Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With
Erik D. Harshman
A new Dying Fetus (DF) is a significant thing for a few reasons. The first is that, as far as extreme groove death metal goes, DF are the kings. The second is that DF may very well be one of the most politically charged and conscientious bands in the arena today (alongside former bandmates Misery Index, Napalm Death, Jungle Rot and, occasionally, Six Feet Under). Sure, DF’s social politics (and their regular politics) are sometimes a bit hard to discern (left or right), but regardless of how on the fence they may seen, they are always relevant. And while (in this writer’s opinion) they have somewhat succumbed to the chest pounding “tough guy” metal as of late, their music and lyrics are no less blistering and resonate.
There are some death metal purist (read: snobs) who call DF “hip-hop metal” due to their propensity for groove (the depth and precision of which tends to impressive even the uninitiated), but let it never be disputed: DF is pure, uncut death metal (groove or not) and are in no way mainstream. From their oft-used unreadable logo (often a misguided way to judge a death metal band’s street cred) to their “offensive” name (which connotes abortion, though really is symbolic for the average American and their socially misaligned, politically sheltered and consumer-driven life) DF is the real deal.
I first became aware of DF in late 1999 (during what could be arguably be called their “heyday”) when a college friend lent me Killing on Adrenaline. I was blown away. I’d never heard death metal so brutal (and I was a rabid fan of Cannibal Corpse and Six Feet Under at the time, though a relative death metal novice) and yet so incredibly groovy; so technical, yet so fast and unrelenting. I honestly didn’t know what to think. So I gave the album back to my friend and deliberated. Several Carcass, Pungent Stench and Cryptopsy albums later (in late 2000) I became aware that Destroy the Opposition came out quietly on Relapse records. I immediately went out and bought it. Destroy could very well be DF’s opus (and undoubtedly their most accessible record, whatever that means for this band). To me, this still remains their strongest album… and the only album on which I know part of the lyrics and can vaguely understand the vocals. I remember being crouched in front of my CD boombox, reading the lyrics from the CD booklet and loving every left-leaning, angry-as-hell searing song.
I did not get to see DF live until summer of 2001 and by then co-founder Jason Netherton had departed. I saw, for lack of a better phrase, a fragmented band… a band in transition. Word came down (in 2002, during the formation of Misery Index) that DF had disbanded. Thankfully, they did not and 2003’s Stop At Nothing, while musically and vocally strong (and groovy to no end), was lyrically vaguely… Republican. During an era of Bush administration fear-mongering and civil rights tampering, one would think that DF would be seething with hatred for our oppressive and evasive government. Not so. With new vocalist Vince Matthews, their only hit single (which they still play live to this day) off Stop at Nothing was “One Shot, One Kill”, about the fantasized assassination of Osama Bin Laden. From there the band continued its line-up revolving door.
Bassist Sean Beasley took over Netherton’s former role as co-vocalist (in addition to performing his regular bassist duties… incidentally, aside from Matthews, the band has never had a sole vocalist) and John Gallagher (the only founding member left, and perhaps the most visible member) remains the primary vocalist and guitarist.
2007 saw the release of War of Attrition. And while the left-leaning lyrical content had returned (and the album was sufficiently groovy… my only two criteria for a successful DF album) the album was largely forgettable. Especially since (in 2008) Misery Index released their opus, Traitors, and vastly overshadowed their former bandmates. Now, this last part deserves some explanation. It should be noted that DF and Misery Index do not have a Megadeth-Metallica or Cannibal Corpse-Six Feet Under style former bandmate rivalry. In fact, the first time I saw Misery Index live was in the summer of 2003 when they toured with DF (and Skinless, with the legendary line-up of Sherwood Webber on vocals). This same year DF and Misery Index shared the Milwaukee Metalfest stage together (not to brag, but I was there… it was epic). From what I gather, there is no bad blood between the bands… however, in the minds of (at least this metal head) there will always be deliberation between which is a better showman, which is a more talented band and who has the strongest new album.
But I digress.
In 2009 we were given Descend Into Depravity. I have to admit: I loved the music of this album. Again, it was (almost mystically) groovy. However, through the Cookie Monster vocals (which I’ve loved since I first heard them on Killing on Adrenaline) I could not discern a single (non-rhyming) lyric and reading the CD booklet (this was before I went 100% digital) was an exercise in patience: each song was a block of text so long even William Faulkner would have screamed, “Come on! Paragraph breaks, guys!” But I still love the album, even if it is just a surface level love.
