Artist: Bare Knuckle Conflict
Imperium is an all-consuming barrage of snarling guitars (Dustin Tinnon/Kevin Bowen), slamming rhythm section (Jimmy Pourdas/Andrew Crain), and Josh Whitt's sinister scowls from (and for) the pits of hell.
But the carnage that is Bare Knuckle Conflict barely cloaks their origins in groove metal alongside Machine Head and, to a lesser extent, Pantera. It's everything we love about thrash metal, slowed down to the mid-tempo. Like "Darkness Within" and "Cemetary Gates" of their aforementioned ancestors, Bare Knuckle Conflict will often introduce extended melodic sections -- as they do with "Authority Figure," "Memory Lapse" and "Hardpill" -- before going postal. And even when the melody is not carried by the vocal, we still get glimpses of it with mood-setting arpeggios and guitar patterns that help to darken the landscape (as on "Bloody Knuckles," "Authority Figure" and "Mankind").
Add to that list, "Black Eye," a standout on Imperium. It's the exemplar of Bare Knuckle Conflict's many strengths. After the clean/dark pattern of introductory notes, we get chunky chords separated by distorted guitar riffs. And it's joined by Whitt's finest vocal performance on the album: it's as excellent as it is raw, harsh and, most importantly, fast. This is the speed suitable for Whitt's considerable metal chops. He not only doubles the riff; he fits a rhythmically-perfect lyric into the machine gun interplay that is the locked-and-loaded rhythm section with guitar. And just before the vocal: the drums, which single-handedly carry the song from melodic opening, to the down-and-dirty sludge we've come to expect by this, the tenth song.
Like Machine Head before it, Bare Knuckle Conflict adds further definition to the amorphous genre that is groove metal. (I say "definition," because "refinement" doesn't belong within a hundred feet of this heaviness.)
*** The author of this review, Thomas Taylor, plays the xylophone for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8