Gutter Instinct’s sophomore LP came out on June 8th, a response to the already strong Age of the Fanatics, which was released just over two years ago. Their newest release is a masterfully-executed piece of death metal that successfully contributes to an already strong year for the subgenre.
Gutter Instinct is a five-piece group from Helsingborg, Sweden. While their debut full-length is considered to be simply death metal, Heirs of Sisyphus maintains those roots while additionally adding an influx of a black metal aesthetic within the underlying instrumentation of the record. The newfound change in sound shows that the group is maturing as a collective and are beginning to perfect their preferred output.
Hailing from Sweden means that the country’s rich history with metal, and specifically death metal in particular, will always be tied to their career. Being one of the founding hotspots for old-school death metal, Sweden is a hallmark of metal’s evolution and history. Many popular and infamous death metal legends like Entombed and Grave came from the Stockholm scene throughout the early 1990s. There is also the equally important Gothenburg scene from the other side of the country which sported bands like At The Gates and In Flames. While the Stockholm groups played a more punk-rooted and chunky style of music, the Gothenburg bands perfected their famous melodic death metal (often called melodeath) style. With that being said, Gutter Instinct has a lot to be compared to within the realm of the competitive metal world, but luckily, manage to distinguish themselves both in style and quality of music.
As mentioned above, Gutter Instinct’s newest release is often put into the death/black category, but I would make the case that the material is rather rooted in a death metal base and is simply coupled with a black metal flair. The vocals feature on the release are definitely your standard guttural style that defines the death metal aesthetic. While the underlying instrumentation also fits within this category, especially the drumming, there is a hint of sorrow melody found within the guitar playing that just screams black metal. Either way, the group does an excellent job of displaying their musical talents on this new release.
The record’s title is a reference to the Greek king Sisyphus who, as punishment for being deceitful and corrupt leader, was tasked to roll a boulder up a steep hill which inevitably results in failure as he becomes too weak when he nears the top. The cycle repeats indefinitely as per the legend. The allusion is used to reference overly-laborious tasks which are appropriately called “Sisyphean”. This idea plays into the greater lyrical themes of the record that revolve around the inappropriate usage of power by those who rule above us in modern society. The record further hints that these leaders should be handed punishment that falls within the same vein of Sisyphus’, which is portrayed on the album cover.
Now that we know what the following tracks are about, we can analyze them further below.
“Satan Within” serves as a very diverse and telling representation of what will come further for the listener. The opening track builds up with buzzsaw-sounding guitars that play simple but strong melodies that lead towards a series of crunchy blast-beat sections. These very heavy drum sections are found further throughout the rest of the track and consequentially throughout the album as a whole. They are often introduced following a short pause of intensity, to the point that the listener is eventually conditioned to recognize these heavier rumbling sections as they come throughout the release. This juxtaposition of softer sections and all-out drum performances works very nicely.
The song eventually collapses into a monstrous breakdown that gives the listener a break from the prior intensity while delivering a different kind of heaviness through a slow and crushing riff. This slower portion really diversifies the track and, as mentioned earlier, shows off the diversity and strong song structure found throughout the rest of the album.
“Satan Within” really plays into the record’s ability to create an atmosphere doesn’t just feel like a collection of riffs and blast-beats. The songs on this release are truly strong and different which helps play into the record’s overall strength.
“Shock Doctrine” best displays the group’s usage of a purposefully polar vocal approach during the emphasized parts of their songs. Throughout the record, the group will include segments where the vocals include two different voices singing at the same time. While the main voice that sings all of the vocals presents itself with a deeply guttural style, a second more shriek-like voice is dubbed over the former during some parts of song, mainly during the chorus below:
Shock doctrine – you’re the mother tumour
Shock doctrine – with cancerous tentacles
Shock doctrine – into tortured nations
Shock doctrine – Metastatic limbs ridden with disease
While the main deeper and growling style sings the lyrics above, a secondary vocal is included that presents itself as more driven and agonized, similar to a scream in response to painful stimuli. Both vocals can be distinctly heard and meld together very nicely. This additional vocal is only included during the “shock doctrine” part of the lines and the technique makes those special moments hit a lot harder. The portions of the frantic screaming of “SHOCK DOCTRINE” repeatedly in throughout the chorus is one of my favourite parts of the record.
Heirs of Sisyphus
“Heirs of Sisyphus” is the album’s title track and is represented as such. The song opens with a unique drum sample that was made to sound like a drop of water falling into a puddle that subsequently creates an echoing sound which slowly dissipates throughout the uneven interior of the cave (presumably the one on the album’s cover). The drummer follows to play a segment that includes equally-distanced drum hits that descend on the note scale. The drum hits are interchangeably panned to the left and right on your speakers which gives off the feeling that the sounds are being used to sonically measure the interior space of a cavern based on how far they reach before hitting a wall. These effects combine to set the tone for the track as they sound like noises you would hear coming from unidentifiable directions if you find yourself within a cavern of sorts.
The track clocks in at just under nine minutes in length, making it the longest on the album. Its most redeemable factor in my opinion lies behind the strength of the chorus and how it flows together with the rest of the song. Artists definitely deviate from this rule with unorthodox song structures, but a song’s chorus is supposed to serve as track’s base that gives the listener a point of reference. The chorus in “Heirs of Sisyphus” meshes perfectly with the underlying instrumentation. The other sections of the song also favourably build up to these segments which all work together to move the track forward delightfully. While it is the longest on the record, it certainly doesn’t feel that way simply due to the song’s overall quality.
In terms of downsides, the record is a little on the lengthy side and thus some of the middle tracks tend to fall under the radar. For example, I feel like the tracks “Uncreation” and “Tip of the Spear” tend to fall within the shadows of neighboring songs “Shock Doctrine” and “Heirs of Sisyphus”. While these slots themselves aren’t inherently poor songs, I feel as if their inclusion isn’t necessary, especially when the release is fairly long to begin with. A 40-minute format of the release would be ideal in my opinion, with one of the aforementioned tracks cut.
Barring my prior complaints about length, the record is a phenomenal death/black piece that rivals a lot of the year’s similar releases. Heirs of Sisyphus is a strong demonstration of the band’s song writing capabilities which is a strength that will help them exponentially throughout their future career.