This is the first EP from the southern Finnish two-piece after the release of the two albums. It has an important value since it acts as a gulf between the first part of Fractured Spine's existence and the second. After this 5-track (technically an EP, but in some aspects an album, as it lasts over half an hour), the band decided to remix and remaster the two albums in view of the anniversary edition, therefore it witnesses a change in the manner their own music was viewed until that time.
The recording is consequently more modern, louder and has more impact, still it occasionally maintains some kind of elementary rawness that
can sometimes make it compete with the roughest sounds found in some 80s demos, especially as for tom toms and simple guitar strokes.
One further noteworthy aspect is that the fourth track is available on Bandcamp with a different drum mix, so die-hard
fans can rejoice, make a comparison and listen to the second mixing work, which is actually what the band really wanted to achieve from the beginning.
The covers for this EP were hand-drawn, then digitally scanned by Jussi Leppänen. The front cover portrays a dead soul watching an isolated tombstone near a few lifeless trees. It might be the Grim Reaper or the dead person themselves preparing to avenge themselves and thus be connected to some of the lyrics described below. This entity holds a shovel in its hands and is confused in the haze albeit the moon is big and shining. On the other hand, the back cover just shows an enlargement of a detail of the front cover (partially the face of the dead being, and one of the big dead trees at the centre).
On this occasion the title of the EP, as well as the lyrics, feature a particular template rich in curls (likely an 18th century calligraphy one) that explains how the stories told occurred 200 years ago and also that proves how the Finns don't like stagnating and try to offer new elements not only concerning the musical side, without betraying their origins and their organic proposal since 2008.
As to the lyrics, they are once again a strong point, and they respectively cover the following topics:
-a man who is full of hatred because of what the world did to him and feels like trapped in one of hell's rings.
-a man killed and buried in a dark forest rises from his grave in search for revenge.
-someone bringing death to his enemies (this being my favourite because it's in old English and has a Biblical edge)
-somebody despaired because even his dears fear him after his soul has become obsessed by the seven sins and the most powerful demons.
-a person constrained in a hospital bed without hopes to wake up again begging for someone to pull the plug to end their torment.
This time the lyrics are only available on Bandcamp, as the carton CD has no inlay card. I absolutely don't want to start a polemic with the label, but at the same time I wish Inverse records had believed more in this project, as I'm sure the artwork drawings that are missing would have kicked ass once again; we've been spoilt with sublime artwork by the Finnish duo in their two albums, but as one Rolling Stones' song lyrics say: 'you can't always get what you want'.
The 7 minutes of opener "Vision of Tartarus" kick off with Katatonian-influenced riffs and immediately after a couple of almost Nu Metal riffs, then a tribal rhythm intervenes, followed by sideral keyboards and triggered kick drums rule over the other instruments reminding acts such as the latest In Flames or Pain but only before the vocals start. They range from growls to evil witch's screams. Later on, a break sees bass and drums protagonists just prior to guitar solos that are plainly different one from each other. The sung structure returns with its mid tempo, and the vocals now are almost only Black Metal. There's a vibrating effect for the guitar before the catchy and violent refrain returns, and one just can't stay indifferent to so much beauty in black. Everything disappears and only fading orchestral lines quickly lead the listener to the closure.
Sombre keys open "Pale Face from the Past", a brief heavy intermezzo appears and then a twisted riff arrives with dirty-effected low-end vocals which get deformed and high-pitched similarly to when you face a special mirror that stretches your image; the drums are odd, the guitars continue their tune now balanced by weird piano touches; this is definitely one of those parts where the Progressive side of the band emerges overwhelmingly. Cold Black Metal vocals take the spotlight and I can't hide how much I adore the way the guitar here dictates the stops and the accents in the following instants preceding the exceptional guitar solo: try and think of a blend between Morbid Angel and Nuclear Death (USA) with a Black Metal attitude and you won't be too distant from the real thing. In the smoothest way possible you won't even realize that from the Black Metal screams the singer has moved to clean vocals that together with the new drum pattern elevate the song, even if threatening vocals in the background remind us we're not floating in heavenly skies. To confirm that this is simply a temporary illusion of positive turning of events, the vocals return guttural and the riff speed slows down so that we regain consciousness seeing we're in a new pit of hell; the processed guitar riff and the frantic drum accelerations and decelerations contribute in unison to prepare the listener for another long and pretty skillful axe solo which vaguely reminds sporadic brief passages from Steve Vai's solos in "The Love of God". Later on, caustic vocals duet with clean vocals on a Fear Factoresque blastbeat, till the vocals turn scorching and even demonic and the last guitar stroke fades out very gradually.
