The best way to interpret Escuela Grind’s new EP DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL is not by taking it at face value but instead through the lens of their Instagram bio. There, the group describes themselves as playing “New England Hardcore w/ Blast Beats.” The Massachusetts quartet’s latest release is similarly genre-fluid, playing more like “grindcore with death metal inflections.” This distinction, though minute, is revealing, because DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL is not Escuela Grind adorning cargo shorts and long-sleeved tees for fashion. It’s an earnest attempt to honor the death metal that influenced them, but grindcore is so deeply rooted within them that they cannot compose without it.

Their third release in a series of EPs (the first two boasted the titles PPOOWWEERRVVIIOOLLEENNCCEE and GGRRIINNDDCCOORREE) comes after Escuela Grind dropped two albums, worked with Kurt Ballou, and played anywhere they could. They’re touring machines who spent most of 2023 on the road, giving them plenty of time to workshop some of DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL’s tracks to live audiences. It’s little surprise then how well-put together each cut is, replacing grindcore’s spontaneity with precision. That being said, removing all traces of grindcore from Escuela Grind’s DNA would be like performing open-heart surgery on yourself, seeing as how they grew up on the New England hardcore circuit. More importantly, it would rob the EP of its identity as the group’s smoothest release. It’s more considered and practiced than their prior work, sharpened to cut through concert sound systems. It can also be described as rudimentary death metal that’s a far cry from even the crudest of old-school death metal, lacking the genre’s cultured caveman appeal. So while devout death metal heads may be disappointed to discover DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL isn’t just death metal, this is by design. It’s a feature, not a bug.

In a press release for the EP, vocalist Katerina Economou said “ [“Ball and Chain’]…marks the point in our live shows where we have a wall of death every night.” Clearly, DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL is for the pit. They incentivize moshing with simple riffs and rhythms; tracks bob and weave rather than gush or gurgle. Only “Punishment Ritual” gets within striking distance of inducing the patented death metal stink-face, and that section is saved for its closing minute. However, there’s a joy in DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL’s single-mindedness; an ecstasy that arises from appealing directly to the pit. It’s like dance music in another context, serving no higher goal than energizing an audience to move. 

The largest improvement on DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL comes from Economou’s presence as she displays newfound vocal depth. She lowers her register and adopts a growl that’s more commanding than her shrill yelps on previous albums. She even goes toe-to-toe with Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway on “Meat Magnet” and comes out on equal footing, her ferocity second only to her innate sense of groove. Due to this combination, “Meat Magnet” becomes the one thing you’d never expect from a grindcore track—an earworm.

There’s no reason to complain about additions to Escuela Grind’s growing infantry of live cuts, especially when they’re as electric as the opening onslaught on “Abyssal Plane.” DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL focuses on simplicity rather than pushing extremes. Given how much innovation can decay in a live context due to variables like inconsistent sound systems, venue sizes, and crowd atmospheres, Escuela Grind made the wise choice to grow in the broadest sense. This might not be a massive step forward for grindcore or death metal, but that’s not its intent; DDEEAATHHMMEETTAALL seeks only to buff to Escuela Grind’s already powerful live setlist. 

Label: MNRK Heavy

Year: 2024

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