Artist: Dead Pharisees
Time: 12 tracks/52:48
No one would ever guess these guys hold a grudge against religious authority, would they? Sheesh. If the band name and album title don't get the message across, the morbid cover painting will, with its depiction of the corpses of such figures strung up within large jaws bordered by monitors, lights, organs, and people-filled pews. It might be easy for some to dismiss the whole project as typical of metal's overdramatic immaturity, but there's more than meets the eye here. It's actually inspired by an M.C. Escher display in Italy, and is intended to be a visual representation of Romans 3:13: "Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips." This is according to "Scrybe," the talented graphic artist who wrote all the lyrics and designed the album concept, art, and layout...but doesn't seem to actually be in the band.
Interestingly, the contrast between laughable posturing and intelligent creativity continues some with Dead Pharisees's music. The album begins with some beautifully solemn picking, then all of a sudden switches to a sloppy thrash-punk that reminds me musically and vocally of a car wreck involving the Crucified's self-titled album and Mortification's Blood World. The production is as powerless as the Crucified's early stuff (making metal sound more like punk), although the instruments are separated very clearly in the mix. Providing the meat for most of the songs is fast, simple, double bass-driven riffage with plain shouts. It gets old and repetitive quickly. What are intriguing are the attempts at creative variation thrown in here and there. There is the emotional guitar or bass picking that pops in for intros, interludes, and endings at odd times, the different vocal styles ranging from actual singing to gutteral shouts to artifical death growls, and an out-of-place ska part(!). Listening for the different ideas keeps you on your toes. It might be understandable when you consider who the band thanks: Mortification, The Crucified, Tourniquet, and Precious Death. They obviously love the straight-forward moshing of the first two, but also desire to vary things up some like the latter two. Of course, Dead Pharisees is nowhere near the quality of any of those bands yet, but the potential exists. The lackluster production really pins down their efforts. If they had someone forcing them to slow down and work on the quality of each take and helping them get good, full tones from the instruments, they might actually rock.
Lyrically, they need help. Lyrics range from the stupidly funny: "Party in Hell, party in hell (I thought this was a beer-bash, but sulfur's all I smell)", to the typical: "Bow in front of God's glorious throne/Or you can bow in a flame-filled hole/You can decide, the choice is yours." I'd prefer more poetic, less stereotypical lyrics, but most Christian metal/punk fans will probably slurp it up with a smile.
I'd recommend this to those who aren't picky with their production or songwriting, but nobody else. Having said that, it'll be interesting to see where Dead Pharisees crawls from here.
By Josh Spencer