Coming this year as a cassette re-issue, Death Hymns by brutal Corpus Christi trio Switchblade Jesus was released last year after a their critically praised Self-Titled debut. Formed way back in 2010 the band, Eric Calvert (lead guitar/vocals), Jason Beers (bass) and Jon Elizondo (drums) created a whirlwind of styles that took in thrash, death metal infused with tech metal flashes. Beers was replaced by Chris Black in 2017 which added additional vocals and song writing flavours which has helped to stretch the dynamic of the band into the furious assault machine that created Death Hymns.
The drawn out drone introduction of Scorched does little to prepare you for the savage blast when it canters into full swing. Full of snotty hardcore and punk vibes, the band don their best shit kicking boots to welcome you into the raw barrage of choppy riffs and Calvert’s furious bull roar. Grinding bass and urgent guitar work are built around pounding drums and accentuated cymbal work to create a sound that rarely settles before dragging you off in another head banging direction.
Red Plains is more of a traditional groove, but by no means any less brutal with its ‘save yourself’ refrain that is spat with menace and venom in equal measure. What becomes apparent during this song, the more Death Hymns goes on, under the visceral presentation is a band who are very adept at creating rich bluesy stoner vibes that wouldn’t sound out of place on albums by some of the heavy hitters of the NOLA scene. If they were being mugged at (switchblade) knife point.
I read an interview a few years back about how, after Metallica made their jump to the mainstream with the Black album, a certain four piece from Texas should have been their natural successor, but that band were too full of twisted spite to take the crown many thought was rightly theirs. In many ways Switchblade Jesus (great fucking name by the way) remind me of exactly that.
Listening closely there are moments on Death Hymns that are beautiful and rival some of the moments wrung out of Jimmy Bower’s guitar, but the band have too much grime under the nails to stop themselves turning things into the sound of a street fight. This contrast couldn’t be highlighted anymore by the ending wah pedal squall of Behind the Monolith which transitions into the title track itself.
Moments on Death Hymns feel like a boxer feinting a left hook only to land a heavy right punch…
Death Hymns turns out to be a mellow introspective music interlude, driven by atmospheric, introspective bluesy lingering. As tender as the rest of the album is like a brick to the face, it showcases a depth to the band that is almost Planet Caravan like.
Then Forgotten remembers that they can rest when they are dead and brings back the violence, this time at half speed, like the rhythm section popped out for a smoke on the last track. Much more brooding and considered than the first half of the album, this track is a huge standout in terms of dynamics and swaggers with a swaying groove. From here the band spin to the finish with the brutal Behemoth which transcends its short run time by ending on some great soloing curtesy of Calvert and The Blackened Sun’s galloping, rabid foaming.
At a mere twenty seven minutes the album zips by and it takes a few listens to truly appreciate everything Switchblade Jesus has going on with Death Hymns given the amount they try and cram in, the deliberate fuzzy nature of the sound and the length of some of the tracks. The album was well received when it was first release and coming back to it there is still plenty to pique the interest.
Personally, it feels at times, that in an attempt not to simply re-tread well worn tropes and to try and strike out in their own direction, they do get in their own way as the album is crying out for them to find their groove, in terms of song writing, and really hone in on it.
That being said, this is a fun release despite all its fury as the band are clearly talented. Moments on Death Hymns feel like a boxer feinting a left hook only to land a heavy right punch. It may not trouble my end of year best of list, but it isn’t coming off my iPod any time soon.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden