When the opening sentence of your press release details that your frontman has gone elsewhere to finish his PhD, it’s perhaps rather telling that the album accompanying it might perhaps be one that’s decidedly by the numbers. It’s a shame that this album is so tepid, but for a late-career album from a band releasing their 8th album, on a major label no less, not entirely shocking.
It’s not saying much that this album would not get anywhere near being released without the Benediction name behind it. The album takes the riff salad format that’s been so successful in the death metal continuum for aeons, and takes it to its unfortunate logical extreme. As a coherent collection of music, Scriptures falls down, perhaps it’s guilty of being songs tossed in a heavy vinaigrette. Second track “Scriptures in Scarlet” appears to be a barely disguised (or credited) Terrorizer cover, and flourishes of various forms of noise from across the DM spectrum are thrown into play. Whilst the modern OSDM scene thrives on the blending of different styles, on Scriptures, Benediction struggle to coherently bind together anything of worth.
The album feels forced – a bunch of riffs and compositions pumped out by a band not sure if they’re really that bothered anymore. Gone is the dusty, darkened atmosphere that defined Benediction’s early successes, and gone is the rough, DIY charm that held those earliest releases all together. It’s not all bad though, as that definable Benediction sound pulls through in album’s second half, “In Our Hands These Scars”, or “The Blight At The End” pulls off some of that early Benediction deathgrind energy – said energy is where the album is strongest – but all in all it feels stale.
Scriptures feels like music made for a love of writing and performing hard riffs, but there doesn’t really seem to be much coherency or urgency behind the release’s composition, its performance or production. In comparison to the tightly-wound ferocity unleashed by Skeletal Remains or Venom Prison in the last couple of months, or the graven atmospherics currently infesting the 20 Buck Spin roster, Scriptures is difficult to get invested in. It feels like a release churned out to justify festival appearances and live tours. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, as the album’s tracks, alongside some of those old mainstays of the Benediction back catalogue would doubtlessly go down much better in a live environment.
Whilst negative reviews can be really tough for smaller bands, it’s likely that Benediction won’t see a hit from this one with the music press being as toothless and in the thrall of the major labels as they are. It’s difficult to really hold the album’s ‘eh’ factor against Benediction either; in the age of Spotify and digital marketing, brand names are just as, if not more, important to an album’s sales prospects, and Scriptures is an album designed for Spotify – listenable, if not majorly generic.
Whilst there’s a lot of talk about the inevitable collapse of the capitalist music industry (ironically, at the hands of, uh, *checks notes* people who are also capitalists) for many of us, releases like this indicate why the music industry is failing. Scriptures feels largely unnecessary, only seeing the light of day because of the name behind it. Major labels like Nuclear Blast would much rather go with a safe name churning out decidedly mediocre riffs than take a chance on an aspirational, hungry group of musicians, all in the name of pumping ever more plastic tat into the world for monetary gain.
If you’re a longtime fan of Benediction, buy this album, support the band, albums take time to write and record, and it’s obvious that the band still enjoy what they do. If you’re a fan of death metal, enthralled by the savage rebirth of ‘90s OSDM in the past few years, this album won’t do much for you.
Scriptures is out via Nuclear Blast on 16th October and can be ordered here.
Words: Richard Lowe