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Swamped in Gore (1991)
 

Oddly enough, Broken Hope was one of the first Death Metal bands that I ever heard, after the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. Their first full-length, Swamped in Gore, was released in November 1991. Despite this, there is still a clear late 80's feel to much of the material and it certainly belongs to the old school Death Metal category.

Among the first things that one might notice upon listening to this record are the very deep vocals that I always described as sounding like some creature gurgling from a toilet bowl. Joe Ptacek's voice can be compared to the style Chris Barnes utilized on Tomb of the Mutilated, or even just a deeper John Tardy. While it was not yet so common, and definitely stands out, my personal preference leans more toward the raspier vocals that previous bands used. The deeper the vocals, the less effective they are in really conveying anything, in my view. Some Reifert-like screams would have helped. That said, they fit in with the music, very well.

As for the songwriting, it's more dynamic than one might expect. It's not technical or progressive, thankfully, but these songs are rarely monotonous. Don't allow the opening moments of "Incinerated" or "Dismembered Carcass" to fool you into thinking Broken Hope is another pointless blastbeast-ridden grind band. While there are those elements, Swamped in Gore is all about the riffs. Whereas a lot of Death Metal became incredibly bland and formulaic around this time, the riffs on this album are by no means interchangeable or generic. Many of them are quite memorable, such as those in the title track, "Awakened by Stench" and "Cannibal Crave". These riffs possess a darker 80's vibe hearkening back to early works from Slayer, Possessed and Death. Here and there, one will also notice bit of Celtic Frost-influenced mid-tempo stuff as well. The guitarists manage to slip in a few evil-sounding lead solos, reminiscent of Hell Awaits, which really adds to the atmosphere. Nothing here can be called groundbreaking or original, but it is very solid and stands on its own.

The guitars are clear enough, but they definitely have a dirty kind of sound that belongs to the previous decade. This certainly is not a demo-quality recording, but it's not modern or plastic either. Honestly, it sounds as if it could have been recorded a few years earlier, alongside something like the first Asphyx E.P. Still, it does lack the raw guitar tone of albums such as Slowly We Rot and Consuming Impulse and sounds a little more polished than the old Autopsy records, for example.

While the vocal style is not my favourite, and a couple of the tracks are a little longer than they need to be, Swamped in Gore is a great old school Death Metal record and one of the best that came from the US in this period. Broken Hope may have been a second or third-tier band in the states, but this album is one that deserves to be heard. Fans of early Death, Obituary, Asphyx, Incantation and Cannibal Corpse, etc. are likely to appreciate this.
 
(29 Dec. 2015)

 
 

Broken Hope's sophomore full-length, The Bowels of Repugnance was released on Metal Blade Records in September 1993. It builds on the sound that they created with their debut album, while streamlining things a bit. Though my introduction to the band came with a dubbed copy of Swamped in Gore, this was the first one that I was able to find in a store. Overall, it's not quite as good, but still a solid record.

The Bowels of Repugnance often relies more on the blastbeats and sections with the rolling double-bass, emphasizing these elements moreso than on Swamped in Gore. Several of the songs are quite brief, compared to those on the previous record, and utilize the aforementioned techniques. Yet there are still plenty of old school Death Metal riffs to be found here, even in these little snippets of violence. "Coprophagia" and "Remember My Members" begin with a lot of blasting and guttural vocals, but soon regress toward the primitive. Regardless of the 'filler' tracks, this record still offers a good amount of pure Death Metal riffs. Songs like "The Dead Half", "She Came Out in Chunks" and "Hobo Stew" owe a lot to the band's 80's roots. The latter even features some fairly sombre solo work. Even "Preacher of Sodomy" begins with dark riffs that evoke the spirit of early Slayer or Death. "Waterlogged" is a rather memorable track that relies on a certain type of groove, so it is likely to be one of the first songs that those new to the band can digest. "Drinking the Ichor" is a melancholic instrumental piece that is kind of reminiscent of Metallica's "To Live is to Die". The final track is another worthy mention, "Felching Vampires" is well-constructed and consists of typical old school riffs and builds a sense of tension at times. With raspier vocals and less double-bass, this would fit well on an album from '88 or '89 with ease. Also, don't get confused by track six, which is an unlisted (and obviously untitled) instrumental.

Like with Swamped in Gore, The Bowels of Repugnance has more of a deep, percussive sound. Nevertheless, there are still enough decent riffs to be found on here, making it Broken Hope's last worthwhile offering. Death Metal was, more or less, dying by this time anyway, so the decay in quality is to be expected. Either way, for solid American Death Metal, don't neglect the band's first two records.
 
(29 Dec. 2015)

 
 

Broken Hope was a band that seemed to remain in the shadow of others, such as Cannibal Corpse and Immolation, throughout their early career. Their first couple albums, Swamped in Gore and The Bowels of Repugnance, feature some rather decent old school Death Metal. They followed this with the dumbed-down and incredibly boring Repulsive Conception and, apparently, realized that something was wrong with their formula. Released through Metal Blade in January 1997, Loathing was somewhat of a departure from the works that preceded it.

What we have here is a rather polished product, by comparison to that which came before. Perhaps, in an attempt to escape the immense mediocrity of Repulsive Conception, Broken Hope made some significant changes. Make no mistake, many of the trademark elements of the band's sound are still present, but the overall approach is different. The production is very modern and clean and there is an added sense of melodicism that permeates nearly every track, as well as much more technical musicianship. Alone, these things would not necessarily indicate much of a problem, but several of the melodies come off as pretentious and only serve to lighten the atmosphere. However, the worst offense has to be the extremely catchy choruses that are found in nearly every song. The vocals are still as deep as ever, like echoes of some monstrous voice emanating from a filthy sewer, but the patterns are very predictable and one gets the feeling that they were planned out with clean singing. They follow the melodies very closely and seem quite unlike anything that the band had done before. While several of the songs are easily memorable and less likely to blend together as on their previous outing, it all wears thin pretty quickly.

Broken Hope were never among the top-tier of Death Metal bands, but their earlier works possessed a darker atmosphere that is severely lacking here. Loathing cannot be called an attempt to "sell-out", by any means, though the more melodic approach and the catchy choruses likely make this the most accessible album from this band. After such a lackluster and tedious third album, Broken Hope probably just decided that some sort of change was needed and, unfortunately, this is what they came up with. There is no feeling present, just the stench of modernity.
 
(2 Sept. 2015)
















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