SHEP // DBF by Shepherd and Death By FungiRelease date: August 15, 2017
Today is a bit of a first for me – I consider myself a bit of an international connoisseur of music, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to review music from India, and a double whammy at that, a split album from Shepherd and the wonderfully named Death By Fungi, two proponents of the apparently fertile hardcore / sludge scene in India. Both of these names were new to me, so I did a bit of digging before listening; while Death By Fungi reside in a wonderfully late 90’s mathcore bubble, Shepherd are far closer to the sludge spectrum, coming across like much missed UK sludge-core stalwarts Dopefight with added atmospheric slowburning riffage. So it was with a certain level of excitement that I pressed play on my MP3 player and tucked into this split.
Shepherd were up first, starting with a suitably depressing and depraved quote from Exorcist III “I believe in murder, I believe in pain…”, ‘Agents of Nihil’ cracks into a brutal set of riffs and it becomes pretty quickly apparent that Shepherd have dropped the more expansive tones of their previous records and have channelled the mid-paced filth of Today Is The Day, Unsane and touches of Discharge to create a noisy racket spiked with blast-beats and razor sharp, angular riffs. The production tone accentuates the thumping percussion and the grinding, distorted bass, with the mid-heavy raw guitar seamlessly sitting on top. The song is a short, sharp introduction to Shepherd’s half of the split, and the heaviest song on the record. There is what feels to be a slightly extraneous guitar solo in the mid-section – it’s not bad per se; it just doesn’t seem to be required for the song and it feels a bit jarring. I also find myself wondering if they’ve left the more measured sludge of their back catalogue behind, or if they’ve just tailored their sound for this release? I can’t work out if either answer would be disappointing or not, I do know that I miss some of the restraint that they display on their prior releases.
‘Spermicide’ follows with a nod toward the slightly more straightforward proto-hardcore of Black Flag, crunching guitar and a chugging main riff. There’s an almost grunge-y sensibility to this track, which is carried into the epic highlight ‘Hope Comes Gnawing’, which echoes early Nirvana, particularly recalling the sludgy stomp of Bleach, and maybe the grind of early Helmet. The vocals sit nicely on the mix and are almost catchy in places; a melodic yell that feeds into the proto-grunge feel of the songs. ‘Fungalord’ follows, a pacey hardcore blast which is probably the weakest song on the Shepherd side of the album, principally because the song is based on a straightforward d-beat style riff, and while it’s a decent structure, it’s also a bit average. The percussion feels a bit forced and the playing in this area feels a little like the drummer isn’t comfortable with the rhythm, this is probably testament their more sludge-y background. All is redeemed with final track ‘Weed Dealer’ though, an enjoyably pacey stoner sludge song with some almost thrash-y sections that drops into a mean sounding mid-section breakdown. Some harsh guest vocals from Ganesh Krishnaswamy elevates this further, before the riffage grinds slowly to a halt, bringing Shepherd’s tracks to an end.
Death By Fungi get off to a great start with the excellent ‘Edgelord Beatdown’ – frankly I liked it as soon as I read the title, but the payoff of the song is without doubt. Taking a lead from early Converge, it’s a more math-y hardcore that isn’t afraid of tempering the technicality with Vision of Disorder style grooves – parts almost verge on Pantera territory. The song moves at a frenetic pace, and disintegrates into noise very satisfyingly before a four count brings in the riffy ‘Dead Soil’ – again this moves at a fast pace, echoing Converge and early Every Time I Die in its approach – in fact this almost feels like it could be a B-side from Last Night In Town. There’s a middle eight drop with jazzy guitar leads and a lovely meandering bassline before cracking back into the harsh chorus and introducing a breakdown which got my head bobbing. My only criticism is that the production is a little thin, especially after the thick sound of Shepherd; the percussion is a little lo-fi and the guitar tones are a little flat to my ears, but – and this is a pretty big but – on reflection this is what the records coming out of the hardcore and nascent emocore scenes in the late 90’s and early 00’s sounded like, and given that this feels like the template Death By Fungi are following, it feels weirdly in-keeping and comfortable.
‘Buzzard Murderer’ follows seamlessly, mining You Fail Me era Converge for angular riffs and tone; “This was never supposed to be” shouts the vocalist over a technical discordant breakdown that is reminiscent of the departed and much missed Drowningman – from here there is no let-up in the intensity until the end of the song. ‘I was so mad that (I wrote a letter elucidating my point of view)’ closes Death By Fungi’s contribution and amps up the worship of 90’s emo – coming off like the bastard son of Drowningman and Grade. The dynamism and pace of the song is fantastic; the performance is routinely great and the sound is surprisingly intricate. It’s melodic, emotional without being whiny and actually quite a brave way to end the split.
Split records are a great way to discover new bands. In my case it’s pretty much a way to discover a new continent; I’m pretty sure the only band I’ve followed from India in the past is SkyHarbour, so both bands have been a wonderful discovery. Both bands have delivered a great set of songs, although for me Death By Fungi edge it – the enthusiasm and exuberance that they display through their four songs here have made me smile continuously. Nonetheless, both sides of this record are well worth checking out, and for me it’s been an instructive reminder that the underground is in rude health all over the world and that I need to look further than the traditional stomping grounds of the US and Europe.