It’s taken me a bit of time to process Combichrist’s new album This Is Where Death Begins. Without much warning the formerly beat-driven industrial aggro-tech ensemble has reinvented themselves as an electro-metal punk band. Over the past decade the Norwegian/American act claimed their spot as the next in line to lead the industrial underground in the grand KMFDM-tradition. Some fans had already predicted a shift in direction after the band created a metal-based soundtrack for the game Devil May Cry in 2013. However their following release, We Love You (2014), despite having a few guitar-driven tracks, was a largely electronic affair laden with heavy techno beats. I spoke with band founder Andy LaPlegua about that album, and he said that the mix of styles came from a decision to funnel tracks into Combichrist that would have normally gone into his side projects. It remains unclear as to whether the change in tone on the new album is a result of this.
Generally speaking, is it a good album? Yes. But is it a good Combichrist album? I’m not quite sure (more on that later). To be fair, this album isn’t entirely bereft of electronic music. It’s pretty much the inverse of We Love You, as that album had a few guitar tracks mixed in, and in this case it’s industrial music that makes a guest appearance.
Immediate standouts include “My Life My Rules,” which follows a similar structure as a number of the band’s more upbeat songs except with riffs instead of beats. “Blackened Heart” is a hard-driving mid-tempo rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on a nineties Ministry album. The ultra-catchy “Skullcrusher” gets by largely on humour, but it’s also pretty damn infectious, despite not really fitting in with the rest of the album.
“Don’t Care How You Feel About It,” with its heavy base and pitch-shifted vocals, is the closest the band comes to their previous style, and the pseudo-title track “Homeward” continues their tradition of dropping a dark and memorable acoustic track on each release. But the best moments come from when the band combines both sides of their sound together. “Glitchteeth” is an understated and surprisingly funky track with a memorable chorus and minimalistic beats, while the brutally heavy and danceable “Exit Eternity” is likely to become a fan favourite.
So yes it’s a good album. But is it a good Combichrist album? I’m going to say yes, for now. How people will remember this album is largely riding on where the band goes from here. As a companion record to We Love You, This Is Where Death Begins actually makes sense. But I’m not sure that it completely makes the case for Combichrist as a metal-punk band. I would be personally happier if they continue to blend styles, rather than one be more dominant than the other. If they do in fact want to carry on in this form, then the pressure’s on, because the next one will have to be a true monster for their current fans to accept the change long-term. Regardless of what shape they take, it’s the albums to come that will most likely determine how this one is regarded.
Photo by Oliver Rath
Combichrist are currently on the “Make Europe Great Again” tour with Filter. This Is Where Death Begins is available now, and you can watch the blood-soaked NSFW video for “My Life My Rules” below.