Those who would remember the 90s era of Death Metal in America would find a world that was increasingly obsessed with gore, physical monstrosities, and an ever narrower understanding of brutality that began to dismiss the Thrash Metal roots from which it sprung from. This was the age of CANNIBAL CORPSE insofar as any ongoing sense of tradition was concerned within the genre, while the growing New York scene was taking up a heavier, modernized character that would become alien to the sepulchral mid 80s works of POSSESSED. But Europe was a different story altogether, and even by the dark year of 1992 when the characteristic Thrash style that had been born in America had been fully excised from the metal world, some bands were keeping up the old ways, and particularly on the Death Metal side of things.
Out of this era comes arguably one of the most astounding yet underrated opuses to ever grace the Death Metal genre, released by an early adherent out of Switzerland in MESSIAH, a band that had seen some lineup changes since their mid 80s origins and came out sounding quite similar to early 90s DEATH. "Rotten Perish" recounts a series of stories relating to the issue of sickness, failure and death, told through the perspective of a child narrator whose take on things is both skeptical yet largely objective. Lyrically it could be likened to a number of works that came out of Chuck Schuldiner's repertoire between "Spiritual Healing" and "Individual Thought Patterns", while musically this album pretty well covers the whole spectrum of DEATH’S studio career from 1987 through 1993, culminating in something that competes with DEATH’S 1993 album on many similar fronts a full year before it was put together.
MESSIAH has always been one for utilizing atmospheric intros and interludes of one type or another to separate the various chapters of their Death/Thrash audio books, ranging from corny spoken bits before each song to Gregorian chants. This album takes on the children's choir approach, while also putting a good bit more emphasis on acoustic guitar work as a means of atmospheric contrast and transition, to the tune of about twice as often as was the case on the previous 2 releases with Andy Kaina at the helm. Kaina's vocal approach here has become even more akin to Schuldiner's mid-level bark, remaining quite intelligible, but also with a bit more of a nasty, enraged character than a ghoulish one. At times the narration of both Kaina and the child employed at the intro and outro get a bit long-winded and awkward, but it's difficult to care given all the intricate musical elements involved.
Ultimately where this album really stands above the rest is the incredible display of complexity while still largely sticking to the basic doctrines of their mid 80s Thrash roots. Much of what is heard on here largely functions as a slightly more aggressive version of the fast and fancy Bay Area riffing style that Schuldiner and the other Florida adherents were inspired by, dressed up with more of an early 90s progressive edge, featuring a lot of intricate mixed rhythmic sections that, once again, point at the same sort of epic "twists and turns" approach of songwriting heard on "Individual Thought Patterns". Essentially this album manages to be Death Metal without drenching itself in over-the-top dissonance and noise, while also generally toning down the flashy lead guitar displays to an occasional fury here and there. This approach tends to make sense as MESSIAH stands as one of the most auspicious Death Metal acts to only have one guitarist, and Brögi proves to be one of the more technically apt rhythm/lead oriented guitarists on the scene with an impressive mixture of influences.
Perhaps the reason why this album didn't quite soar to the astounding heights that it otherwise could have is that it was holding onto an older, more versatile sound in a time when bands like PANTERA and METALLICA were doing their best to dumb things down. Even when put next to its obvious 1993 counterpart "Individual Thought Patterns" (itself an album holding onto the past) and corresponding works out of DEICIDE and MORBID ANGEL, this comes off as extremely conservative and orthodox. There are some occasional hints of ENTOMBED’S Death N' Roll style and OBITUARY’S more laid back approach to Death Metal can be found in their interpretation of MANILLA ROAD’S "Dreams Of Eschaton", but largely this sounds heavily influenced by the faster, SLAYER-like character of "Leprosy" and "Spiritual Healing". But whether a late throwback to earlier times or not, "Rotten Perish" is an exhilarating experience that no fan of old school Death Metal should be without.
(Online July 23, 2013)