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It’s useful to have a gimmick if you’re a metal band. Competition for audience attention is fierce, and getting fiercer. Stickiness matters. It’s easier for a fan to remember the black metal band with the dwarf, or the death metal band composed entirely of real-life coroners, or whatever.

For most of their career, Dim Mak was the death metal band with lyrics about martial arts. This gimmick is an unusual one for death metal, where adherence to a narrow set of lyrical themes (gore, Satan, zombies, “the occult”) is a matter of principle for many. And Dim Mak is an unusual band. It features two former members of Ripping Corpse, and journeyman drummer John Longstreth. Together, they continue to carry on New Jersey’s tradition of bruising heavy music. Human Remains and Deadguy would be proud.

Dim Mak’s kung fu themes departed with original vocalist Scott Ruth, but athletic metaphors remain apt for their sound. The Emergence of Reptilian Altars brims with tense, coiled strength. Dim Mak has traded in the slap-happy assault of 2006’s Knives of Ice for a more balanced stance. The band keeps its considerable weight high and tight here. The musicians sound light on their toes, but heavily muscled. Shaune Kelley’s guitar lines are trick-jointed; they zig where others would zag.

Much of this album is devoted to grooves, but these aren’t murky old-school slowdowns. Nor are they danceable slams. The rhythms bounce, like a boxer with his guard up. And when Dim Mak lash out with a blastbeat, they’re liable to break bones.

Longstreth deserves a great deal of credit for The Emergence’s heft. For a drummer who is frequently derided for his reliance on blasting, his playing is spacious, even economical at times. Credit is also due to new vocalist Joe Capizzi, formerly of The Dying Light. When he threatens to “breach the walls of the Pearly Gates” in “The Sounds of Carnage”, I imagine him forcing the line through clenched teeth. You can almost smell the sweat.

The Emergence of Reptilian Altars is not atmospheric music. It’s about physical force: the kind of metal record that you’d blast in the gym while banging out weight sets (as I indeed do). It’s modern death metal - clean and technical, but not “tech-death” - done right. No gimmicks, lyrical or otherwise, required.

— Doug Moore

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HEAR THE EMERGENCE OF REPTILIAN ALTARS

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Dim Mak - "The Sounds Of Carnage"

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In stores November 29th

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