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Of all of metal’s subgenres, grindcore involves the tightest fusion of serious and silly. Weekend Nachos branded their album Unforgivable with the slogan “I don’t want humans to exist anymore", but they’re still called, well, Weekend Nachos. Agoraphobic Nosebleed blend juvenile splatstick with genuinely creepy ideation. Even overtly goofy grind acts like Blood Duster, Birdflesh and (early) Leng T’che sound deadly serious between samples.

Grindcore bands stare into the abyss and choose laughter over insanity. Most grind bands can capture this tension live — the rickety blastbeats and snapped strings push the audience towards nihilistic transcendence. But it’s much harder to do so in the studio. Discordance Axis used to do it. Drugs of Faith, who recorded my favorite album of 2011, can do it. And Norway’s Beaten to Death, whose 19-minute debut Xes and Strokes came out late last year, can do it.

Beaten to Death play anomalous grind — they’re melodic. Theirs are not the icy, compressed melodies of Gridlink; nor are they akin to Fuck the Facts’ melodeath breaks. Instead, Beaten to Death favor a bittersweet jangle. They’d verge on indie rock at times, if it weren’t for the glottal vocals and pressurized rhythms (courtesy of Tsjuder’s Christian Svendsen). The nearest referent I can think of is Quills, the Misery Index side project that also featured a guitarist from the melodic hardcore band Ruiner.

But Beaten to Death haven’t forgotten that grind should hurt. Xes and Strokes’ scrappy production belies an underlying death metal influence. Every melodic flight of fancy relies on a harsh counterweight. This album invites you to soar; as soon as you do, it slams you back to earth. It’s a grindcore recording that actually breathes, if only in snorts and gasps.

One of the only comprehensible lyrical sections comes on “A Soulless Alarm”: “The time is now, time is now / A life without progress / The time is now, time is now / A life without content."

I can get behind no progress and no content. But “the time is now” for what? Laughter seems like a pretty good bet.

— Doug Moore

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HEAR XES AND STROKES

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Beaten To Death - "Winston Churchill"

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Beaten To Death - "Xes and Strokes"

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Amazon (MP3 download)
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