The Handshake Murders


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Death metal fans being a funny sort, many bands can often be respected as much for their instrumental wizardry and inventive, atypical arrangements, as they are choruses and hooks -- traditionally the elements perceived as crucial to good songwriting. Of course the most successful death metal bands in the long run are those who excel in both regards; ready examples in this regard proving as diverse and unique in their own way as Florida's Death and Sweden's Opeth and Meshuggah. The latter clearly constitute a major source of inspiration for Arkansas' the Handshake Murders and their first album, Usurper, as evidenced in the off-kilter rhythms, bent-string riffs, and atonal harmonics wrestling for space within telling tracks like "Dissection," "Mind Bender," and "Apostate" (which adds Meshuggah's spiraling leads, to boot). The curious thing about these and other intentionally convoluted numbers found through the album, though, is their equally obvious debts to hardcore and post-hardcore, as much as heavy metal. In that sense, the Handshake Murders' evenly balanced interchange between the two genres is very reminiscent of Kansas City's Coalesce and their legendary penchant for sludgy grooves, down-tuned riffage, and stop-start controlled chaos (not to mention this singer's similarities to Coalesce's Sean Ingram). And just when you least expect it, a few rare examples of consistently linear timekeeping are injected into more straightforward cuts like "Painted Contortionist" and "Of Cult and Atrophy," giving them some much needed slam-dancing potential. In the end, though, technicality is still this album's major attraction, and that may well restrict the Handshake Murders' appeal to a pretty limited and selective techno-metal audience.

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