Baptists’ debut is only 28 minutes long. Why? Perhaps to align itself with similarly concise classics like Slayer‘s Reign In Blood or The Dead Kennedys‘ Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Or perhaps because if they’d gone on any longer, their drummer would quite possibly have dropped down dead.
Baptists are the latest signings to Southern Lord, a record label best known for doom and drone metal artists like Om and Sunn O))), and fittingly, the album opens with a slow, crushing, Sabbath-y riff. But, as if impatient with proceedings, sticksman Nick Yacyshyn starts laying down frantic D-beats whilst the band are still cranking out the stoner rock. It takes them a moment or two to catch up, but once they’re all on board, this particular speedboat cannot be stopped.
It’s a pattern that persists for the remainder of the album. Only two songs could be described as a serious change of pace – Still Melt with its ominous, repetitive, Mastodon-esque riff, and the haunting guitar lines and doom-y riffs of Soiled Roots. In Droves, complete with preposterously long introductory drum fill, might be a little slower – but it’d still match Motörhead stride for stide.
So it’s fast. But not too fast. It never spills over into grindcore territory, which turns up the speed dial until no real beat remains, just a barrage of noise, but manages to retain a focused, rhythmic, and terrifyingly intense clarity. It’s a lesson learned from the hardcore and crust-punk movements, comparable to such obscure delights as His Hero Is Gone, Skitsystem, and the rather better known Converge (whose Kurt Ballou produced this very album).
But while the unrelenting, uncompromising velocity may evolve from punk ethics, the overall finish is unashamedly metal. The production is meaty, full of bottom-end and devoid of the scratchy, tinny, lo-fi sound that blights so many punk records. Bullets slows down briefly for a Slayer-style riff, and there’s a strangely Iron Maiden-like moment in the otherwise extraordinarily brutal Mortar Head.
But what they never do is bow down to the compromise willingly lapped up by hardcore’s 21st Century metalcore children, refusing to lurch into incongruously poppy choruses or shout out simplistic slogans. These days, you can barely get 40 seconds into a metal gig before the song stops for a half-time riff and some shit-for-brains Corey Taylor wannabe is exhorting you “get da fuck down”. Baptists are, lyrically and musically, too intelligent for that – and when they do go half-time, as in the last half-minute of the title track, the surprise renders it twice as effective.
This album won’t mark some kind of breakthrough moment for extreme metal. The riffs are crushing rather than classic, and Andrew Drury’s vocals are full of conviction and spirit but perhaps a little one-dimensional. But for anyone with their toe already dipped in the metal bath, and in danger of selling their soul to the preeners and posers, Baptists might just be their saviour.