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Surrogate Prey : Burning Water (Split with Death After Birth)

Surrogate Prey contribute to an interesting Stoner-Sludge split from the Philippines.

It's a part of the Doom-metal ethos that we welcome the obscure as much as the mainstream, and are just as likely to devote space to a new anonymous solo bedroom Funeral project as to one of the 'big name' main-genre veterans. Perhaps more so, given that the latter are far more likely to fire out some impersonal, blanket, take-it-or-leave-it EPK via a PR company, while the former are much more likely to write to us directly and request coverage.

So, it's entirely in keeping that I'm currently looking at a handmade promo from the relatively tiny Singapore-based Berdugo Records, exclusively dealing with independent bands from the Philippines: a split from two bands so obscure that, despite their combined 35 years in the business, I've never come across either before. Now, that, right there, is the spirit of the underground...

First up, alphabetically and chronologically, are Death After Birth, who have been providing the sounds of Stoner to Marikina City since 1991, minus a short hiatus in the mid-2000s, and were apparently named after a local BMX racing team. They appear to be a standard four-piece lead-rhythm-bass-drum setup: more than that, given their absolute zero web presence, I can't really provide. With roots going back as far as they do, it's probably no surprise to hear that this is old-school, no-frills Stoner/Doom, laying its riffs down somewhere between Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus - sometimes simultaneously, as the binaural recording effect frequently sets the two guitars duelling off against each other, leaving the centre to a hoarse, whisky-and-cigarettes, semi-harsh vocal rasp. The latter's not-unpleasantly strained timbres suggest Death Metal lies somewhere in their history, similar in style of delivery to those of even-more-veteran Excruciation.

Despite the separation between instruments, the recordings do struggle a little against a soft and somewhat murky mix, with a few moments where the songs seem to trip over their own pace a little, or put the vocal lines in conflict with the instrumentation: it makes me think they've probably taken, as Vardis used to proudly proclaim, a "Live - no overdubs" approach to capturing a gig set in the studio. And live is exactly where one would imagine this trio of songs working the best: they're solid and decently catchy enough, rather than inspiring, but they gallop along nicely, the lead hooks are pretty good, and the vocals do convey all the right sorts of spleen to get a forest of horns rising out of the front rows of a crowd.

On the flipside are comparative youngsters Surrogate Prey, from Quezon City and merely dating back to 2004, and quite clearly more familiar with the post-millennial interwebz, what with having Facebook and Bandcamp pages to fill in some background information (though, sadly, not to the extent of streaming their couple of previous, cassette-only, releases). Equally post-millennial is the sludgy, Post-Metal aggressiveness present in their brutal, slow-paced stomping heaviness, though they do like to change tempos in midstream to, well...brutal, mid-paced stomping heaviness. Very occasionally, there's a breakthrough to some Sabbath-y riffing moments - though once-removed by the Sludge filters that remain in place - but, mainly, it's a strong feel of Grief which pervades this lengthier half of the split.

Once again, what there is, is well-executed, and given a certain pitiless clarity by the neutral-to-cold precision of the mix. It's easy to pick out the neat little touches of ornamentation droning, rumbling or knifing away behind the main riff-and-vocal thrust, and there're some very satisfyingly chunky bass tones underpinning it all. The only drawback would be the obvious one, that much of this set of three tracks is likely to sound very much on the familiar side, though the groovier rock-out moments do offset that a little. And if you're more fussed about outright heaviness than complete originality, this, without a doubt, fits that particular bill.

Being something of an old rocker at heart, I have to admit to favouring the Death After Birth contribution to 'Burning Water'. It isn't terribly refined, but it has a raw vitality which lifts it above the sum of its parts, and put me in mind of bands like Nazareth, whose good-time hard-rock never quite translated to the studio the way it came across live. Surrogate Prey, though perhaps a better-produced and more polished offering - and a worthy contrast, when considering the balance of the split itself - left me rather colder. Nonetheless, I'm going to give this a net recommend: it's a good value package, with some decent variety, as well as an opportunity to see how Doom travels to less well-known places, and I like the attitude behind it.

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Reviewer's rating: 7/10


Tracklist :
Death After Birth
1. The Archfiend Acquisition
2. From Within
3. The Other Side
Surrogate Prey
4. Banquet Of The Beasts
5. Creviniatus
6. The Emptiness We Seek

Visit the Death After Birth bandpage.

Duration : Approx. 44 minutes

Visit the Surrogate Prey bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-06-14 by Mike Liassides
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