FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 46: Downset – Do We Speak A Dead Language?
This is the forty-sixth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.
I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.
I’ve spent all week studying. Or watching videos that help me more than studying. Or lifting weights… while listening to podcasts related to studying! …for an exam that is tomorrow.
Now I need a break. So while I’m not busy filling my brain with Sympatheic Nervous Systems and Snurps and Sarcoplasmic Reticulums and Scalene muscles, I’m going to take a break to do some listening (Vestibulocochlear nerve stimulation?) to some Heavy Metal. (Insert periodic table joke if you aren’t feeling as lazy as me)
Usually, I’d have heard at least something from the album, or at least by the band, or another band that share members, or something before a First Impressions article. Maybe they have a hit single, or a friend liked them when I was younger but I wasn’t ready to try them yet, or maybe I saw their video on MTV2 or whatever… but not with Downset. I know nothing about Downset apart from their Genre. I’m going in completely blind here, trying them out purely on faith and the recommendation on Comedian/Blogger/Metal-Podcaster Stepehen Hill.
This is one of two albums I’ve bought purely off of his recommendation, the other being Pulkas’s Greed, but with that at least I checked out ‘Rubber Room’ on Youtube beforehand. These guys, nothing. Notta. Not one iota.
Now. If you’ve been reading these FI articles closely, you may know that Folicle Stimulating Hormone, Lutinizing Hormone, Beta Endorphines, Growth Hormone and Adrenocorticotropic Hormone are released from the Anterior Pituaitary, but what you may also know is that I am not a big hater of Nu Metal. I know Nu Metal is quiet looked down upon on the internet, but it was one of my primary entry points into Metal and I can see its merits as well as its flaws. Some people tend to overstress the flaws. Speaking of Flaw. Flaw were a Nu Metal band that were actually good. Check out their songs ‘You’ve Changed’ ‘My Letter’ and ‘Best That I Am’ if you’ve got the time, and decide for yourself.
This album, Do We Speak A Dead Language by Downset, is apparently quite a big influence on Nu Metal or at least a crucial vantage point from which to view how it developed. The band themselves were apparently under-appreciated despite tours with Pantera and Biohazard and broke up in 2009.
Shame? I don’t know yet. Let’s find out…
Intro serves as an intro. Well, what did you expect? – It fades in so slowly I think its not playing. There’s some sexy sad bass lament that reminds me of Lateralus era Tool, and some jangling windchimes that remind me of Tool’s ‘Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman).’ There’s also some Martin Luther King speech that reminds me of Guns N Roses’ ‘Madagascar.’
Then the song starts. Its called ‘Empower.’ It sounds EXACTLY like Biohazard to the point where I think I’ve accidentally stuck on State Of World Address. I’m unsure of my purchase now. I mean. I like Biohazard a lot when I’m in the mood, but sometimes I’ll go a full year before the biohazard phase starts up again. I’m not currently in a Biohazard phase right now so both this isn’t set up for instant love and anyway, this is not what I was expecting. Oh. Some very fucking cool scooped chugs come in ala Dimebag. There’s awesome parts where the music stops and he shouts ‘Empower.’ You gotta know I love when bands do that by now. Dynmaics baby. You also gotta know that in the Parasympatheic nerevous system Pre-ganglionic nerves are long. Because my friend Paul is tall. In the Sympathetic system however preganglionic nerves are short. Because my former classmate Stanton was short. I guess you’d call that bit the chorus, now that I’ve seen it come back.
After a few rounds of Biohazard apeing and ‘empower’ breaks, the song takes a cool side road, it sounds very like Dimebag. It reminds me of ‘Domination’ and ‘Heresy.’ This bit has balls. They’ve got a lot of testosterone I’ll bet. Facilitated I’m sure by Gonadotropin. From the Anterior Pituiatary. Then a last chorus and its over.
The next tune, ‘Eyes Tight Shut’ arrives. Subtly. A kind of Deftonesily produced bassline opens it. And then whats this, it races off in a squat-jog away with this really sneaky System Of A Down-being Sneaky sort of riff. Where are you going?
Biohazard town is where. More Biohazard sounding, groovey rappy hardcore/Metal fusion. He sounds EXCACTLY like Evan Seinfield here. The chorus comes in, the riffs have cool tails on them that stop them being blind and generic. A kind of toned-down Zack Wylde action.
