By Tate Bengtson
While the Danish death metal sound does not attract the same level of international attention as that of Poland, Sweden, or the sundry death metal meccas of the United States, it is no less distinct. Popularized by Konkhra in the early 90s, the sound is known for its relatively clean guitar tones, crisp production values, and penchant for mixing rapid-fire drumming with chunky riffs. Over time, this sound has been taken in a variety of directions, with Exmortem perhaps the best act to emerge and to conquer.
The Cleansing boasts an impressive pedigree which includes a former member of the aforementioned Exmortem as well as members of Usipian, Corpus Mortale, and Panzerchrist. In fact, The Cleansing sounds like a logical (and better produced) extension of Usipian, which should come as no surprise given that Usipian is the former band of The Cleansing’s vocalist, bassist, and both guitarists.
While The Cleansing holds to the signature dry tones of the Danish death metal sound, the band pushes the formula by foregrounding technicality and speed. The band’s biography may cite Morbid Angel and Immolation as influences, but there are few of the jarring rhythms and stomach-churning riff progressions that such a comparison should entail. Instead, The Cleansing’s technicality is much closer to Cannibal Corpse (circa Gore Obsessed and The Wretched Spawn) or even Hate Eternal. Frankly, this is a much less interesting form of technicality, especially given that The Cleansing’s songwriting and grasp of the all-important slow section is inferior to a Cannibal Corpse (Hate Eternal grasps neither, but manages to pick up some of the slack through the sheer excess of its riffs-per-minute count).
When the band pushes past simply emitting machine-gun drumming and note-dense riffs, Poisoned Legacy gets a bit more interesting. “Harnessed by the Shadows” begins with an apocalyptic guitar movement before lurching into a typical fast-paced approach, but this is interlaced with midtempo breaks that eventually serve as the staging ground for the best guitar lead on the album. “The Dawn of Phantom Effects,” which begins with a menacing keyboard-led piece, offers a coldly calculated, staggeringly deliberate riff. Several other songs are worthy of note due to the moody guitar soloing, which stands in as the atmospheric ground on songs which otherwise lack this quality: “Flesh Recycled,” “Ghost Trauma,” “Derelict,” and “Awoken at Gunpoint.”
It is no coincidence that all of the best songs possess a common thread: each showcases the band’s ability to change up the note density and tempo of its approach. The speed/tech straitjacket is loosed, allowing The Cleansing to deliver some much-needed blunt force trauma. With this comes the most memorable riffs, those all-too-rare moments where a properly malevolent atmosphere is conjured, and that welcome bit of mental breathing room wherein the numbed attention is rejuvenated. It is here that the dynamic sensibility that eludes the band for much of Poisoned Legacy emerges. Unfortunately, even within the band’s strongest songs, this sensibility is not delivered with the emphatic power and strength of concept that is required.
Poisoned Legacy is a fine addition to the Danish death metal corpus (mortale…apologies for the horrid pun). It is well-performed musically and quite enjoyable in short bursts, but it lacks the consistently dynamic songwriting required to hold the attention for its duration.