Poor production lets down quality grindcore
After initially giving them the means to establish themselves in the first place (1999's debut full length effort Starving The Vultures and 2000's follow up E.P. Exotic Sense Decay), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) grindcore act Circle of Dead Children have returned home once again to Willowtip Records for their latest effort Zero Comfort Margin. Over the last five years, Circle of Dead Children have managed to produce a further two full length releases (2001's The Genocide Machine and 2003's Human Harvest), both have which helped Circle of Dead Children further name within the extreme grindcore scene (Making up the second tier movement under leaders of the genre in Pig Destroyer, Cephalic Carnage and the sadly defunct Nasum).
Now with their return with Willowtip Records (who now offer a bigger distribution with their Earache Records affiliation), and a consistent line up that has remained for the better part of a year and a half (comprising of founder/vocalist Joe Horvath, co-founder/guitarist Jason Andrews, bassist Drew Haritan and drummer Mike Bartek), Circle of Dead Children should, by rights, have obliterated the senses and made their most devastating and intense statement yet with Zero Comfort Margin.
Sadly, that's not the case, and there are a couple of distinct and glaring reasons why. From a musical standpoint, grindcore isn't really known for it's huge diversity. Its sole mission is to destroy with technical precision and utter brutality. On that level, Circle of Dead Children are not the most original sounding grindcore act (nothing on offer here hasn't been heard a few times before), but it more than makes up for it in regards to sheer aggression and savage rhythms, and is sure to please anyone who's a fan of the band, or the extremity the genre generally offers up. The real problems here however are just about everything else within Zero Comfort Margin.
After some electronically enhanced/feedback build up (Forward Through The Copper Sun), the title track Zero Comfort Margin should go straight for the kill, but instead sounds a lethal as poorly recorded rehearsal demo. The recording sound disparity between the two tracks is evident throughout the fifteen tracks, and clearly distinguishes the different recording sessions (eight months apart), and co-producer Steve Austin's (of Today is the Day fame) inability (or unwillingness) to ensure an even consistency.
As annoying as the production/recording fault are, the E.P. (running for a total of 22 minutes) isn't a total loss, with tracks such as Chemical Goat, The System as the Master Deceiver, Born on a Bomb Shell and Strip Naked for the Killer all providing the strongest moments. Apart from the few tracks providing some audio samples/atmospheric interludes (of which Whimper is the creepiest and most harrowing of all), both the cover of Hideous Mangleus Playdumb (which originally appeared on their 1996 album All Your Friends Are Dead) and the slower paced closer For Black Eyes Only A.K.A. Depopulate: Tears of Illuminati show a slight directional change from the band's usual grindcore approach.
Zero Comfort Margin is another good E.P. from Circle of Dead Children, but a little disappointing considering that with a better production, it could well have been great.
(Willowtip Records/Earache Records/Shock Records Distribution)