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Back in April, when I covered the first single from Cursed Earth’s new release, ‘Fear‘, I called ‘The Deathbed Sessions‘ an EP. This was a mistake, as the Perth-based heavy crew’s new seven-track effort is definitely more of a mixtape than anything else, which is how they and UNFD have presented and branded it too. For this is the musical result of a band once left on their figurative and literal deathbed, before coming back right from the brink. The band were put in a rare position, and they’ve tried to make the most of it.
In saying that, and in this being a mixtape, ‘The Deathbed Sessions‘ does come with the hit-or-miss nature of most mixtapes. Like a Soundcloud rapper’s mixtape release where a couple of the songs are straight fuckin’ fire, but it also comes packaged with some tracks, that whilst fine, are songs you’ll never come back to again.
In Cursed Earth’s case, the gimmick here is that with their latest release, they don’t have one vocalist, but eight. With the exception of the more-dynamic-than-usual ‘Deathbed‘ featuring Sean Harmanis and Booka Nile from Make Them Suffer, the remaining six songs feature vocalists from four other Australian bands and two internationals. Hence the band’s current promo photo of a faceless, hooded-figure shown front-and-centre: it could be interchangeable with anyone; it’s anyone of this release’s guest features, based on any given song here.
As per the first two singles, the stomping and pinch-harmonic-loving ‘Fear‘, is dominated by Kublai Khan’s chest-beating frontman, Matt Honeycutt, whereas ‘Torch‘ sees The Amity Affliction’s Joel Birch leading the speedy, anti-religious way. (If you have, for some reason, desperately wanted to hear Joel scream again after ‘Misery‘, then you’ll probably get a real kick out of this one.) Second song ‘Rock Bottom‘, is vocally guided by Nick Adams, the guitarist, backing vocalist and main lyricist for their good pals, Justice For The Damned. ‘Operation‘ features Jack McDonald from Cast Down, who will apparently be the band’s official fill-in for live shows. Larissa Stupar from the always-wicked Venom Prison lends her powerful, rabid vocal talents to ‘Tyranny Forever‘, lyrically lamenting the Pinjarra Massacre and Rottnest Indigenous concentration camp in Western Australia. And ‘Burn‘ sees the mighty Mark Poida (ex-I, Valiance, Aversions Crown) steer their sound towards a semi-deathcore orientation. [In a previous version of this review, I mistakenly confused the vocalist’s on ‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘Operation’. Apologies, that’s my bad. The review and EP have both been re-evaluated since.]
It’s a somewhat eclectic bunch, ranging from well-known vocalists in the heavy music scene like Birch and Poida, to vocalists from up-coming local acts like Jack McDonald, as well as the band’s close friends a la Nick Adams. Some songs are real hits, like the utterly monstrous ‘Burn‘ and the industrial-flavoured ‘Operation‘, but then other cuts are misses, like ‘Fear‘ and ‘Torch‘. While the good outweighs the mundane or mediocre, just don’t expect another release on par with ‘Cycles Of Grief‘. And that’s not to say that that’s what the WA band were going for here. If anything, this is all about them re-entering the scene, getting the ball rolling again after past drama almost derailed them entirely. In that sense, ‘The Deathbed Sessions‘ achieves that goal. I just highly doubt that this mixtape will ever become a memorable or staple release in their discography, both before-hand and afterwards.
Other than the importance of this comeback release for Cursed Earth as a unit, the other biggest aspect is obviously the guest vocalists, who are the real stars of the shows. They all competently bring their own style to the release’s HM-2-soaked sound. With the exception of Joel Birch taking the vocal reigns on ‘Torch‘ – which is too short to really do anything for ‘The Deathbed Sessions‘ overall – every song is like a reflection of the respective vocalists own band. So much so, that I’d love to know if the guest idea came first and that informed where the direction each song went, or whether Cursed Earth guitarist/mastermind Kieran Molloy wrote them all first with specific vocalists in mind. Either way, it mostly works, with the songs admittedly sounding like spare, leftover ideas from their last two records.
For instance, ‘Rock Bottom‘ is basically a Justice For The Damned track at times but not quite as sick, with Nick Adams shouting and yelling his way through. ‘Fear‘ is just a Lite version of not only Kublai Khan, but Cursed Earth as well, in tone and structure, with some rather laughable lyrics. See the unintentionally hilarious pit-call line of “found you, you little rat fuck” and how Matt barks “cursed earth” later on. (I also can’t be the only one who pictured Kratos when he says “I welcome you, boy“.) It’s quite easy to see why this song was made the first taste of ‘The Deathbed Sessions‘, to help mark the band’s return, but it’s also the safest and least inspired song of the whole bunch.
In the case of the darkened, piercing and buzzing metal storm that is ‘Tyranny Forever‘, it’s a straight-up Venom Prison tune, minus the skitz solos that that band loves. It also slightly leans towards metallic hardcore as opposed to the grinding 90’s-like death metal of that U.K. group’s own records, like this year’s solid ‘Samsara‘ LP. Still, it only serves to further highlight how Larissa has one of the best voices in death metal and hardcore today; whether it be heard in either Venom Prison or Cursed Earth. Elsewhere, with harrowing sounds and eerie samples in the vein of Cast Down, ‘Operation‘ becomes an instant standout, droning and riffing along as Jack McDonald screams his way through a sickened, oppressive hardcore hellscape. In short, it’s rad.
‘Deathbed‘ is pretty much a Make Them Suffer piece – breakdown, melodies and all – just with the keys taken out and sounding a little less technical than what those fellow Perth metallers offer up. While featuring parts that equally engaging and forgettable, this sees Cursed Earth sounding their most haunting and atmospheric, in a dynamic twist seeing them ease off the fast hardcore pedal and allowing cleaner, minimal passages to breathe with Booka’s singing. All before sliding back into those ferocious sections driven by Sean’s fiendish screams; moments that prove why he’s one of Australia’s best metal vocalists right now.
Finally, closing cut ‘Burn‘ sees Mark Poida’s beastly low growls rolling along with slicing guitars and drums, displaying the kind of weird, dissonant guitars that wouldn’t go amiss on an I, Valiance song and some blast beats too. Just by featuring Mark, ‘Burn‘ is automatically the heaviest track. Yet with a thankfully short run-time, just scraping over the two-minute mark, thing are kept brutal and to the point. On top of that, the song’s eerie fading sounds for it’s outro also loop back-around to how ‘Fear‘ first begins, making for a decent cycle of grief.
The collaborative nature of ‘The Deathbed Sessions’ is easily its greatest asset; a mixtape trying to be its own thing and acting as a cool idea for a band really bouncing back. At times, things hit hard and it brings the savage, heavy metallic hardcore goods for Cursed Earth’s sound, like on ‘Burn’, ‘Operation’ and ‘Tyranny Forever’. Other times, it misses the mark instead of sticking the landing, what with the occasional middle-of-the-road, forgettable tune such as ‘Fear’ or ‘Torch’. Sometimes, you get both sides in the same song, as per ‘Deathbed’. Still, the most commendable thing about this release is that Cursed Earth have been able to jump back onto their feet after the once-potentially band-killing controversies of late 2017. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed the Perth crew for throwing in the towel and fading away back then or since. Yet they’ve admirably tried to pick up the pieces with an interesting approach to disparate, leftover song structures and ideas, all pulled together with the vocal aid of their various peers and pals. I just feel that what comes together next time around will be of a much better, higher tier than this half-killer, half-filler mixtape.
- Rock Bottom
- Tyranny Forever
‘The Deathbed Sessions’ is out May 31st.