Album Review: Feculent – “The Grotesque Arena” 8/10 (Death Metal)

Written by Kep

FeculentThe Grotesque Arena
Death Metal from Brisbane, Australia
Releases March 19th, 2021
Via Brilliant Emperor Records
8/10

I would like to start off this review with a picture of how I looked while listening to Feculent for the first time. Here it is:

A person in a suit and tie

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I had to find a mirror when it was done to make sure my face wasn’t stuck like that. It’s not, but I think it was a pretty close call. I say this as a warning, dear reader, to be adequately prepared for any facial disfigurement that may result from listening to this exceedingly horrific slab of brutal death. 

Releasing on March 19, The Grotesque Arena is the debut album from Brisbane’s own Feculent, one of a number of fantastic bands to come recently out of Australia. This could almost be called a supergroup, if that term meant anything these days, as it features a whole slew of great musicians that you might know from other bands: Matthew Budge of Resin Tomb, Siberian Hell Sounds, and Consumed on vocals, Kaleb Doherty of thrashers Idle Ruin on guitar, Jim Dandy of Descent on bass, and master-of-all-trades Brendan Auld on drums. Auld is the mastermind behind grimy one-man project Snorlax, which put one of 2020’s most underrated death metal records, as well as a member of Resin Tomb, Siberian Hell Sounds, Consumed, and Necroseptic. He also does the production and mixing here for Feculent. Needless to say, this lineup is stacked, and boy does the music reflect that.

This album is utterly fucking monstrous, and I say that as someone who adores and regularly listens to gruesome, dissonance-worshipping brutal death metal. Have a good look at that album art, and then imagine translating that violent, putrid visual directly into musical form. Listening to the 19 minutes of this effort is like wading through a rotting pool of bile and body parts; it’s not pleasant, but you’re not expecting it to be. This thing is the aural equivalent of loathsomeness, and Feculent accomplishes this in a number of ways.

“Feculent,” by the way, means “of or containing dirt, sediment, or waste matter,” and that idea of grit and grime covers this record. The hits of the drums simultaneously feel visceral and spacious, and there’s a real body to the tone. Auld’s style on the skins is weighty and grounding; he’s got a particular type of thumping blast beat that he favors, which I really enjoyed. (As a sidenote, if you’ve listened to Snorlax’s 2020 LP II, you’ll find that it and The Grotesque Arena have a lot of things in common, particularly in drum tone, thanks to Auld’s work in the mixing and production of both.) Budge’s vocals are deep, cavernous, and doused in reverb, growling and retching with real presence. There’s a lot of bulk to the Doherty and Dandy’s guitar and bass, and they both have gritty, hefty tones that are meatier than a four-inch sirloin. I unequivocally need to praise the cohesiveness of this group; no instrument or member overshadows the other, and there’s nothing written for the purpose of showing off. These are four guys whose only desire is to trample you deep down into the sewage, and they do it as a unit. 

When the first riff arrives nearly half a minute into opener “The Grotesque Arena: Upon Splintered Bone”, it immediately gets chromatic, leaning on a galloping riff of minor intervals over blast beats that propels us headlong into the muck. Eventually the song arrives at a hideous sequence of destructive stomping passages. The main riff of “Host Consumed” leaves behind the blast beats (briefly, at least) for mid-paced, bone-crunching wreckage that’s groovy as hell and feels a lot like Cannibal Corpse or Undeath. “Weaponisation of the Amygdala: Endless Warfare” continues the aural assault with a battering wall of sound that doesn’t relent. There are no guitar solos on Arena, but that doesn’t mean that the guitarwork isn’t damn fine; I particularly enjoy the tight little spirals in the main riff of “A Pit of Unscalable Depths”, and the nasty pinch harmonics that punctuate the section that comes after. “Beneath Bedlam” offers a few moments of breathing room with a doomy, slow-tempo opening, but any feeling of relaxation will quickly be replaced by one of anxiety, as the band slowly drags through filthy sustained chords, collecting scum and building intensity all the way. By the time album closer “The Grotesque Arena: A Perverse Spectacle” arrives, we’re set up for another vicious drop into colossal blast beats and chunky, enormous riffs that alternately pummel and wrench, carrying the album to its ghastly conclusion: 30 seconds of tormented solo vocals.

If I had to come up with a critique or two for Feculent’s debut effort, I’d complain about the runtime. At six tracks and just over 19 minutes, The Grotesque Arena feels a bit too dense to be an EP, but also not quite substantial enough to feel like a full-length. Another couple tracks of brutality wouldn’t have made the album overstay its welcome, and the listening experience would have felt more complete. This is intelligently written, badass stuff, so give us more!

The bottom line, though, is that the four disgustmongers of Feculent have produced a record here that is about as hideous and revolting as you’ll find, and I definitely recommend it highly. 

Just be sure to check your face when you’re done listening.

Favorite track: Host Consumed

Score: 8/10

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