Released: 2017, Transcending Obscurity Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
So, the first time I listened to this album I hadn't really looked at the tracklist. This is because I wanted to experience the album without any preconceptions, and definitely not because I'm a lazy bum who stuck it on for a spin without examining it first. When I later did take a glance at the tracklisting, I was surprised to see certain things on there.
"Turning Japanese"? "Monsters in the Parasol"? "Crazy Horses"?
"What the fuck happened to those? I don't remember hearing them?" I asked myself, sounding like a foul-mouthed octogenarian with the Alzheimer's taking a firm grip.
Going back and listening more closely, those tracks (along with the fourth cover, of Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Spellbound") had indeed played, I had just not noticed them in the morass of the album as a whole.
And this really represents the most striking issue with Ursinne's debut album, Swim With the Leviathan: it all kind of blurs together, even when doing something so bizarre as a death metal cover of "Turning Japanese", something which should surely catch the listener's attention. An album where a third of the tracklist is unusual covers like this should sound pretty varied, but alas, it's not. These songs, like the rest, just meld together into an indistinct mass. If you're listening closely you might spot the occasional recognisable rhythm or melody buried deep within the mire, but for the most part they lack any real identity. I'm sure these covers a lot of fun live, but here they just kind of blend in, and the original material doesn't stand out much more than they do.
The cover songs suffer from the same problem I have with Six Feet Under continually doing this: who asked for this? Who asked for a death metal version of "Monsters in the Parasol" or "Turning Japanese"? Kudos for making the songs your own, but it's such a departure from the original that it's largely unrecognisable, and just sounds like everything else on the album, which raises the question of why bother? Why make a third of your album covers if they just sound like the rest. Unexpected cover songs can be great: Sodom's take on "Surfin' Bird", Volbeat's "I Only Wanna Be With You", Turisas' "Rasputin", Samael's recent cover of "Helter Skelter". These songs are very different to the original, and definitely done in the cover artist's style, but they're still identifiable, managing to both stand out and fit in at the same time.
But let's move on. The actual death metal itself might suffer from a lack of variety (though I've heard much worse offenders), but it does sound very well-produced. Both riffs and vocals are brimming with imposing power, the production lending the whole thing a truly thick, bloody crunch. The vocalist is Dave Ingram of Bolt Thrower/Hail of Bullets fame, and you can hear why his work is so highly regarded. These are some fearsome growls, backed up by equally monstrous instrumental work. Combined together they genuinely do a good job of enveloping you and dragging you down into the dark abyss they conjures up. "Underworld" is a perfect example of this, and probably the stand-out song of the album for me, it really does sound like a nightmarish slog through a grim and twisted underworld. "I, Serpentine" has a sweet little D-beat kick to it too.
The Shakespeare quotes in "Something Wicked This Way Comes" is a nice touch too, it's both impressive and funny to hear death growls of "Double, double toil and trouble". That's not the only quotation used either, as in "Bullet Bitten" we hear some samples from a very different bard: Lemmy. Hearing him espouse the values of the rock and roll lifestyle is both in keeping with the song's message of living fast and hard, and a touch melancholic what with his recent death. Given the tone of the guitar backing his lines, I wouldn't be surprised if this is exactly what the band was going for.
All told, including the two tracks which specifically dedicate themselves to Lemmy and Shakespeare, along with the 4 covers, half of this album is dedicated to displaying the influences and inspirations of the band, loud and clear. I kind of like that.
This isn't bad stuff, I wouldn't even call it strictly by the numbers, and it has plenty of decent components. But a few more tracks like "Underworld" and "Bullet Bitten", where those components are put together most effectively, would go a long way. The bottom line is I've heard worse, this album certainly has some solid parts, but it's lacking identity beyond its genre.