Lean, mean, and razor-sharp, Ancst‘s culture of brutality will chew you up and spit you out so much more alive than you were before.

Release date: May 3, 2024 | Lifeforce Records | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Website

Life is super busy right now. I’ve seen that in my own life as well as the lives of those closest to me. Personally, I’ve had a full-on few months; good, but barely a second to breathe. I’ve been in a sort of manic episode, rehearsing for and organising shows, playing gigs, travelling for work, trying to buy my first home, meeting new people all the time, and all of that comes at a considerable cost both in terms of the impact on my free time and my emotions. All of this has left me with the attention span of a squirrel, constantly running around and trying to do a million things at once. So, even now that things have calmed down and I finally have a bit more time, I knew if I wanted to review an album, it was going to need to be short, to the point, and intense.

Ancst’s recent release culture of brutality ticked all of those boxes with striking ease. Despite consisting of 20 tracks, it comes in at a blistering 35 minutes, with most of the songs being between one and two minutes long. Deathgrind is not a genre I’m super familiar with; I tend to prefer a bit of prog, extended song structures, and repetition, but after the months I have had, my patience is at an all-time low. Time is something I simply haven’t had, and something that in the age of global warming, social media, and the ever more urgent need to address social injustices, we as a society don’t have either. It sounds like Ancst are all too familiar with that vibe.

(Photosensitivity warning: the below video contains rapidly flashing images)

culture of brutality is blackened death metal on crack. Every song is lean, sinewy, and wastes absolutely no time beating around the bush. The riffs clip you around the head from the start to the end, with hardly a moment to rest, a pummelling onslaught of tremolo picking, chugging, bark-growled vocals, and blast beats. My brain felt well and truly like it had been through a meat grinder by the time I was halfway through, and had been reduced to complete mush by the end of the last track. The album is unapologetically brutal, without ever coming across as gory or messy – it’s coldly calculated, yet viscerally felt fury through and through. If culture of brutality doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping and your teeth gnashing, I don’t know what will.

In amongst the thick darkness, culture of brutality has moments of sadistic beauty – the end of “chasing horizons”, the chorus of “destination nowhere” in which gorgeously open chords hang suspended over battering double kicks, “vitreous conformity” and its dripping ending arpeggiations, the swampy warmth of “beneath these hills of iron” and its meandering bass line, and of course the tender if ultimately misleading clean opening of “edge of reason”. Even the undoubtedly dreary “tearless oblivion” is beautiful – hopeless, desolate, but beautiful nonetheless.

In fact, “edge of reason” is a bit of an outlier on the album. Not only is it the only track to feature clean guitars, but it’s the most musically scattered, tickling melodic death metal and of course containing a healthy dose of Ancst’s trademark take on black metal harmony, but also heavily leaning towards metalcore and deathcore. Even rhythmically, it’s jarring, hacking away in with grim determination. “edge of reason” can’t seem to make up its mind. It’s a nod to Death’s progressive era and Wolves in the Throne Room as much as it is to Trivium and Attila. Its disjointed nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I feel it adds an element of bedlam to the otherwise very organised chaos of the album.

A great example of culture of brutality’s razor-sharp songwriting is “spanking your laser brain”. The song gnashes away unrelentingly, its visceral black metal opening stomped out all too soon by palm muted chugging and stacked tritone stabs, before the song becomes something resembling icily gorgeous for just a few seconds. The guitars build on top of each other, a perfectly hellish wall of shifting harmony and dissonance. The chorus, if one can call it that, borders on catchy – an almost metalcore flavour adds a lovely emotional intensity to its sweet fury.

Listening to this album, I was reminded of my first foray into mathcore; I was studying music and had just (re)discovered The Dillinger Escape Plan, and I was obsessed. At my request, our music theory teacher did a class on odd time signatures and polyrhythms, using TDEP’s “Milk Lizard” as the example song. I was having a great time listening to it, but one of my classmates just couldn’t wrap her head around it. After the song finished, she couldn’t help but blurt out, ‘is that even music?’. Of course, this amused me to no end – “Milk Lizard” undoubtedly being one of TDEP’s more palatable songs. More recently, I was working an event at which the audience’s age definitely skewed towards the higher decades. The artist playing would occasionally add some lightly distorted guitars and slight vocal grit into his country songs, sparking one audience member to comment, ‘is it supposed to not sound like music?’. I get a bit of a kick out of imagining how these people would react to an album like this one; no doubt it would be a challenge for them, and the more extreme subgenres of metal (like deathgrind) are certainly an acquired taste. I, however, can’t get enough of it. I liked culture of brutality the first time I heard it, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the absolute infatuation I feel for it now.

culture of brutality is the whole package. You wanna punch some walls? Chuck on “negativity bias”. Feeling a bit bogged down and just want to stew for a while? “beneath these hills of iron” is your pal. Just want to thrash around for a bit and tell someone to ‘get fucked’? “whiteboard criminal”, boi. And if you just want to feel something – anger, awe, resentment, something bordering on obsessive love – the whole album is the way to go. I didn’t know how much I needed culture of brutality right now. There’s such a gratifying immediacy to the entire record – despite being so concise, I don’t feel it leaves anything unsaid. Ancst came, they riffed, they conquered.

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