CALLOUS HANDS – Trapped In Animated Flesh EP

The debut EP from Callous Hands (2021’s ‘Earth Mover’) wasted no time in announcing the arrival of a superbly heavy band. The three featured tracks blended groove metal, melodic death metal and elements of progressive metal for a sound that was truly impressive. In the band’s own words, the recording was “as heavy as fuck”, and certainly suggested great things to come.

Their 2023 follow up branches out from their early blueprint and has a few more melodic elements, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting. The opening of the lengthy ‘The Cycle Remains’ shows off this new melodic steak at the outset when a piano and light orchestral elements latch onto something that sounds like a theme for an old horror movie played by My Dying Bride, but once the drums kick in, it’s business as usual, and the band fills the bulk of the next six minutes with some top draw heaviness. The track’s main riffs take a huge influence from the groove metal of Lamb of God with a vocal to match, but as before, there’s a little more complexity in the Callous Hands approach, and the obvious grooves occasionally give way to more jagged sounds where melodic death metal collides with the heaviest prog metal time signatures. By the time the cleaner sounds from the intro return, the heart of the melody swells even more, and the featured guitar solo adds a massively tuneful core to the track, bringing in the kind of tones you’d expect to find on a latter day Testament record. Eventually using the LOG influences to pull almost eight minutes to a dramatic close, ‘The Cycle Remains’ doesn’t just herald a bold return; it captures most of Callous Hands’ brilliant musical talents in one handy showcase. With the many layers and moods here bringing out the best in a blend of progressive death/groove metal, it’s hard to imagine a time when this track might lose its appeal.

More in keeping with the earlier recordings, ‘Suffocate’ draws more from a straight, insanely heavy groove metal base, but to keep things interesting, the rhythm section teases with a couple of lop-sided stops and quirks more in line with the heaviest prog metal band. This allows for the guitar to drop in a couple of horsey squeals and for the bass to add a really sludgy bottom end, but the focus is often on the guitar work, which latches onto a brilliantly jagged sound throughout. With dual vocals taking cues from Lamb of God once more but intensifying the roar and a shift into sludge metal intensities to bring the track to a close, this represents Callous Hands at their heaviest, but fans of a strong death-groove blend with love it in an instant. Similarly, ‘Trapped’ shows off the band’s hard edge by adding elements of early Machine Head to the mix, but as before, any obvious influences are used effectively, and during this track, the nods to hardcore bring out a much better bass sound. For the most part, it’s business as usual with a whole raft of top drawer riffs, whilst those hoping for a little more melody will find brief respite in a couple of twin lead guitar parts.

The cleaner guitar sounds return during the moody ‘The Great Unknown’ via the kind of intro beloved by late 80s thrash bands, before the track drops into a tight melodic death/hardcore mix which shines a light onto some superb drumming throughout. With a much scratchier vocal taking the most intense number further into the realms of death metal in places, this has the potential the EP’s most difficult track. However, a massive, slower breakdown adds something a little more interesting to the its mid section and a flawlessly played lead guitar break leading into the climax reminds the listener of how, with Callous Hands, there’s so much more at stake than extreme noise. Last up, ‘Fractured World’ aims itself more squarely at the doom metal crowd during a moody intro, before exploding into a thrashy knockabout where the guts of ‘Ashes’ era Lamb of God are pulled mercilessly across a pneumatic hardcore backdrop, once again, flaunting some excellent work from the rhythm section. It’s far more about the intensive riffs than any vocal or lyrical hooks, but for those who love crushing pneumatics and a fearsome growl, the bulk of the number will be an instant hit, whilst for the huge melody lovers, an unexpected slow detour and a bunch of big, horsey sounds re-emerging from the guitar should really hit the spot.

On this second release, the Brummie metal troupe bring as many classic riffs as before, but also show how branching out can improve their overall sound. The results are stunning, and the EP format ensures that their direct approach comes with an even harder impact. With five brilliant, sledgehammer heavy workouts, ‘Trapped In Animated Flesh’ sounds absolutely immense. Those looking for some heavy thrills that are a step up from the more commercial aspects of Lamb of God, or riffs that are a sidestep from classic Gojira or the most aggressive Machine Head works, this should be considered an important listen.

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May 2023