Oh. It goes in to these tom-slam staccato stop-starts. DUN DUN DUNDUN, DUNDUN, DEHDEH. “Further away from our selves.” This bit is cool. It reminds me of Undertow era Tool but a whole lot angrier and heavier. Then it goes into a beat underneath that and it sounds like a Doom metal version of Spheres Of Madness. Then a holding-pattern riff. Then it quiets down with a watery sounding bass line that surely must’ve had a video set on a shore, possibly with a drowning bandmember. Then it kicks back up. This has a lot of energy. I like it a lot. Then they add these little notes like a lead over the top, and keep shouting ‘Denial’ that both makes the end heavier and also more commercial. Its well done.
Keep On Breathing starts next. Very Deftonesy. Then there’s this very sudden Master Of Puppets-esque DUHN DUHN DUHN, that totally breaks the song. It starts up again, with this very funky, very Tom Morello influenced riff. Its got this rollin’ car sort of feel. It could be Clutch’s ‘Promoter Of Earthbound Causes’ if you squint your brain and ears. There’s two rounds of it, broke up by a brief heavier chorus, with a savage, savage guitar tone, and a little bass only bit. After the second time that Deftonesy intro comes back. This song is well put-together. Oh. Cool. A quick bit.
This quick bit calls back to my first memory of what hardcore was. You know the Hardcore that you associate with Scott Ian? With specifically sort of Among The Living. The kind of thing that you imagine circle pits originally started off with. It does one of them. Its awesome. It makes my brain very happy. That Chorus comes back. Then there’s this cool-as-fuck outro that involves those Puppets stabs cleverly reconfigured a couple of ways, and tom rolls with deliciously produced toms, and a general feeling of energy and ‘fuck yeah’ about them.
‘Hurl A Stone’ starts of with this shuppy flippy funky drum beat that you don’t get anymore. The kind John Otto specialized in. Why did they stop happening? They were cool. I get the parts of Nu Metal that are ignored these days being ignored right now, but why them? – Unfortunate casualties. Collatoral damage. Shame.
The song is kind of Biohazardy, yeah, but its got this speed and energy, and extra tails on the riffs, and details in the drumming that Biohazard wouldn’t have.
It has this massive sounding cut down-to build up middle. It unfortunately isn’t as payed-off as it should be (maybe they put more umph into it live and it really kicked off). But then a cool tom based stop-start comes in. I like those sorts of things. Then a fast bit with good drums and harsh vocals. Then the song does one of those things where it dies note by note and there’s a sort of sound effect like the song died, a sort of fading out “duuuuuuuuuu.” Y’know? One of those. Like songs sometimes do. Like the band ran out of batteries.
Maybe they have an infection that caused them to get sick and become too tired to finish? Natural Killer cells better investigate. But hey, if any pathogens are present I’m sure Helper-T Cells (CD4) will let other cells like Basophils and Macrophages know, via interlukins, that there are punk-ass cells that need chomping.
“Calor” means heat. ‘Fire’ has an intro. Then it has the best riff on the album so far. Its kind of like Hatebreed’s ‘Every Lasting Scar’ mixed with those Anthrax mosh bits I was talking about. Then, the song slows into this stilted grove. If there was a music video, the awesome riff would be shot with a normal horizontal shot, but when it slowed, the band would be diagonal, possibly half way up a skateboarding half-pipe. Then the grove beat changes and it goes halfway. Then the awesome riff comes back, but with shouted “Yeah, Yeah Yeah”s. That’d monsterous live. Hatebreed should cover it. It slows rights down with a bass break and then a slow part, but the beat …oh, it all, I can’t keep up, it galloped off quickly, proggily changing too fast for my fingers to keep up and then when the aforementioned awesome-riff comes in, there’s more bass and overdrive in the guitar tone and it sounds absolutely savage. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. This song is great. It reminds me of Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 & 2 for some reason.
Huh. Speaking of Flaw… the next song, possibly a ballad, starts up with some emotional sounding bass lines that really really sound like Flaw. And I mean Really. Some guitar lead notes, some subtle drums. It kind of reminds me of the missing link between Flaw and Mudvayne. OOOP. No. Not a ballad. A Slow-ish Biohazard. A very fast bit.Its gone kind of Superjoint Ritual almost, the way the guitar chords whirl kind of like this: -_-__–_
There’s this awesome tail of five quick chugs on the second parts of each of those riffs that makes my brain soooo happy. I think there’s one on Metallica’s (underrated) ‘The Judas Kiss’ too.