Now, I have to admit that 2012’s Reign Supreme did nothing for me. Amazon provided a digital booklet with the download and I read the lyrics (after my initial car listening), but lyrically and musically the album just sort of fell flat for me. There was no groove to the music and no real social relevance (or anger… or immediacy) to the lyrics. Sure, this was during Obama’s tenure and, well, let’s face it, a lot of politically charged bands had little to bitch about: they were more socially frustrated with a quickly intellectually and culturally regressing American than they were with a historic presidency and a nearly entire Democratic government.
And that is where DF left me: an album that left me cold.
It didn’t help that Misery Index has continued to release albums that are either stellar (Traitors and 2010’s Heirs to Thievery) or mostly-stellar and only somewhat forgettable (2014’s Killing Gods).
But regardless, I’ve continued to see DF live. They still put on a killer show. Their set lists (some pictures of which are enclosed) are exceptional and their choice of tours is impeccable (I’ve seen them open for Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under, Hatebreed, GWAR and headline more times than I count). In short, I’ve seen DF (and Misery Index) twelve times live. It never gets old.
And now we move on to their latest: Wrong One to Fuck With… DF’s first album in five years. Expectations are prodigiously high on this one…
First things first, Dying Fetus is back!!!!
Much like their constant tour mates, Six Feet Under (SFU), DF apparently knows how to rebound from a lackluster album. Just as SFU returned strong with Death Rituals in ‘08 from ‘07’s bland Commandment and just as this year they made up for 2015’s terrible Crypt of the Devil with Torment, DF has risen from the ashes of Reign Supreme.
This is the album I wanted back in 2012!
The album as a whole is textbook DF with breakdowns, speed, groove and brutality to spare.
The album opens with “Fixation on Devastation”, which is a meditation on man’s, well, fixation on the end of the world, our coming to grips with our own mortality (and potential, eventual and inevitable extinction) and how mankind ultimately uses this fear to control one another. And, as with any good DF song, it intelligently shows people how naïve and uninformed they are and how this ignorance drags them down. Musically the song both blasts, thunks and smashes with breakdowns and vocal arrangements timed in such a way only a mathematician could discern its intricate pattern. The song ends with the haunting verse,
“At the pinnacle of human kind Reached the edge of space to find Nothing to explain or answers to why How we got here and how we will die Deep-seeded lore’s need to explain The end that awaits infinite rain Will you be the one to envision The end of science and God’s kingdom”
Next, the album launches into “Panic Amongst the Herd”. The song begins with a classic thundering DF breakdown. The song then blisters ahead with momentary crushes of vocals timed against some of the most structured metal you’ll encounter this year. The end of the song, again, returns to the breakdown from the beginning, but with vocals layered in. The lyrics, again, are apocalyptic. This time, however, it criticizes conformity in the face of tragedy and how weak-minded people (happy to live their lives oblivious and in a state of complacency) are swept away by tides of tragedy while they cling on to those stronger (and more informed) around them.
As if the album couldn’t get better, “Die With Integrity” comes along and proves us wrong. The song begins slow, even sludgy, then hits the listener with Fetus-style machine gun riffs that halt and echo into the sprayed napalm of blast riffs and double bass drums. Essentially, the song is about clinging to one’s principals and how, even in the face of death at the hands of a more powerful oppressor, that makes one stronger than their enemy.
Next “Reveling in the Abyss” pounds its way across the next six minutes. The beginning of the song is nearly one long breakdown with expertly arranged vocals across this droning information exchange. The song then speeds up and delivers speed and time that meanders back into breakdown territory. The song ends with an eerie guitar lick whispering over perhaps the album’s most powerful breakdown. Lyrically, it appears the song is about an addict and how loathsome their behavior can be. Pop-culture references to “Debbie Downer” (a popular phrase made household by Rachel Dratch’s Saturday Night Live character) and Zombieland are befuddling, but welcome… As welcome as seeing Cannibal Corpse in Ace Venture and learning that they agreed to do the movie because they were all fans of In Living Color!
Next “Seething With Disdain” stomps into existence, shuffling between sheer speed and crunchy breakdowns (something Dying Fetus has perfected beyond human understanding); the song is one of the high-points of a near-perfect album. Lyrically the song recalls the Hatfield and McCoy feud. The song is about a timeless blood feud that has reached its pinnacle. I would put this song along “Absolute Hatred” by Cannibal Corpse (off Vile), as “Best Death Metal Song Written About A Blood Feud”. Oh, and the breakdown at the end is remarkable… Don’t know how many times I’m going to have to write that about this album, but it never gets old.
“Ideological Subjugation” is next and while, musically, the song is not terribly unique among its peers lyrically it is the first song that is not (entirely) ambiguous in its message. The song, plainly put, is about those in power, how they abuse that power and how wrong they are for doing so. Specifically, they are talking about America’s 1% (read: Republicans). The final verse reads,
“Prepared gangs of radical combatants Armed with the PC banner to surround Parading out disgraced goliaths Showing the rich knows no bounds With the help of the loyal media The cost of dissent shown as an example Must be nice for the Kool-Aid drinkers One-way rules, the unwanted are trampled.”
