A lot of people will immediately remark on how old-school this album is, harkening back to the early days of Death when it was either all about Gore and Horror or about Satan (or about both!). I get that and yes, this album truly does recall those times of yore. But what will get lost in the song titles, the giggling over the blood and the speed, is how truly groovy this record is. It stomps at times, and I mean, the good kind of stomp, where your head is banging and you’re grinning from ear to ear as these Cleveland, Ohio boys catch a riff and crack you right over the skull with it. “Slave to the Scalpel” is the first album by 200 Stab Wounds, and I certainly hope it won’t be their last.
Out of the gate, you notice the drums. How can you not? Underlying a sick sample about carving flesh, they come rumbling in, all thunder and doom, roiling across a black-clouded sky, echoing through the canyons of your mind. The guitars roar in next, low and angry, letting you know right away this is Death Metal proper, nothing fancy coming your way. And that bass! Deep rumbling underpinning it all, the true glue holding it all together. If that doesn’t seal the deal, then the Voice rips through, and the opening track “Skin Milk” is well underway, fast and loose, rattling and deadly. Quite an intro and the rest of the album lives up to the start.
What follows is a series of relatively short songs. They all flow into one another, creating the feel that this is one long, 28-minute or so track. It isn’t. Each song has its own individual flavor, careening back and forth from violent speed to chunky groove to shrill melody. There’s titanic riffing like “Tow Rope Around the Throat” and then there’s hardcore haste like “Stifling Stew,” each song managing to grind and fly. It’s sort of like watching an old muscle car roar down the road, holes in its muffler, tires barely gripping the pavement, parts rattling, ready to fall off at any moment. And yet, it all hangs on.
No song is more than four minutes long, most floating around the two and half mark. Longest is “Phallic Filth,” and that’s mostly due to a creepy sample at the beginning and some horror synth to slow things down a bit. I mean, you gotta catch your breath at some point. This track drips with grimy atmosphere before rolling forward, Kerry King squealing guitar solos and all. It settles into an appropriately nasty maggot stomp before racing forward again.
There’s also lots of tiny bits of gore peppered throughout the record, moments that show these guys know exactly what they’re doing. These additions add variety and pep to the songs, keeping the whole thing from going stale. There’s the aforementioned Kerry King solo style flourishes, and then there’s the little guitar trill at the beginning of title track “Slave to the Scalpel,” as well as other squeaks and squonks from the guitars, displaying just how well-versed these guys are (hell, you even hear a bit of Dimebag here and there). It’s this kind of attention to detail that doesn’t get enough credit.
When you see the album cover, you think “Cartoonish Gore Death Metal,” and you wouldn’t be far from wrong. But it’s the little things that make this more than just another carbon-copy band, and it definitely helps them stand out from the “ha, ha! we drink beer and watch gore movies” crowd. This is fun, to be sure, but it’s also greasy and scary, and it careens just slightly out of control, adding an extra layer of danger. In the end, this thing that could sound old and tired actually comes across as fresh and exciting. In the end, you’re going to find a new band to fall in love with. In the end, this is probably making my Best of the Year list.