Then the Flaw bit comes back again. Then the Biohazard with more detail bit again. Then the fast whurlawoo-ah-ooh bit again. Do you got any love in your heart? – Ooh. A cool stop-start with a lot of bite. It reminds me a lot of someone else I can’t recall right now. Then the fast bit again with more weight behind the drums to make it sound like a chorus. Then the Flaw bit with a slight variation, almost soloy. I love the way these guys put things together. Their structuring is so studied and clever.
‘Against The Spirits’. Feedback. Stick-clicks. Duhn Duhn Duhn, DeNeeegh. Ooooh. Very skateboardy riff. It reminds me of Hatebreed’s ‘The Language’ and the sort of Hardcore that Slayer covered on Undisputed Attitude, mixed with the heavier bits of Pennywise. Oh. A slow bit that’s really like Slayer’s cover of ‘Mister Freeze.’ Fast again. This song is a nice (literal) change of pace. Hmm. It seems they structure albums like they structure songs. Well played Downset. Well played.
‘Sickness’ opens up with some rappy vocal only repitions of a sentence I can’t quite make out. A Biohazard+ bit. OOOOh. Surprise Mudvayne sounding bass noodling bridge. Now a Deftones meets Downer vocal line in “I am not a lower form of human life.” Then Biohazard+ again. Then a shuffly feedback and shuffly funk beat interlude bit with the Downer chant again. Then it builds it up. I can hear Billy from Biohazard now. Oh. Then a bit with a very cool drum direction, that sentence from the intro again that I can’t make out ( “say cum killer” ? ) with a new light riff, but played like it’s a heavy part. Ah. Its just structurally very cool. Poverty is the worst form of violence repeated, over the downer-riff. Then the Downer sentence ending it, just slightly overshooting the end of the music. I’ll admit that that is a very stock-Nu Metal way to end a song, but since they pre-date a lot of Nu Metal, I think its appropriate to call it creative here.
Then what sounds like more of that Clutch action. Oh. It quiets down into more RATM. It’s brighter and happier. This video would have sunshine in it. Woooh. Left turn chorus. Pocket full of fat caps. Over a bizzare bit. I can’t even describe it other than ‘squished.’
[Side note: ‘Squished’ would be a brilliant Cannibal Corpse song title. Just blunt. There’s comedy in that. Like Napalm Death’s ‘Hung’ has impact in its bluntness. ‘Squished’ just seems ludicrous sat there on its own.]
That is definitely the most Nu Metal thing about the whole album so far. (Also what are fat caps? Burgers? Money? Bullets? Condoms? Actual hats?
Daaaaamn. A cool, perfect-guitar-tone, stop-start, tom-based, break. Oh. Then some funk beats thrown behind it to give it a cool speed. Then the riff from My Own Summer as covered by Sick Of It All. Then boooom. Here comes Mr. Flannery (Incomperable and all). Nope. It was a misleading distraction tactic to throw us off the trail (Structure-based squeal of joy). Then that odd chorus fades us out and we’re done. Little touch gem, in like the fourth-to-last run through, while they’re fading out, the drummer throws a quick drum roll out on what almost sound like roto toms and its magnificent.
‘Sangre De Mis Manos’ comes next. It starts off like Slayer. But changes with a bass line. Then changes into complete Biohazardry. On with Spanish/Cuban/Portugese (I can’t tell, excuse my ignorance) vocals. The song has this cool thing where it feels mid-tempo, but its actually slightly too fast to be classed as such. My main problem with bad-Nu Metal is over slowness.
Oh. Cool mid section with deliciously produced tom rolls.
That was a brief, unremarkably song, with way more too it than it appeard. Secretly remarkably.
Then ‘Horrifying’ which starts off with one of those things I’ve talked about in the Cro Mags First Impression Article, those sabbathy things that loads of bands do, from Slayer, to Exodus, to C.O.C, to Cro Mags, to Biohazard (getting sick of me saying them aren’t you?). Except its kind of not one of those, because they are more like the bass driven bit near the start of ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath (before the DEH NEH, (Chup chup chup chup chup chup, chuuhpcheya chupchup. ….Generals Gathered In Their Masseeeeeeees.) than this. This is more God Hates Us All Slayer doing a slow creepy bit. Also maybe Seasons In The Abyss’s title track. This one is also slow-but-secretly-fast.
