At this point Canadian extreme metal malcontent J. Read has had two entirely different but noteworthy careers. The man (something I assume he identifies as, and not a woodlen spirit, demon, or other apparition) helped to invent one of the more punishing confluences of metal subgenres as the vocalist and drummer for pioneering war metal generals Conqueror, and since 2000 has continued his assault upon the human senses with his raw black metal project Revenge. It’s difficult to compare the two projects side-by-side in terms of both sound and legacy (especially since the former essentially invented its own genre designation), but that’s not my goal in invoking both bands in a single sentence. Rather my point is to illustrate that J.Read has always been an outside trendsetter and someone who impacts the tone of certain conversations even when he is not directly involved with them. Case in point, his current band Revenge rests as the outside edge of accessibility for many metal fans, and holding that position for twenty years, engaging a community while holding it at arm’s length, is something that few, very few in fact, musicians can hope to (or even desire to) accomplish.
Strike.Smother.Dehumanize is the sixth album by Read for Revenge and second after signing with Season of Mist. It’s been a minute since 2015’s superb Behold.Total.Rejection and there have been a few changes to the band’s sound between these releases. For starters, the compositions on S.S.D are much more spaced out and the production is notably crisper. Elements of death metal that Read has toyed with on previous releases feel much more prominent here as well, making the album feel more like a death metal record with black metal guitars at times, than the other way around. In full disclosure, what I like most about Revenge’s sound felt perfected on B.T.R, the production was thick and noisy, the guitar work felt frenzied and dangerous, like having your head too close to the blades of a wheat-thresher, and the death growls and frantic black metal squalls worked in tandem to disorient and terrorize your headspace. There was also a lot more bass in the mix, especially in the vocals, and this helped give the record an overall more forceful feel. S.S.D exhibits a little more of a back-to-basics approach, taking us back to the thinner production and septic crust punk performances of Triumph.Genocide.Antichrist. It’s a bit of a gamble to reverse course after finding so much success with a previous sound, but Read’s rouge tendencies have paid dividends in the past, and continue to do so on S.S.D.
The opener, “Reaper Abyss (Real Rain)” wastes no time easing you into the record, beginning with Read’s horse screams landing at the same time as the first bludgeoning beat, and glides through claps of guitar strikes in a downpour of distortion and gusty death vocals, that sell the hell out of the “midnight raid by horseback in the pouring rain” vibe of the track. This conquering cavalry charge is followed by the hateful, human-spirit squelching “Reign Power (Above All Born),” which floods the senses with misanthropic, acidic distortion through doom-laden grooves that hook you in the ribs, capturing you to be lowered into a hungry lion’s den for Read’s amusement. The death metal elements of Revenge’s sound come to fore on “Human Animal” which has some of the most revolting vocal interplay on the entire album, while “Lightning Mythos” shows more of its indebtedness to bands like Immolation than I think it means to, with grinding guitar work that will grate the flesh clean off your face and stomp the ribbons it peels off your skull's facade into a pulpy pool of ketchup with a threatening, breakdown groove. Later “Salvation Smothered (Genocide of Flock)” prowls through Darkthrone’s doom-crust back-catalog hunting for orphans to kidnap and raise as its own, and “Self Segregation (System Torched)” straps you down with a hardcore punk groove and drags it through ten miles of barbed wire, broken glass, and zombie rottweilers, only to pause long enough for a bridge solo to wind-up and torch you with heinously busy and sharp guitar tones, and then does it all again on “Death Hand (Strike Dehumanization).” On S.S.D, Revenge will Strike you, smother you, and dehumanize you, although not necessarily in that order.
S.S.D stands a rebuke to critics who are of the belief that Read has been making the same album for the past twenty-odd years, demonstrating his ability to make the most loathsome elements of his sound and discography sound fresh, urgent, and dangerous. Even if this won’t become my favorite Revenge record, it is still a record that I am thrilled to have as part of my collection. A singular masterwork of humanity annihilating sound.
Mick is always writing about something he's heard. Possibly even something you'd like. You can read his stuff over at I Thought I Heard a Sound Blog.
7.7 / 10
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