In earlier verses they compare the Republican ethical coda to “the moral equivalence of Satan”.
… Like I said, Dying Fetus is back!
“Weaken The Structure” outlines a future dystopian society where, presumably, war has decimated the Earth and a corrupt power has established totalitarian rule. Really, the lyrics evoke imagery akin to the Judge Dredd comics. Musically, the song is all speed, save for the very end… there it breaks down a bit just before plodding off into oblivion… much like the human race.
“Fallacy” is, again, mostly speed, with all the tempo transitions one has gone to expect from DF. And, honestly part of DF’s charm is their ability to seamlessly flow from one extreme to the other: from Flash-style speed, to breakdowns so melodic and groovy that to resist tapping your foot is futile. Lyrically I had a hard time figuring this song out. However, a few verses (steeped in the expository) assisted in comprehension.
There’s the refrain:
“Misled, inflated, busted Time to learn your place Circle the wagons, initiate Judged by your own”
Then the third verse;
“Clearly caught red-handed, before the mob takes action Bowing down to Oprah clearly the best decision Provided that you kiss the ring, make the payment in full Cleansed of wrongdoing, newly earned protections”
And then the final verse:
“Celebrity and fame the industry built on envy Disgraced now disappear, then return to the aristocracy’
I’m not sure if DF has addressed this issue before (unchecked celebrity adoration and the abysmal values celebrities exemplify to society) but cheers to them for tackling it on this album… and this attack could not have come sooner (with reality T.V. and YouTube being absolute facets of modern culture that would turn ‘Fetus’s stomach).
“Unmitigated Detestation” begins with the kind of groove of which bands wish they had an entire album’s worth. (and, lucky for them, DF actually does). It then settles into a rhythm reminiscent of a tank’s treads relentlessly rolling into war. At its core, the song is about the power elite in this country and how most have been born (or grandfathered) into such an enviable position and they have used this undeserved privilege to rig the game so that only they (and their ilk) can succeed. However, the song is also a bit of criticism aimed at the oppressed and how they deal with this situation. DF asserts that class envy is not the answer; that materialistic acquisition is nonsense and that the real issue is that the toiling, sacrifice and stellar achievements of the underclass are overlooked in favor of the “birthright” of America’s financial and power elite (*cough* Donald Trump *cough*). Once again DF proves why they are the benchmark for socio-political death metal… their sentiments, while angry and (rightfully) critical, are also profound, insightful and suggest a course of thought and action contrary to our knee-jerk reaction to the social atrocities they drag into the light.
Then there’s the title track. Essentially “Wrong One To Fuck With” is a song (and perhaps the thesis of the album) about bullies and how they underestimate their (supposedly) “weaker” opponents. But instead of exercising restraint, ‘Fetus asserts that Daniel should beat Goliath to death, then dump his body in the river.
“Induce Terror” is another song who’s meaning I was slightly unsure of. Sure, it’s about oppression and control (like most of DF’s work), but there’s something lurking beneath the surface. If I had to venture an educated guess, it would be that they are funneling the entire album’s message (up to that point) into a single statement: the oppressing forces of this world (which, to DF, is comprised of religion, government, capitalism and any man-made institution that is susceptible to corruption) will dominate you if you let it (and sometimes even if you don’t). The only thing you can do is endure and fight back when you can.
Overall, despite my constant comments about how this album is “classic” or “textbook” Dying Fetus, this album really does show progress for the band. The lyrics rhyme this time… which is not necessarily a deal breaker, but does show that they are able to still do what they do so well, and so subversively, within the limitations of a conventional song structure. Furthermore, the song structure is not just a block paragraph of socio-political ranting and mantras. If nothing else, here DF have actually become strong songwriters (not to say that they weren’t before… but there’s always room for growth and improvement).
The vocals, if you’re adept at deciphering them (which takes years of death metal expertise) are about as clean as they’re going to get… And that’s a good thing. Give me Cookie Monster intoning over the clean vocals bands like Hatebreed and Lamb of God have adopted any day.
And the lyrics are perhaps some of DF’s best to date. Sure, the songs are leaner and are less choked with socio-political rhetoric (here it is mostly allegorical), but, again, this is progress, this is a new Dying Fetus… if not musically, then lyrically and in terms of the content and substance. Which, less face it, if you’re listening to Dying Fetus, that’s what really counts.
Recommendations: Misery Index, Napalm Death, Jungle Rot, Six Feet Under, Devourment, Decapitated
Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)