Gutter Instinct – Age Of The Fanatics

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When the accompanying press release for an album claims it is influenced by extreme metal acts such as Teitanblood, Black Witchery, and Portal, then my interest is well and truly piqued. It’s that which led me to spend time with Age Of The Fanatics, the debut release by Swedish band Gutter Instinct. Those influences weren’t apparent on initial listens, with the heavy Swedeath sound [1] being the key one that came through instead. After repeated spins though, those more modern references began to make sense, revealed in small flourishes that could easily have been overlooked. It makes Age Of The Fanatics an album that successfully takes an old template – that of 90s Swedish death – and adds some new touches to it. The album never strays too far from its core sound, but there is enough here to make it more interesting than that genre tag may imply.

The brutality and guttural force of Age Of The Fanatics is its most dominant feature, as would be expected from death metal of this style. The production is also heavily reminiscent of old-school Swedish death, especially in the buzzsaw guitars. It’s no exercise in nostalgia though, with black metal touches – such as the tremolo lead during the introduction to ‘Death Cult’ – being clear indications that Gutter Instinct are aiming to do more than recreate the glories of old [2]. It’s only with repeat listens that the full scope of what the band have done becomes clear though. Elements such as the hyper-speed guitars during ‘Bloodstorms’ hint at the common ground between war metal [3] and death metal. Elsewhere, the remorseless, world-ending intensity of moments such as the opening to ‘Counter-Culture’ give credibility to the Teitanblood and Grave Miasma influences claimed by the band. The same track also has elements in common with Portal, making use of unsettling melodies and a sense of disharmony, though they are used sparingly. As a whole, the album is ‘Swedeath with outside influences’, rather than an attempt to mesh different styles together equally.

Age of the Fanatics

Given the near-ceaseless intensity and tendency towards high tempos built upon a foundation of pounding drums, Age Of The Fanatics does end up being an exhausting listen. It is not the kind of album that can be put on in the background – the sheer force and aggressive nature means it never runs the risk of becoming death metal muzak. There is an undeniable aura of negativity that exudes from the album, and it is difficult not to get caught up in it, especially when tracks like ‘No Places For The Cross’ and ‘Faith Junkies’ strip things back slightly; their comparatively straight-forward nature giving them extra force, though even then, there are some dizzying guitar movements in the background.

Age Of The Fanatics may not have quite the same grandiose scope as Swedish death does at its best, nor is it as bewildering as the more discordant metal it takes a more minor influence from, and it does not quite match the heights of violence that its war metal influences do. Instead, Age Of The Fanatics feels as if it’s simply trying to be a really forceful, violent record, that shows how Swedeath can take aspects from other styles to create something that feels invigorating and relevant. Considering that it’s over 25 years since Entombed released Left Hand Path, that is no small achievement. This is a very strong début, and if Gutter Instinct can build upon what they have offered here, they will surely be ones to watch.

Footnotes:
1. Examples of key Swedish death metal bands and albums include Entombed‘s Left Hand Path and Dismember‘s Like An Ever Flowing Stream.

2. Given that black metal was still in its infancy at the time when many classic Swedeath albums were being released, it’s not an influence one would expect in a typical Swedish death metal album.

3. Whilst war metal is a fairly loose term as a genre, I use it here to refer to bands such as Revenge, Conqueror, and Black Witchery, who combine elements of black, death, and grind to intense, overwhelming effect.

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