Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Broken Hope - Swamped in Gore (1991)

Oddly enough, Broken Hope was one of the first Death Metal bands that I ever heard, after the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. Their first full-length, Swamped in Gore, was released in November 1991. Despite this, there is still a clear late 80's feel to much of the material and it certainly belongs to the old school Death Metal category. 

Among the first things that one might notice upon listening to this record are the very deep vocals that I always described as sounding like some creature gurgling from a toilet bowl. Joe Ptacek's voice can be compared to the style Chris Barnes utilized on Tomb of the Mutilated, or even just a deeper John Tardy. While it was not yet so common, and definitely stands out, my personal preference leans more toward the raspier vocals that previous bands used. The deeper the vocals, the less effective they are in really conveying anything, in my view. Some Reifert-like screams would have helped. That said, they fit in with the music, very well. 

As for the songwriting, it's more dynamic than one might expect. It's not technical or progressive, thankfully, but these songs are rarely monotonous. Don't allow the opening moments of "Incinerated" or "Dismembered Carcass" to fool you into thinking Broken Hope is another pointless blastbeast-ridden grind band. While there are those elements, Swamped in Gore is all about the riffs. Whereas a lot of Death Metal became incredibly bland and formulaic around this time, the riffs on this album are by no means interchangeable or generic. Many of them are quite memorable, such as those in the title track, "Awakened by Stench" and "Cannibal Crave". These riffs possess a darker 80's vibe hearkening back to early works from Slayer, Possessed and Death. Here and there, one will also notice bit of Celtic Frost-influenced mid-tempo stuff as well. The guitarists manage to slip in a few evil-sounding lead solos, reminiscent of Hell Awaits, which really adds to the atmosphere. Nothing here can be called groundbreaking or original, but it is very solid and stands on its own. 

The guitars are clear enough, but they definitely have a dirty kind of sound that belongs to the previous decade. This certainly is not a demo-quality recording, but it's not modern or plastic either. Honestly, it sounds as if it could have been recorded a few years earlier, alongside something like the first Asphyx E.P. Still, it does lack the raw guitar tone of albums such as Slowly We Rot and Consuming Impulse and sounds a little more polished than the old Autopsy records, for example.

While the vocal style is not my favourite, and a couple of the tracks are a little longer than they need to be, Swamped in Gore is a great old school Death Metal record and one of the best that came from the US in this period. Broken Hope may have been a second or third-tier band in the states, but this album is one that deserves to be heard. Fans of early Obituary, Asphyx, Incantation and Cannibal Corpse, etc. are likely to appreciate this.