Album Review: Defeated Sanity’s The Sanguinary Impetus
by S. Winters
In fatal fertility, in profane maternity, existence is desecrated.
There may not be a more aptly-named band than Germany’s Defeated Sanity. Their technical, jazzy, mind-eviscerating tunes have situated them as the pinnacle of brutal death metal for extreme music fans around the world. Countless newer bands take direct influence from their exceptionally heavy yet thoughtful music. The group has undergone several lineup changes since their inception in 1993, but despite these changes, they don’t have a single dud in their catalogue. Each release from Defeated Sanity has reliably probed and challenged extreme metal norms. The band’s latest offering, entitled The Sanguinary Impetus, upholds their robust legacy while pushing further forward in death metal innovation. It falls just short of 35 minutes in length, making it one of their shorter releases, but don’t let that concern you. The Sanguinary Impetus may well be Defeated Sanity’s most concentrated and intense album yet.
Lille Gruber founded Defeated Sanity as the band’s drummer, but he’s also a classically trained guitarist. After the band lost Christian Kühn (their main guitar player for 14 years), Lille took over guitar duties on The Sanguinary Impetus. Lille’s guitar work pummels the ears; the ocean-floor-tuned riffs he crafts are relentless and inventive. Alongside Lille, Colin Marston (of Behold the Arctopus, Encenathrakh, Krallice, etc.), Dan Thornton (of Abhorrent Decimation), and Justin Sakogawa (of Splattered) are credited as additional guitarists. Their musical talents are a brilliant addition to Lille’s unconventional guitar playing. His drumming is equally as professional, but its execution is not overly surgical. Along with a healthy helping of blast beats and double kick, Lille molds his jazz-influenced drum work around the guitars’ geometric, off-timed meanderings. Jacob Schmidt, Defeated Sanity’s bassist since 2005, makes an excellent showing on The Sanguinary Impetus. He switches between mindless sludge and face-melting technicality on a dime, and while it’s anyone’s guess which musical notes he’s playing, Jacob’s bass asserts its presence in a fashion rarely heard in brutal death metal. The guitars and bass of The Sanguinary Impetus form an infernal duet, and the drums, their stalwart skeleton.
Expect nothing but vicious and inhuman death metal vocals on The Sanguinary Impetus, courtesy of Josh Welshman. If you know Defeated Sanity’s previous musical output, you know they aren’t interested in variety from their singers—and they don’t need to be. Josh’s growl is surprisingly decipherable, at least when compared to other vocalists in this genre, which helps those dedicated listeners who want to follow along in their lyric booklet. Speaking of lyrics, The Sanguinary Impetus’s lyrics are fascinating, though verbose. On the physical version of the album, each track has a biological classification listed in parentheses beside the title. Each song’s lyrics describe the behavior of a different plant or creature. For example, “Phytodigestion” is about tropical pitcher plants, and “Propelled into Sacrilege” is about polar bears. Discovering the subject of each song (which is easily done by googling the parenthetical classification) is the key to understanding the overall theme of The Sanguinary Impetus. As we read through the lyrics, we realize that in their own ever-esoteric way, Defeated Sanity have written an album depicting what director Werner Herzog once called the “overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication” of nature. As human beings in the 21st century, we tend to view nature as a marvelous beauty. But for other animals, for those animals participating more directly in the natural order, the world is terrifying and insurmountable. The Sanguinary Impetus’s lyrics put the world into perspective, reminding us that for the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, everyday life is a fight for survival and continuation of their bloodline. This is the real world.
It would be a mistake to overlook the interplay between the instrumental and lyrical elements of this album (and Jon Zig’s moody artwork). In this genre, the instruments and vocals carry a much heavier portion of the burden in communicating the album’s themes than the lyrics do. On The Sanguinary Impetus, each part complements the others masterfully. Jon Zig’s cover piece, a striking collage of animal carcasses and ambiguous biological waste, visually represents the misery and desperation of nature. Similarly, the classic insanity of Defeated Sanity’s music reeks of unending despair and oppression, but with an undertone of contentment. Although we can observe the horrific behavior of the natural world, we must also recognize that our moral assignments are subjective, and that existence will continue along in its same patterns irrespective of humans’ judgments.
Stylistically, The Sanguinary Impetus is a welcome return to form for Defeated Sanity. The band’s 2016 venture, a double-EP titled Disposal of the Dead // Dharmata, was a bit of an experimental departure from the fast-paced, highly technical sound exhibited on their previous albums. The Sanguinary Impetus picks up where Passages into Deformity left off. Quick transitions, blistering tempos, and mind-boggling intricacy are back with a vengeance on this album, and don’t worry—Defeated Sanity’s infamous slam sections are bountiful on this record, and inflict a thorough ass-beating upon anyone bold enough to blast the album from a good set of speakers. The tones, the mix, the production—everything about The Sanguinary Impetus sounds phenomenal, thanks to Colin Marston at The Thousand Caves. This album is a must-listen for anyone who considers themselves a fan of brutal death metal, and it should not be overlooked by those interested in any peripheral extreme metal genres.