Savage, all too savage.
With a history now spanning more than 30 years, the early 90s offshoot of heavy and thrash metal that has come to be known as groove metal has seemingly covered every possible base, save that of an outsider’s perspective. In truth, one of the persistent flaws in the blend of raw anger and scooped mids that put Pantera on the map with 1992’s “Vulgar Display Of Power” has been its barebones character and parochial tendencies, though to be fair a number of hybrid approaches blending industrial and more extreme influences would soon crop up alongside the purer expressions of the style. But what has been continually missing from the equation is something a bit more subtle, namely a group of musicians not initially tied to the groove scene giving their own take on things, and with the onset of the 2020s a highly promising solution to this dilemma arose out of Central America in Costa Rica’s Savage Existence, providing a fresh perspective on this established expression of metal fervor and ruining plenty of spines with their 2021 debut “Animals.”
Originally the brainchild of Canadian entrepreneurs Jesse Radford and Daniel Cleland on drums and guitar respectively, and Russian-born and established vocalist/songwriter Anton Darusso, this outfit presents all the traits of a wildcard act. Though Radford and Cleland come into the equation as newcomers, Darusso’s longstanding tenure with Costa Rican power metal outfit Wings Of Destiny proves a highly interesting twist on things, as does his fellow band mates Emil Minott and Andres Castro joining the fray on bass and guitar; a Helloween disciple’s take on the groovy southern metal trappings of Nola so to speak. Suffice it to say, the resulting blend of ideas that built this band’s first LP contained a sufficiently orthodox mixture of 90s and 2000s New Wave of American Heavy Metal influences to pass for an original adherent to the scene, yet there was something wholly unique in how they would approach things, a sort of subtle blend of augmented technical intrigue and atmospheric polish that would set them apart from the originals, and these divergences have become far more pronounced on their recently unleashed eponymous sophomore studio album.
One could dub what comes to light on this LP as a more cinematic take on groove metal, which makes a good deal of sense given Darusso’s power metal background. Truth be told, anyone familiar with his traditional metal vocalist gymnastics with Marco Garau’s Magic Opera will likely be shocked at just how competently he emulates the raw viciousness of Phil Anselmo’s signature vocals, often referring to the particularly dark and ugly persona he exhibited on “The Great Southern Trendkill,” while also seamlessly switching to a cleaner baritone voice that outshines Robb Flynn on his best day. Likewise, the music surrounding his versatile vocal presentation is no less varied, kicking things off with a symphonic overture in “Still Life” that is about as Hans Zimmer-oriented as a typical Pyramaze prelude, while the overlay of lead guitar work on highly dynamic, sludgy beasts like “Independence Day” and “Standing In Flames” veer pretty clear out of the realm of Dimebag and Flynn, though often imitating some of the idioms of both. Likewise, the dreary ballad-elements of “It’s All On You” bears some resemblance to the nuance heard on the lighter moments of Machine Head’s “Unto The Locust” and “Bloodstone & Diamonds”, yet hits harder and proves even less predictable.
Nevertheless, while much of what occurs on here seems a tad more thrashing than Lamb Of God and maybe a bit too melodically rich for Pantera, the overall nuts and bolts that keep this well-crafted machine together are very much in line with what an old school fans of either band would expect from an orthodox emulation. The bite of Cleland’s and Castro’s riff assault has enough of that signature jagged edge and southern swagger on streamlined bangers like “Steady Blows To The Head” and “Leap Of Faith” to rope in any self-respecting aficionado of “Far Beyond Driven” and “Burn My Eyes,” deviating only in that the chorus hooks provided by Darusso’s cleaner expressions are maybe a tad more precise. The iron-fisted punch of “Dumpster Fire” cuts a bit closer to the 2000s high octane groove-thrashing, but one can’t help but be struck by how perfectly Darusso’s schizophrenic performance evenly blends the dueling iconic personas of Flynn and Anselmo, not to mention unveil one of the most catchy choruses ever committed to the groove template.
As far as bands trying to revive the darkest crevices of mainline 90s metal, Savage Existence live up to their name in churning out uncompromising anthems of rage and discontent, and are definitely poised to become a major player as the 2020s continue to unfold. Barring a studio release by the revived version of Pantera, it’s hard to imagine there being anything coming down the pike that might rival this. And speaking as someone who is not of the core audience that this style caters to, I can personally attest to there being heavy crossover potential in this, particularly to those who enjoy the heavier, U.S. brand of modern heavy and power metal where a greater emphasis is placed on the chorus section and the guitars take on as much of a singing quality as they do an agitated, effects driven foil to the vocals while in a lead capacity. The input of Wings Of Destiny members Andres Castro and Emil Minott definitely had a hand in shaping how this album came out, and for those who have continued to follow the steady studio output of said band, there is plenty here to enjoy. There is heavy potential (no pun intended) for this outfit moving forward, but those wanting a beast of an album need look no further than the one bearing this outfit’s moniker.
Order “Savage Existence” AT THIS LOCATION.
Released By: Independent
Release Date: April 28th, 2023
Genre: Groove Metal / New Wave Of American Heavy Metal
- Anton Darusso / Vocals
- Daniel Cleland / Guitars
- Jesse Radford / Drums
- Emil Minott / Bass
- Andres Castro / Guitars
“Savage Existence” track-listing:
- Still Life
- Steady Blows To The Head
- Dumpster Water
- Leap Of Faith
- All On You
- Independence Day
- Standing In Flames
Order “Savage Existence” AT THIS LOCATION.
Channeling the spirit of 90s Pantera, the technical prowess of 2000s Lamb Of God and the eclecticism of middle era Machine Head, Costa Rican new player on the block Savage Existence unleash a maelstrom of aggression with an infectious edge on their self-titled sophomore studio LP