Most of the records that I write reviews on are modern ones. Since there is an increasing number of people (mainly extreme metal newbies) asking me to write some reviews on my favorite CLASSIC (meaning pre-1995) death metal records, I’m going to write some old death metal reviews. And of course, The Grand Leveller is what I consider to be one of the best albums from that time period. I know that Benediction doesn’t really need much of an introduction, but I’ll give a short one for the few that don’t know who they are. Of course, death metal’s earliest bands came from America (Possessed, Death, Morbid Angel, etc.) but in the late 80s there was a growing death metal scene in England too. Some of the most notable early British death metal and grindcore bands include Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Carcass, and Benediction. Although most would consider Bolt Thrower and Carcass to be the most influential out of the four I just listed, I feel that Benediction has been the most consistent and the most reliable out of all of them.
Of course, old-ass death metal records come with shitty quality. Because I’m primarily a black metal guy, I have a hard time enjoying shitty sound quality when it’s not black metal. For some odd reason, when it’s any kind of death metal, I prefer it to have really good production. This is why I can tolerate (and often times enjoy) underground brutal and technical death; because even the debut album of a SUPER underground Ukranian band called Ezophagothomia has much better sound quality than every album ever released by Darkthrone, one of the most famous black metal bands ever. So anyway, The Grand Leveller is a DEATH METAL record with BAD sound quality. But here’s the thing, the majority of death metal musicians from that time most likely barely had enough money to wipe their asses when they first started out, so shitty-sounding albums is going to be expected nonetheless.
So shitty quality can’t be something I can be allowed to complain about because it’s expected (see what I did there?). The first thing that I hear in the music when I listen to The Grand Leveller is Deicide. I know it doesn’t sound likely, but when you listen to Deicide’s first album, there’s a lot of guitar riffs and…well…the overall sound of the record that have obviously had some kind of influence on Benediction’s music in this album and many of their early material for that matter. But it’s not the blazing speed and brutality part that influenced Benediction. If you’re hoping for a much faster, more Morbid Angel-like album, this might not be your cup of tea, because most of the British death metal scene (NOT THE GRIND SCENE) had more of a slower style of doing things. This was probably influenced by the Dutch death metal scene because they have a similar style and the two countries have nothing but water separating them.
The drums on this album aren’t complex at all. You may notice that the typical death metal album has lots of blast beats or certain semi-complex and repetitive drum patters. But the drumming on this record doesn’t follow a specific drum pattern or play lots of blast beats (that’s not to say it’s the only one that doesn’t). The kick drums are drowned out for the most part unless you listen closely. The kick drumming is done at a pretty slow speed (even for that time). The other drum patters that are used are fully dependent on what the rest of the bands is doing. In other words, the drummer changes what he plays with every single tempo change and usually never plays the same drum pattern more than once. The most notable trait of his style of playing is doing quarter-note hits on the snare and the high-hat.
The best member of the band, hands down, is the bassist. He’s the one that’s playing the lead lines of the songs in the background. Jumping at Shadows is one of the best examples of this (especially right in the beginning). He does a much better job of playing the lead riffs than the lead guitarist, and often times plays along with the lead guitarist. As well as that, the way he plays his instrument pays off in a nice, bold sound that can easily punch through the rest of the shitty quality to give the music a HUGE lower end. The distortion on the guitars is an EXTREMELY gritty sound that gives the music its brutality and edge. The guitarists primarily play really low chords to lessen the contrast between them and the really deep bassist. But then again, the contrast doesn’t NEED to be small, but the fact that the band made it fairly minimal makes the music sound dark and menacing.
I’m not a huge fan of most of the old school death metal vocalists. I’m not saying that they acts as a turn-off for me, but I would REALLY prefer it if they had a much deeper growl (that’s why I love the early works of Immolation and Cannibal Corpse so much). Benediction’s vocalist has one of the deepest growls from the early death metal period. It’s not “Barnes deep”, but it goes along with the music perfectly. And to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about the vocals.
In fact, I wouldn’t change a thing about this album at all! It’s what I call a perfect death metal record (hence my 20/20 score). If you don’t have this album, get it. If you have it and don’t like it, listen to it again. This is a CLASSIC death metal record that deserves a place in EVERYONE’S death metal collection because it’s one of the most respectable death metal records of its time.