I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who is as much into grindcore as Bent Sea‘s project mastermind Dirk Verbeuren. Although you probably wouldn’t be able to hear much grind in his drumming with Soilwork for the past decade, Verbeuren channelled his love of the oft-misaligned style through this side project. Bent Sea came to my attention with the release of their debut EP Noistalgia, a twenty-minute surge of intensity that offered the unexpected benefit of having Devin Townsend guesting as the bassist. It was a wild and biting experience, and the trademark brevity of the compositions did little to betray the complexity apparent in the music.
Considering the explosive force and potential on Noistalgia, it’s actually been somewhat disappointing that Bent Sea has since apparently opted to exclusively collaborate on splits rather than release their own work. While I would certainly prefer to hear Bent Sea’s grind destiny fulfilled with more substantive releases, this split with Swedish death metallers Usurpress is solid; not merely for the fact that both bands’ material is relatively strong, but also in that the different approach each has brought to the split compliments the other.
I think that, beyond common concerns of quality compared to a band’s flagship output, the biggest potential issue with splits is whether or not bands sound good together under a single roof. It’s not usually a matter of not sounding close enough as it is being too close; bands of a feather can sound so similar that it seems to defeat the purpose of splits to begin with. Although both Bent Sea and Usurpress derive their art from a similarly aggressive mindset, there’s a strong contrast between the two sounds. Usurpress plays death metal with the slightest tinge of hardcore energy to their riffs; what’s more, the distinction is all the greater in the sense that their songwriting is conventionally full-bodied. After listening to Usurpress’ seven-and-a-half-minute cornerstone, ‘A Tidal Wave of Fire’, the thirty-second burstfires that comprise the Bent Sea side nearly come as a shock. Beyond the superficial matters of length (an element some people seem incapable of getting past when discussing grindcore), the two bands’ respective manifestations of anger are quite different; whereas Bent Sea relies on a relentless barrage of chaos, Usurpress values dynamics and an adherence to more easily recognizable riffs and patterns.
Both of these extreme metal avenues are just as worthy and promising as the other. With that said, the Usurpress side leaves a slightly stronger lasting impression here. Although they only have half of a twenty-odd-minute runtime to make a statement, the three songs (including the solid overture ‘Eternity Denies History’) weave together like a would-be death metal epic. Particularly during the split’s best offering, ‘A Tidal Wave of Fire’, Usurpress offer several twists that fall well beyond the call of the ‘death-crust’ label they’ve given themselves. Not least surprising of all is a dirge-like mid-section with a semi-sung groan that almost sounds like Atila Csihar dropped by the studio one day. ‘City of the Nomads’ balances between death and sludge riffs decently enough, but has never managed to leave nearly as much of an impression.
Although the Bent Sea side doesn’t offer anything quite as compelling as ‘A Tidal Wave of Fire’, it’s both more consistent and challenging than the first half. Admittedly, between the two, I’ve spun the Bent Sea side more than the Usurpress‘; long after I had properly digested the latter’s offerings, I was still in the midst of figuring out the former. Bent Sea’s side bears little distinction between tracks. It is a ten-minute onslaught, rhapsodic in its touch-and-go riffs and rhythms. There are certainly a couple of less-intense sections (most notably the slow build on ‘I Am Become Lust’), but the thing generally unfolds as blistering chaos. I get the impression that every riff and idea is in a rush to get somewhere. The effect of this is intense and visceral. In spite of this sense of rushing movement however, Bent Sea does not give the impression that there is a tangible destination for their journey. Considering the intensity Verbeuren and company are able to muster, it is pretty disappointing that the music peters out into nothingness without a properly satisfying conclusion. All that’s here to signal the album’s final moment from, say, a riff in the dead-center of the action is the sample of a muffled explosion. Given the breathless momentum Bent Sea veer towards, it is understandable that there isn’t a more ceremonious climax, but the end always comes off as needlessly abrupt.
With that said, I’m sure this would not have been an issue if Bent Sea had been working on an album by themselves. While the stylistic contrast emphasized on the split serves to highlight the merits of each band, it seems like both bands are kept from achieving their respective sounds’ potential by having to share the context with someone else. This is something that might be said for many splits, but it feels especially true in this case. Both Bent Sea and Usurpress have definitely offered solid material on this one, but at most, it feels like a gateway to the music they have done, or will do, on their own.
01) Eternity Denies History
02) A Tidal Wave of Fire
03) City of the Nomads
04) Double Standards
05) I Am Become Lust
06) Fashion Victims
07) At Any Cost
09) Nature of the Blast