ENEMY REIGN, Means to a Dead End (2008, self-released)
The Soviet propaganda vibe here is a welcome change of pace from the everyday here at Skull HQ, and while I think this cover is overstuffed by maybe 25%, I think the concept basically works. Cramming two sickles into the skull’s mouth does wonders for the symmetry of the piece, although I wish the artist had included a hammer somewhere. Perhaps the double sickles are meant to force the viewer into contemplating the failed agricultural policies of the Stalin period. Or maybe the artist just couldn’t find a good royalty-free stock image of a hammer. The backwards “R”s are a bit much, but I imagine its easy to fall into that sort of trap when you’re doing a genre piece like this. And I suppose the United Nations logo somewhat buried behind the skull is meant as some kind of commentary, but I’m not sure it’s really worth unpacking. It’s probably as banal as it appears. For a cover with so much going on, there’s not really a lot being said. Fitting, I guess.
This sort of squealy, semi-groovy death metal, a la Misery Index, is not my thing at all, but I will grant that Enemy Reign do the style justice, coming off a whole lot better than I expected at least. They sound downright European, which I guess is as high a compliment as most American death metal bands can ask for. The playing is super tight and the production top notch, but as with basically everything in this genre, I find the utter lack of songcraft dismally boring. Riff after riff, blast after blast, with little cohesion or unifying vision. To be sure, there are occasionally some good riffs (the ascending thing in “Isolate,” particularly tickles me, and most of “Abuse” is good) but there’s little of interest in the rhythm department, and the vocals are of course of no help at all. If Aborted or Cephalic Carnage are your thing (especially if you won’t miss the technical flourishes of the latter), then by all means look into Enemy Reign. You’ll probably like them. Me, I can do without pretty much every band that sounds like this.
— Friar Johnsen