PENCIL LEAD SYRINGE
Pencil Lead Syringe (2012)
U.S.A., Black Sessions Inc., Brutal Death Metal/Deathgrind
I’m often astonished by the number of metalheads I talk to who aren’t familiar with Pencil Lead Syringe. It makes me cringe to think that any sizable portion of the metal community may not be familiar with the band’s legendary debut ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’, still one of the most savage/very best Brutal Death Metal records I’ve ever heard. Perhaps the reason for their relative obscurity is much like the reason for Terminally Your Aborted Ghost’s obscurity; both bands made absolute mockeries of whatever was purporting to be ‘dark’ in Brutal Death Metal with only a single album. ‘Slowly Peeling The Flesh From The Inside Of A Folded Hand’ and ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’ share a similar uninhibited nihilistic rage that most bands in the Death Metal scene can’t even fathom, let alone express musically. There’s a huge difference between an album about the deepest, darkest cesspools of man’s psyche and an album that was born of that psychosis. It’s not hard to see which camp Pencil Lead Syringe’s releases fall into.
The only hurdle for a band that peaks as early as Terminally Your Aborted Ghost or Pencil Lead Syringe is simply following their debut opus. I’m happy to say after listening to the self titled EP several times since it was released back in May that this is indeed a worthy successor to ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’, albeit a much different release in one key aspect; the mix. ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’s mix was disorienting and murky, a thick cloud of certain demise. What it lacked in full on clarity was irrelevant compared to the bone chilling atmosphere it gave the record. ‘Pencil Lead Syringe’ on the other hand has a much cleaner mix. The guitar, bass, drums and vocals are all exceptionally integrated with one another and given equal time to shine. However, this comes at the cost of ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’s atmospheric thickness. Not to say that this EP is in any way lacking atmosphere or presence but it’s not at all the same. ‘Pencil Lead Syringe’ creates a palpable sense of unease with the discordant precision of every note, acting as equal parts sonic hacksaw and sledgehammer.
If I’m being honest though, I still prefer the impenetrable filth of ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’s mix. Does that mean that I dislike ‘Pencil Lead Syringe’? Absolutely not. It’s really almost impossible for me to not prefer ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’ simply because when I first heard that album, it IMMEDIATELY resonated as one of my Top 10 Brutal Death Metal records of all time. Make no mistake, Pencil Lead Syringe is as amazing as ever and they aren’t going anywhere. Hell, they don’t even have to release a full length album this year to be guaranteed a spot on my year end Best Of 2012 list; how many bands can you say that about?
I’ve been of the mindset that the members of Pencil Lead Syringe are some of the most talented musicians in all of Death Metal for some time now and this EP does nothing but reinforce that notion a hundred fold. I’ve said before that Ramon Mercado is one of the best modern guttural Death Metal vocalists in the genre today but I’d like to add more to that; Ramon’s vocal presence is as close to Matti Way as an American vocalist has come in years. His gutturals are indeed different but no less distinctive, powerful and captivating than Matti’s. Listening to the downright insane vocal delivery on this EP there’s no doubt in my mind that Ramon belongs to a very select cadre of Death Metal frontmen with the likes of Phlegeton of Wormed and A.J. Magana; The day Ramon stops growling will be a very sad day for Death Metal as a whole. Thankfully, that’s not going to happen any time soon.
On the stringed side of the equation, Chris Philippsen’s guitar and bass licks on this EP are staggering. The tone of each riff ranges from hectic and delirious to skull crushing and downright sinister. Every single note of every single song on this EP resonates an undeniable sensation, which is one of the reasons I loved Pencil Lead Syringe to begin with. Even if the tone of a song is just complete hatred, the rawness of the band’s compositions made every single beat reverberate with that feeling. The songs on ‘Pencil Lead Syringe’ are no exception. The riff progressions Philippsen has come up with are nothing short of genius. They’re dissonant, bestial, haunting and so intelligently put together it almost hurts. What’s more, the tone of both the guitar and bass on this record are pitch perfect, so every single riff is that much more potent.
Last but certainly not least, Gerry Flores’ drumming finishes off this equation in a dashing combination of speed, precision and creativity. Gerry can certainly blast with the best of them but I often find the most interesting parts of his performance when he slows down a bit and delivers some downright fascinating double bass and fill patterns. If anything, it’s the final piece of the Pencil Lead Syringe puzzle that allows the masterful vocals, guitar riffs and bass licks to fully set in. When all is said and done and everything comes together, ‘Pencil Lead Syringe’ ends up as the best EP of the year, without question. All 7 songs are a perfect mixture of violent, (Amydala, I Do Believe We’re Naked, Lord Palmerston Vs Pitt The Elder, Brutally Tossed And Beaten By The Tales Of Killer Whales, A Nervous Man In A $2 Room) beautiful (Staring Into Oblivion, Lost In A Decaying Structure) and then some.
Although I haven’t gotten a chance to write about Pencil Lead Syringe until now, they’ve been one of my favorite bands in the modern Death Metal scene for some time now and this EP is the second major release of what I can only hope is a long, fruitful career for these Inland Empire virtuosos. From recording one of my all time favorite Brutal Death Metal records as their debut to releasing this amazing EP, Pencil Lead Syringe is a band that never lets me down. Whenever a group I used to love ends up destroying their reputation over some misguided ‘experiment’, I think of this Californian trio and smile. Even with a significant change in mixing from ‘Suffocated And Embalmed’, Pencil Lead Syringe hasn’t lost even a fraction of their trademark originality and heaviness. Whenever the second full length is announced, I’ll be one of the first to pre-order a copy.
Here’s to Ramon, Chris and Gerry, passionate musicians with the sky as their limit. Keep doing exactly what it is you do fellas. You’ve got it made. \m/