Before the days of drum triggers, re-amped guitars, and multiple vocal layers, death metal was another thing entirely, a stranger even in the growing genre of heavy metal. Far removed from the thrash’s growing tendencies to rely on flash and technicality, and even farther removed from anything close to the realm of traditional metal, the rules were simple: Play fast, play hard, play dirty. Castle Freak‘s newest EP Human Hive follows these rules to a T and in its short runtime is a marathon of smartly played, simply written old-school death metal and grindcore that gets the job done.
After their 2014 EP Still Rotting made waves, the Philly-based outfit underwent lineup changes to a new rhythm section and honed their chops from their debut work while staying firmly entrenched in their old-school approach. On Human Hive, the execution is a bit rough around the edges, the guitars swarm with a buzzsaw tone, and the drums pound with the unhinged, bone-rattling fervor of early Napalm Death, while Andrew Gigan’s vocals evoke a young Quorthon in their raspy, snarling delivery. The title track in particular combines the band’s approach to early grindcore and rapid-fire tempo changes straight off the pages of Scream Bloody Gore, while closer “Toxic Winds” (a re-recording of an earlier song) alternates between an ugly Hellhammer-esque swing and minor key thrashing akin to Bathory’s approach on Under the Sign of the Black Mark. Castle Freak cover quite a bit of territory here, but there is a razor-sharp focus on the quality of the riffs, and unlike most bands of their ilk, the samples utilized from post-apocalyptic movies contribute to the overall structure of the EP.
Like the best of death metal and grindcore EPs, Human Hive gets in, makes its point, and gets out. In its very brief running time of 13 minutes –– every moment of which is gore-soaked fun –– it’s definitely not earning points as highbrow art, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway.