Timelessly Foul: “World Without God” Demonstrated Convulse’s Death Metal Mastery
From the killer Western-sounding instrumental opener that sounds like a prototype for the Westworld soundtrack, it’s immediately obvious that Convulse's 1991 debut album World Without God is something special. Time has cemented its place as an undeniable classic of the legendary Finnish death metal scene, and today Convulse honor that legacy by largely ignoring their other albums when they tour to exclusively do full World Without God sets in accordance with rabid fan demand. It has been some 30 years since the album came out (releasing initially in July 1991), and it holds up particularly well in today’s sewage- and heaviness- obsessed death metal climate as an essential building block towards the ultra-disgusting sounds that are so popular.
The focus of World Without God was on spectacularly heavy riffs arranged in a way that cements them in a listener's brain. Chord progressions are not put together to confuse or beguile; if a riff starts with a tremolo, it will move into a chunky power chord, and Convulse, confident that their riffs were worth hearing over and over again, used repetition heavily to drive them home. Tasteful lead melodies spice up the slower and more brutal rhythms, soaring funereally over walls of bass in the finest of Finnish tradition, and the drummer switches seamlessly between skanks and double bass to accent the longer sections of playing.
Much as Entombed perfected riding the same chord via careful rhythm modulation to hold listener attention and get as much slayage as possible from a single progression, Convulse’s drummer Janne Miikkulainen carries the album beautifully via his varied playing. Where Entombed was changing the same core notes of a riff to different rhythms in order to give off the illusion of change, Convulse took a much more direct approach and would often ride the same riff at the same tempo and same core rhythm and rely instead on the drums to create an illusion of change. A riff verse will begin and then it’s time for Janne to shine: for the first couple of repetitions it may play without drums at all, switch into a skank, change to double bass, whatever is needed to ramp up the riff and carry it until an inevitable breakdown or melodic break. While the songwriting can be easily dismissed as formulaic, it was Convulse that created that formula for themselves, and they who mastered it on this record.
Drums, bass, and even the vocals in death metal can easily fall by the wayside when evaluating an album that is particularly riffy or heavy, but World Without God is a perfectly integrated album: the insane low end, incredibly tight rhythm section, and carefully considered timing of Rami Jämsä’s roaring vocals tie together far better than almost any of Convulse’s contemporaries. Rami's vocal approach is not only completely unhinged, but each line sticks in the head, perfectly timed to add on the assault without taking focus away from the riffs—which are always the main focus here.
None of what was done on World Without God was particularly unique, even for the time. In a way they can be compared to their countrymen Grave, a band that was heavy and simplistic amongst bands that showed more musicianship, wilder song structures, and innovated more. Given how many of Finland’s bands focused on the stranger aspects of death metal, Convulse is sometimes written off as competent but uninteresting, which misses the point entirely. It’s true that their approach can certainly be reduced to single-word rote descriptions—heavy, simple, repetitive, crushing—but there is an undercurrent of horrifying motion as well as a bent for extremely clever songwriting throughout all of the songs on World Without God that help to remind that Convulse are also a Finnish band, and a particularly talented group at that. Repetition, single-chord modulations, and even simple riffs are one of the clearest pathways to a boring album, and yet World Without God is anything but that. Convulse were the masters of dynamics, with a perfect ear for when to change a riff, speed up or slow down the drums, or cut to a simple melody instead of crushing riffs. The melodic break halfway through “Blasphemous Verses” is too perfectly timed for anything other than a stroke of brilliance, and it is far from the only example of Convulse’s command of death metal on the album.
It’s understandable why death metal albums from this same time period and region that were more exploratory in approach often get more attention, but Convulse focused on something equally laudable to invention, which was mastery. Every riff, lead, vocal line, and drum beat feel carefully and intentionally chosen for maximum impact and replayability, sticking in the brain like a murderous fog. Many bands have followed in the footsteps of Convulse for their heavy riffs and putrid sound, but the band’s true talent, songwriting, is what is underappreciated. In the 30 years since World Without God released, none of the imitators have matched it, and perhaps never will.
World without God released July 1991 via Thrash Records.