Beaten to Death- Unplugged

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beaten to Death’s sophomore effort Dødsfest! was one of my highlights of 2013, as its unpredictable mish-mash of grindcore and just about every other kind of heavy rock music out there was addictive. Not only did it switch styles seemingly on a whim, but there were a lot of melodic moments that had a considerable amount of hook to them and made the short tracks have quite a bit of staying power. Two years later the band has returned with Unplugged, which despite its name is definitely not an attempt an acoustic grind album. For the most part these guys have kept doing what they do best, and the results are as unpredictable, catchy, and just downright fun to listen to as before.

Each of Beaten to Death’s albums has been recorded live, and Unplugged is no exception. I know this might have some of you shuddering at other “live” releases that have the absolute worst sound quality and sound like they were recorded inside a trash can, but that’s not the case here as all it means is that the instrumentals keep that raw edge to them but are all audible. The material flies by fairly quickly, as the group has crammed thirteen tracks into twenty one minutes and the majority of them are one to two minutes long. But they accomplish quite a bit in that short span of time, hitting listeners with so many different ideas and stylistic shifts that it can often be difficult to keep up and it might take a few spins to truly get a feel for everything that’s happening. Beaten to Death has a tendency to move from harsh blasts and heavy grooves to introspective melodies and bursts of atmosphere, all in the span of 20-30 seconds. In the hands of any other group, these sudden shifts and tonality changes from ear piercing to soft and mellow would probably completely fall apart but here it feels completely fluid and natural and that’s what makes Unplugged have so much staying power. For as quick as it goes by, you’ll find that moments like the surprisingly warm melodies of “Don’t You Dare to Call Us Heavy Metal” or proggier riffs on “Greenway Harris” stick with you and encourage hitting the repeat button. It’s definitely grindcore at heart, but Beaten to Death branches out and grabs bits of just about every other punk, metal, and rock genre in the process and once again merges together into a perfect mixture that’s aggressive and fun to listen to at the same time.

While the constantly changing instrumentals are sure to catch your attention, once again the vocals are what helps to make Beaten to Death’s ideas so completely unpredictable. The pitches are all over the place, hitting both guttural growls and goregrind style gurgles along with hardcore style screaming and everything in between. There’s never a predictable pattern to the screaming, growling or shouting, and like the tempo and tonality changes there might be a shift between the pitches in the span of a handful of seconds. Thanks to their continued decision to record live the vocals are often right at the front, but while they do steal the spotlight on many occasions they never overpower the rest of the band. My favorite element of the performance is how well it manages to offer up the complete opposite sounds of the guitars. A perfect example of this is on opener “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Summon the Breath of Life Enshrined in the Collected Scrolls of Sheryl Crow” (yes, that’s the actual song name) where right near the end the guitars mellow out and reach towards much lighter textures. Right at this moment, the vocals come in with some of the most distorted and bizarre sounding gurgles the entire record has to offer, and it’s absolutely perfect.

For the most part, Unplugged sticks with what worked previously and that’s not a bad thing because there still isn’t another band that sounds exactly like Beaten to Death. They’ve continued to take the aggressive, constantly changing nature of grindcore and completely twist it around with melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on an art rock record and other flourishes that touch upon just about every genre of heavy music. It’s the type of release that does something most material of this type can’t, which is to be harsh and unrelenting yet fun and happy at the same time. I’m not sure just yet where I’d rank this in comparison to Dødsfest! just yet, as right now I like them both about equally and think Unplugged will get just as many listens from me in the months to come. But one thing is for sure, and that’s Beaten to Death’s ability to be more off the wall and experimentally oriented than any other grind act out there and three album’s in they’ve yet to disappoint.

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