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After an 8-year absence due to various personal and professional pursuits, California death/grinders Cretin follow up 2006’s genius Freakery with Stranger, an album that finds the sickly sweet spot between hilarious and harrowing. Musically, this is what any fan of extreme metal wants to hear. Riffs slice like razors against a speeding train rhythm section, striking the perfect balance for Marissa Martinez to spew the twisted, idiosyncratic words that make up Cretin’s infamous lyrics. Anyone that enjoyed singing along to Freakery cuts like “Cockfight” and “Walking A Midget” will be overjoyed at some of the unnerving tales found in jams like “Honey and Venom”: “Who knows why the woman--dripping honey, maybe venom--was hugging that beehive, or why she'd woven flowers in her hair. The news said she'd pointed, screaming for her bees to attack, that she was indigent . . . No one ever mentioned the craziest part: the bees were obeying.” These short bursts of creepy horror give Pig Destroyer vocalist/lyricist J.R. Hayes a run for his money.

What elevates Stranger above Cretin’s past work is the welcome addition of Dreaming Dead’s Elizabeth Schall. Her lead work is well attuned to the songs at hand, arranged at a breakneck pace and teetering on the edge of collapse. That’s not to take away from the rest of the band; Martinez and drummer Col Jones have only grown more proficient since their time in Repulsion, and Matt Widener’s Liberteer solo project has definitely upped his songwriting game.

Grindcore tends to draw a lot of “musicians” who can’t grasp the fundamentals of constructing a good song. Cretin are an affront to that, demonstrating a masterful sense of songwriting and catchiness without sacrificing an ounce of their edge or brutality. Each track on Stranger is a fist to the face of every terrible band polluting their scene.

—Chris Rowella

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