, but it will be a staple in my library for some time to come. It not only brings back memories of death metal’s days gone by, but also does so tastefully, without trying to be overly technical or showboat-y. It keeps your blood pumping from opener to closer, and just gets the damn job done.