In a sense, you’ve already heard Landmine Marathon’s Rusted Eyes Awake. Hearken back to the days of old, when Bolt Thrower was grinding it up for BBC’s John Peel. Their trudging, bombastic style was a teeth-shattering mix of the heavy thrash sound and the speedy pace and note structure of hardcore punk. Their second studio album, Realm of Chaos – Slaves to Darkness, had that archetypal early grindcore sound and it hit store shelves in 1989, a scant twenty years ago. So why the history lesson? Well, go pick up that album, and you’ve essentially got Rusted Eyes Awake.
Old school grind fans, I’m going to speak directly to you: stop reading this review and go buy this album right now. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an album that belonged less on a digital medium. Here it is, twenty plus years after the great UK grind revolution, and I’m listening to a spanking new CD from a young group of Arizonians who have nailed the iconic grind sound. And by nailed, I mean with a friggin’ nail gun. There’s nothing missing here: screeching barked vocals (by a woman, no less; perhaps a grind first?), uber-technical drumming, punk-style riffing, the deep resonating over-distorted and raw guitar sound, the “we recorded this live in one or two takes inside of a 6×8 garage studio” production; it’s all here, all classic grind.
Therein sits the problem with Rusted Eyes Awake: it’s, excuse the blasphemy, too old school. This is 2009, not 1989, and I leave the classic grind sound to the classic grinders. Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Carcass; you know, the usual suspects. Landmine Marathon’s album is great, but every moment of every song sounds like something I’ve heard before, years ago. I think it mainly boils down to the production side of things. I realize that sometimes poor production is actually desired, but in this day and age, where Joe Bob and Billy Bob can self-produce a perfect sounding record out of their own basement using the bare essentials, why does Landmine Marathon have to be hindered by such a narrow, unprofessional sounding record? In many ways, it sounds like a full-on demo rather than a new album. The guitars are too thin, the bass, bass drum, and guitars all blend together and cancel each other out with an annoying HUM when they’re in sync. When stacked up against a modern grind record, say Napalm Death’s Time Waits for No Slave, Rusted Eyes Awake just sounds weak.
If isolated long enough with the album, the production issues disappear, at least for me. The guitar work is phenomenal and fast, heavy and very rhythmic. Lots of riffing, lots of dissonance, lots of wild solos. Grace Perry’s vocals remind me of Belphegor frontman Helmuth’s high-pitched screams. Plenty of throat, lots of rasp, very powerful. The drumming is dead on and very technical. The blast beats alone are worthy of any of the grind masters.
Bottom line, this is an album for those old school grind fans to buy, listen to, and reminisce about the good old days with a longing sigh. It brings a near-perfect early grind sound to the table, including the horrific production. As I once said about Suicide Silence when I heard their debut album, “These guys have potential if they can just get some decent production.” Landmine Marathon have a wealth of potential and this album, despite its one disparaging flaw, puts that potential on display. Now all they need to do is leave the garage and level up.