Scumpulse Debut Delivers Blackened Metal That Matters
Although black metal has stereotypically been associated with right-leaning politics, in recent years there has been a surge of bands that openly challenge and defy that stereotype. Panopticon questions the ethics of capitalism with populist tales straight from Appalachian coal mines, and openly anti-fascist Dawn Rayd's The Unlawful Assembly was one of the strongest metal albums of last year.
Scumpulse named its full-length debut Rotten, and the band makes it exceptionally clear that the single-word title implicates a laundry list of moral failings amidst political corruption. The cover depicts an assumed businessman or person of power removing his mask to reveal a sinister creature surrounded by environmental decay: a puppet master who is literally putting us all into a meat grinder. The lyrics preach resistance against the corporate and political masters the cover embodies, literally screaming at you to wake up and fight.
It’s not much of a surprise that the Scottish group cuts its teeth on crust punk, since that seems to be the gateway drug for many metallic leftists. The band’s self-released By Design EP sounds the part, with its five songs often employing black metal’s cascading walls of riffs, but the attitude is pure punk. The 2015 reissue of the EP tacked on three covers which also made their mindset perfectly clear: Ubiquitous Scottish punks Oi Polloi’s “John Major -- Fuck You” (this version calls out George Osborne, a British Conservative Party politician. Fun fact: Oi Polloi themselves re-recorded a version for Donald Trump earlier this year), “Fuck the Union… Revolution!” by Fifteen Dead, and Immortal’s “Call of the Wintermoon.”
It’s likely not an accident they put the black metal classic last as it portended where Scumpulse was heading with Rotten. The crust-punk influence is diminished while Scumpulse embraces metal, even implementing some ideas outside the realm of the blackened kind. “Alba Gu Bràth” gallops like vintage NWOBHM in an Anti Cimex shirt, and “Pure Jakebawlocaust” channels Napalm Death’s precisioned, articulate grindcore.
That track stands out as a rare example of "straight-edge black metal." Ian MacKaye could have written the chorus sung by Ross Necro:
Pure. Blind. Drunk.
I don't know what you're living for
Pure. Shite. Drunk.
You're fucked and you still want some more.
Scumpulse's musical maturity also shines on the tracks which could be considered more one-dimensionally black metal. “Wage Decay” is self-righteous fury; the fastest song on this album is a direct accusatorial blast, describing the futility of life under oppression. The break about three minutes in, with a melodramatic pause and mournful solo from Magnus Tait, is everything both punk and metal bands should aspire to.
Ending with the lines “I am so sick of this. Kill me. Give in. Kill me” -- it is cynical, but it’s hard to blame them. Harsh times demand harsh tunes. Scumpulse is one of many of bands who forcefully contradict global corporatization and world leaders beholden to those interests. Maybe one day these bands will be similarly remembered for a new generation of protest music. Hopefully we’ll survive long enough to find out.
-- Brian O’Neill