We are greeted with a septic gust of Tasmanian wind and the distinct suspicion that we are about to get someone’s muddy, unforgiving boots bashed into our teeth. Dense, imposing ferns ruffle about our legs as we make our way through this primeval, menacing landscape. And yes, here it comes: a mighty surge of blast-beats like a pelting, cold southern hemispheric rain in July. Black metal riffs hum and whine all around us like corpse-painted bees. Vocalist Alex Pope offers up a mid-range bark that will be his calling card for the remainder of the record, and we are off to the cruel, punishing races. Get comfortable slogging around in that damp, temperate rainforest, because you will be there for nine unrelenting tracks, with Pope behind you every step of the way like some kind of Satanic life coach, shouting quotes from Ayn Rand and the Satanic Bible at you between smacks to the back of your head.
Where are we going? To a Place of No Pity, of course. Who is taking us on this invigorating little trek? Tasmanian black metal necrolords Ruins.
It should not come as much of a surprise to anyone that Ruins are a black metal band from Tasmania. As a landscape dominated by misty mountains, vast, untamed forests and chilly, unpleasant weather, it seems to fit the black metal environmental equation quite well. Unlike the demented shrieking of fellow Tasmanian Striborg, the two dudes that comprise Ruins stomp out a much more old-school version of black metal than one might expect. The most obvious reference point, particularly regarding Pope’s vocal delivery, is Celtic Frost and their much lauded frontman Tom G. Warrior. Pope’s belligerent grunt is unmistakably Warrior-esc, and your enjoyment of his performance, and indeed Ruins more generally, may hinge upon your acceptance or rejection of this stylistic choice. I am sure there are many people who see Warrior as the high point of extreme metal vocals and see no reason to stray from the path that he delineated.
Although I enjoy Celtic Frost as much as the next guy, I feel like Warrior’s urgent yelping was a developmental stage towards a more varied and compelling range of vocal styles for extreme metal. Pope’s decision to stick with this somewhat backward-looking, conservative style falls a little flat to my ears and gets a little tedious. Lyrically, Ruins focus on themes of strength, pitilessness, and cruelty that might sound more at home on a death metal record than a black metal record. Song titles like “Let Them Perish”, “A Lesson in Ruthlessness”, and the title track “Place of No Pity” give you a pretty good idea of what we are dealing with here, and most of the lyrics are pretty comprehensible by black metal standards. Personally, this type of chest beating, “might makes right” kind of stuff does not do much for me; I prefer my black metal to be either fantastically Satanic, or a soul-stirring exaltation of Mother Nature.
Instrumentally, Place of No Pity works more successful metallic veins than their vocals. Ruins look to good old Norway for inspiration, principally Immortal and Satyricon, both of whom they have opened for in the past. When Ruins get settled into one of their groovy, catchy riffs, they can be very enjoyable indeed. The percussive attack dispensed by Dave Haley is often very impressive, and the production on Place of No Pity definitely plays to Ruins’ strengths. So heshers from Wellington to Reykjavik should enjoy pounding a few beers and doing the invisible oranges to Place of No Pity. It is fun and enervating, if not particularly original or inspired.
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