Sometimes the life of a metal reviewer is a bit of a crapshoot, folks. With dozens of promos coming in and only so many hours in a day you have to pick and choose your way to what you’re going to hit each week. So sometimes (well okay, more than sometimes) I’ll take a look at the old Nine Circles promo list and see if anything strikes my eye. We have some pretty colorful genre labels up there, and so my interest was piqued when I saw next to Scum and their new album Humana the tag “metal.” What? No double or triple hyphenate melange of styles? Just “metal” plain and simple? This I had to check out.
Formed in Italy in the late 90s, Scum really, really works the Meshuggah djent formula like it’s going out of style. There’s some traces of Damage Done era Dark Traquillity and other New Wave of Swedish Heavy Metal™ in there, but it all boils down to that heavily processed, start-and-stop syncopation made famous by the Swedish Math Machines in the late 90s and early 00s. If there’s something that sets Scum apart from the myriad of other imitators it’s that there’s a bit more melody in the songs, which you can take as either a plus or a minus depending on how slavish you are to the style.
As far as Humana is concerned, I wish I could say more than it’s just…there. It does its thing, and it does it pretty well. I’m not enamored of the old trick of inserting “real” (i.e. fake) news commentary over breakdowns, and it really dates opener “Under the Worm” which I imagine is supposed to show how apathetic humanity is but instead just mires the song in imitation and mediocrity. “The Fallen” fares a little better, it’s quasi-industrial tones moving the song along. Unfortunately there’s a thin reediness to the solos and harmonies that screams processing and studio tinkering to a point where the coldness of the music doesn’t sound evil as much as it sounds clinical and a little tired. If there’s a bright spot it’s “Collapsed” which still exhibits everything I’ve already mentioned but is braced by some energetic riffing that keeps its head above water.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of this type of music, but when it’s done well (Meshuggah, Dark Tranquillity) there’s a ghost in the machine that brings it all together in a way that’s individual and organic, despite how many fractions went into constructing the rhythms. Humana lacks that quality, and while it’s perfectly acceptable in every way, perfectly acceptable can’t cut it in a world where we already have greatness. But hey, what the hell do I know? Maybe this is what “metal” means nowadays…