GOREFEST always had a certain charisma. Their musical evolution, while interesting, wasn't any more innovative than the bigger names of the scene, but their riffs were always killer, their tone a perfect mix of Skogsberg sludge and biting clarity. Jan-Chris de Koeijer's vocals were deep and gruff, but almost theatrically over-pronounced, sort of a John Rhys-Davies take on death metal singing that was and is instantly identifiable. And they always knew how to put a memorable song together, even in their earliest, most derivative days.
Of course, after the "Erase" album, on career-enders "Soul Survivor" and "Chapter 13", GOREFEST chased off the death metal purists in droves by pursuing music more aligned with classic British metal — stately, hard-driving heavy rock, still topped with de Koeijer's raging vocals. By the time the band called it quits in 1998, their fan base had eroded considerably (though looking back, those last two records are still pretty righteous, I don't care what anyone says).
For comeback album "La Muerte", the trademarks are still in place, and there's definitely more for the old-school GOREFEST fan to love here. The artwork is straight out of Nuclear Blast circa 1993, for one thing (courtesy of Mid, known for NAPALM DEATH covers as well as previous GOREFEST sleeves). And while de Koeijer, now shorn and dapper, looks more like an effete art gallery owner than a death metal rager, his unique vocals are still in fine form. The sludgy guitar tone is still in effect, and at least on opener "For the Masses", there's a lot more speed and thrash to mosh along to.
"When the Dead Walk the Earth" slows things back down to a catchy midtempo, though underrated drummer Ed Warby gets in some cool double-kick to keep the song moving. Things slow down for the brooding, seething "You Could Make Me Kill", but not a "death and roll" way — this is a simmering, pissed-off track, intense as hell, with an unexpected ray of melody in the solo. It's cool to see the band regaining some of their early extremity, but not completely ditching their melodic classic-metal influences of the latter day — how lame would it have been for them to go back and remake "Mindloss" simply because a few dithering Internet Luddites wanted it that way?
That said, things do take a bit of a dip, quality-wise, on the second half — at least until the raging "Man To Fall", a slice of 1993-era death as harsh and satisfying as anything in the band's back catalog. "Till Fingers Bleed" is another great synthesis of old and new, with some positively 1970s soloing stuck in the middle of a trademark thrasher. The album closing title track is a nice twist — a dark, sinister nine-minute instrumental, sort of the world's longest fadeout for the album. This seems to be the sort of thing bands come up with when they're still writing in the studio — the kind of "hey, let's try this" enthusiasm that, in the right hands, can make an album sound fresher and more spontaneous. A lot of "La Muerte" sounds like that, actually — much more of a live, "off the floor" feel to it, just the sort of high-decibel catharsis that these four old friends probably needed after seven years apart.
Analyze "La Muerte" all you want, but the bottom line is this — GOREFEST is an eminently enjoyable band, and they haven't put out a bad record yet. "La Muerte" will go down in history as one of their best, retaining enough class and musicianship to rise above the hordes, with enough dirty old-school ferocity to please the punters. Count this reunion as one of the good ones — not just a shot of nostalgia from a simpler time, but a raging statement of intent that GOREFEST intend to be a part of metal's future, as well.