Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Centinex - Malleus Maleficarum

Centinex is a positively maddening band from a historical perspective. With their roots in the early '90s but not getting their career genuinely underway until the mid to late parts of the decade, they seem to have come too late to be formative, and yet traces of this band seem to be all over modern artists. For instance: I had no idea that The Berzerker really owed just about their entire riffing style to this band's mid-era. Much of Vehemence's melodic sense and pacing seems to stem from these Swedes. It goes on and on down the line, with Centinex very rarely getting cited as an influence to anyone, but with the band's tendrils seemingly sneaking into a big chunk of what we hear nowadays in some of extreme metal's biggest names. Undoubtedly, the band occupies a very odd space in the metal scene, never having received the widespread appreciation they probably deserved, and at the same time, never having really pushed the envelope in a way that would earn such praise. I'm inclined to think that, whether consciously known or not, Centinex may have been a great deal more significant than we give them credit for; there's just too much about albums like "Malleus Maleficarum" that seems a pinch ahead of its time or a shade too well-constructed to be simply passed over like so many other '90s releases.

Calling this a pure Swedish death metal album is so reductionist is verges on objectively incorrect. One of the least spoken of elements inherent to Centinex is the obvious, massive black metal influence in their style, which comes out in spades on "Malleus Maleficarum." To define things a bit better, though, what Centinex more genuinely reminds me of is bands like Aeternus: stalwarts of mid-'90s Scandinavia who never felt the need to refine their sound clearly into a death or black metal box after the genres became more stratified. Even the Swedish death metal that understandably forms a major part of this release is utterly hybridized: Stockholm meets Gothenburg, which along with a good chunk of Tampa death metal makes "Malleus Maleficarum" sound like the poppier, more accessible brother of "Spiritually Uncontrolled Art." It's a sort of fusion of Dismember, Dissection, and bits and pieces of Obituary and Autopsy on the more sluggish, doomy end. It goes without saying that the album is pretty varied in its sound, especially with the older death/thrash demo tracks kept on as a bonus, which portrays yet another face for the band.

Due to the multiplicity of available styles, the general structuring of "Malleus Maleficarum" can come off as somewhat haphazard and riff-saladish. Unlike more modern bands with this musical approach, though, instead of drastically changing style from riff to riff, Centinex approaches things in a more narrative fashion, with discrete songwriting blocks dedicated to Gothenburg melodeath, ominous, Emperor-style black metal, or Stockholm trundling, using each stylistic shift as a sort of musical paragraph of its own. This doesn't entirely diminish the quirky, occasionally offputting nature of "In the Nightside Eclipse" placed directly next to "Like An Everflowing Stream," but it does suggest that the band put a great deal more thought into the sort of structuring you see here than is typical. While some of the shifts are jarring, none of the passages themselves are any weaker than others, and when bound together with a fence-straddling but oddly representative production style (nearly identical, especially in guitar tone, to "Death Metal" a year later) the various stylistic juxtapositions are navigated much more cleanly than would be expected.

The band's black metal pedigree is distinct- as distinct as the death metal- and it comes out both thematically in the occult-oriented lyrical topics and musically in the forward-thinking black metal riffing that combines an erudite Emperor style of romantic melody with a stripped-down, punky energy, bringing to mind much later bands like Throndt in their sort of juvenile fervor. When combined with the Gothenburg on display, it's musical candy- the two styles dovetail magnificently, and somewhat unsurprisingly, it's the chunkier, more brooding Stockholm death metal which tends to get left out in the cold more often than not. The oppressive, somewhat doomy strains of Entombed can seem sort of static and lifeless compared to the flying, blast and harmony-oriented extreme metal that defines the rest of the album, and while its inclusion is something of a product of the album's time, it still poses a sort of speedbump for the listener. You've been forewarned. Still, the riffcraft is second to none: a beautiful fusion of the most accessible elements of both black and death metal at the time which makes for ripping and raw yet uniquely appealing and, dare I say, "happy" sounding music despite all its growling vocals and abraded, corrosive guitar tone. Hell, listen to the cock rock solos on songs like "Luciferian Moon" (off the later "Bloodhunt") which set the stage for The Crown years later- they're having fun with what they do.

"Malleus Maleficarum" isn't the band's best album simply because they hadn't yet managed to find their distinct sound- that of a Hypocrisy/Limbonic Art blend with half the pretense- but it's worth investigation for its possibly revelatory position in extreme metal. I'm not sure if I'll ever know whether this band was as big an influence on others as it outwardly appears to be, but there's little doubt in my mind that this and the band's other albums are hidden gems in the Swedish scene. Absolutely worth a purchase, especially considering how cheap the band's discography has become on underground distros.

3 comments:

  1. Finally going to check this out now. Really enjoyed it. Centinex was always a name you came across, but never really looked into, I find.

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  2. Centinex is one of my favorite bands. I strongly recommend Reborn Through Flames and Reflections. They really refined their black/death style on those albums. Even a couple of their later albums, like Hellbrigade, are worth tracking down, even though they began to stray away from their black metal influences on that album. Eventually they dwindled into forgettable modern death/thrash metal towards the end of their career.

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  3. Dude, was this your xmas present to me??? Sounds perfect. I have to hear this.

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