It has a few similar bits, separated by slight changes and a few neat little details. It goes on a bit. Then another one of these bass rivers. With these sneaky as hell little intermittent didddle-ahs on some kind of woodblock or cowbell. Then it has a spoken word, politically driven part that reminds me of Prison Song by SOAD in spirit, but modern Slayer in sound. Its like a less-heavy version of the end of ‘Jihad.’ Then he shouts “horrifying” a lot and his voice is good. And my writing are good too. Eloquence innit? Then that Seasons In The Abyss thing ends the song. They add some extra little touches on the bass and lead though, cuz, fuck it, why not?
Then “Sickness (Reprise)” fades up (‘I am not a lower form of human life’/’poverty is the worst form of violence’) for a brief victory lap around the other song. It happens in a way that really reminds me of QOTSA’s Rated R album.
Then the next song is an absolute curve ball. A totally unexpected, piano featuring, CAPTIVATING, Prog-Alterna-Metal Anathema-esque moody build up with Spoken Words and hazy, threatening clean guitars that waft like smoke over these Justin Chancelor-covering-“Invalid Litter Deaprtment”-esque notes, its like the soundtrack to a suicide in a broken space station in a film. My brother would love this. Its also got that same feeling as you get, when you are totally into Marilyn Manson’s Holwood, and then ‘Count To Six And Die’ comes on, and you are waiting, waiting for him to shoot himself. Its cool.
Unexpected. But cool as fuck.
Then a final track…because to be honest, if you ended an album without one, people may just fall into a deep depression.
So. To stop everyone from being totally bummed out, ‘Ashes In Hand’ slowly build up, they shout ‘Sex Kills’ over and over again, in a weird wave. Then very suppressed-potential slow riffs. It reminds me of Prong. Ooooh. Then the song decides to not be disappointing and throws out one of those Scott Ian things speeding it up. Then this cool Lamb Of God groove bit with a Zack tail. Hmm. Then more of that suppressed thing. Then that L.O.G groove. Steal that chorus, throw it in the aftermath of some d-beat rampaging, and you have got yourself a fucking monster-groove on your hands. Oh. Speaking of which. The song stops, throws in one of those 0-60 acceleration snare rolls that Punk-spectrum bands do (listen to this song at about 2.01-2.10 and you’ll totally see what I mean) and then just such a d-beat rampage comes in. Then instead of dropping that L.O.G groove, the song gets interrupted, derailed even, by some new bits, then a Biohazard groove with more ‘Sex Kills’ screams. Then it seems like the song is over… then this Sam Rivers bit comes out’ve nowhere, and the song calms down into this slightly Prog-grunge ending that Queensryche were totally going for but missed on Hear In The Now Frontier, and it ends.
Damn Interesting album.
It was like a roadmap, a portal. An onscreen, dial down the opacity on the top image transition between 1994 and 2001 (It was made in 1996 btw) that allowed you to hear the future while still being comfortably safe around the release of Urban Discipline.
It was also, guitar tone and tom sound wise, amazingly produced. Sometimes, the rap based nature of the songs made certain key sections less absolutely raging than they could’ve been (and therefore became triple-A hit classics like you ‘Fucking Hostiles’ and your ‘Davidians’ – something also not helped by it being hard to make out the lyrics, and generally too-quiet vocals) but other than those mechanical reasons that make it not a ‘holy fuck this is the best thing I’ve ever heard’ sort of an album, it is intellectually, an album that I’d rate 10/10. It may miss out on a bit of that gut-stimulating phwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh thing that just magically makes “Suicide Note Prt. 2” better than the deep cuts of Static X’s debut, (x-factor) but on every other level possible, this is a damn fine record, well deserving of its reputation, and instantly hereby recommended by me to you.
[Intrinsic factor, on the other hand, is necessary for the absorption of Vitamin B12 and without it you would have pernicious anemia]
[During an action potential, sodium channels open, and sodium rushes into the cell, altering the polarity, then potassium channels open and potassium channels go out of a cell, reversing the polarity again, then becuase everything is on the wrong side of the cell membrane, the sodium-potassium pump, energized by Adenosinetriphosphate, changes shape to get sodium out and potassium back in.]
[Irrelevant Side Note]
Wish me luck.