The inception of "As I Bring Death to MY Enemies" is in the sign of electronic beats and as mournful synth sounds as the ones which can be played during a symphonic funeral march, after that a blacker than pitch-black Doom/Black Metal portion begins; the vocals are strikingly piercing first and extremely putrid afterwards, followed by growling, raspy vocals and piano lines, interrupted for a short time by the above-mentioned beats. A sad, delicate, slightly distorted guitar solo begins, to then explode into all its electric might to anticipate a Doom/Death Metal part; the vocals become Black screams again before isolated piano touches lead the opusto the conclusion. So again, you may understand that the band haven't spared their creative impulses and have spawned a very elaborate track within only 5 minutes, that masterfully depicts the anguish the majority of us feel through these trying modern times on a musical canvas.
The wonderfully titled "I Have Earned My Despair" is opened by a carillon, horrorific keyboards and the cracking noises of a turntable stylus in loop; symphonic synths appear, and then an almost Spanish-styled guitar enters, followed by a deep bass stroke, a heavily-distorted crushing guitar, hyperguttural vocals that become urticating and reverberated. A dry guitar devoid of bass sounds panned hard left and right fast in turn when it successively undergoes an effect modification, is ensued by magical key touches and Black/Death Metal vocals of a mad zombie come out of its grave to find revenge. A martial and furious movement comes before a major riff pops in, then the piece goes on with a majestic mid-tempo enriched by refined guitar licks. Then it's time for vampiric vocals during a slow breakdown with a semi-acoustic guitar, satanic laughters precede demonic growls and an elegant guitar solo while the drums are going forward in the most mechanical fashion. An Electronica part is replaced by a symphonic powerful section, and here the drums don't sound very good unfortunately. Getting closer to the end we meet piano touches alone, then in company with the rest of the instruments, all slow and Doomy, until spacial ethereal keys that grow kinder and kinder get to fill in the last seconds.
The beep of a hospital machine
that controls vital functions introduces the early segment of "Still Beating"; soon after imperial Death Metal moments get mingled with menacious Black Metal singing on electronic beats. The machine's beeps can be heard also before the guitar solo that seems to be able to detach our souls from our bodies and elevate them in the sky. A second guitar solo surfaces earlier than the repetition of the Death and Black Metal features that we have already met until the beep becomes constant to confirm the sufferer's decease.
For mysterious reasons, Fractured Spine continue to be a little known gem of Depressive Metal mercylessly pillaging several other Metal genres for its necessities and consequently evolving into an ensemble hard to categorize with just three-four words. I'm aware that artists hate categories but people who don't know a band should start from a vague idea to make a first selection of what to listen to and what to ignore.
Analyzing again the topic of the Scandinavian's duo unexplained scarce popularity, we have to observe that
Metal Archives, for instance, attaches no review from the already relatively large discography, and - case even rarer - the discography itself is incomplete. In general, there are not many reviews of the band in specialized websites or blogs.
Although there's a handful of elements and effects previously expressed in the older material that are here used again very briefly, "The Price of Retribution" remains a group of songs where the band mostly dare to add a certain number of bold components throughout the 5 compositions instead of just going safe and recycling themselves.
Despite not being perfect (but getting pretty close to that goal), this is an excellent effort. Fractured Spine have massive composing talent for greatness, hopelessness and sorrow translated into musical landscapes.