Album Review: Demonstealer - The Propaganda Machine
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Demonstealer haven’t been on my radar for too long, yet in a short few years they’ve utterly rocketed to the peak of my attention whenever they release new material. Their upcoming fourth album, The Propaganda Machine, is no different as the band seek to follow up from where 2021’s EP, The Holocene Termination, left us at. Formed back in 1998 from Mumbai, Indian, this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Demonstealer’s activity which might just put the band amongst the longest running bands in the East, or at least within the Indian Sub-Continent. It wouldn’t be another ten years however before Sahil Makhija, Demonstealer mastermind, would see the first album released, come 2008, titled And Chaos Will Reign, whilst also recording material for his other band Demonic Resurrection. Another eight years would pass before 2016’s This Burden is Mine would be released, and it’s here where Demonstealer’s discography really opens up: The Last Reptilian Warrior would come out in 2018 followed by 2020’s This Too Shall Pass EP and the aforementioned 2021 The Holocene Termination EP respectively. Now, in 2023, The Propaganda Machine stands as Sahil’s first album release in five years and I personally was ecstatic to see what this would entail.
What I always enjoy about Demonstealer is how the band don’t simply tick a series of boxes off for what they feel their record should entail for fans; listening to just one track alone is enough to get you on board with everything the band have, or have yet, demonstrated through their songwriting. It isn’t merely the flow of songwriting you become engrossed in but the entire, sheer spectacle the band know to conjure before us. It’s how the erratic riffs flow in turn with the bellowing vocals and, in spite of the incredible violence this record evidently possesses, how Demonstealer can instil their soundscape with these wondrous symphonic sections that help to add so much substance to an otherwise devastating album. I’ve written before how Demonstealer are, in my mind, amongst the premier metal acts of the Eastern world and I’m a firm believer this sentiment will be justly shared by a myriad more just from the first, opening tracks alone.
Granted, the vocals are precisely what you’d want to find within such a work of death metal. The main delivery itself is great, controlled and doesn’t attempt to overstep its position at the forefront of the band, in any vain aspirations to dominate the instrumentation. The vocals understand their place and what they’re needed for but that doesn’t prevent them from fishing out impressive feats of sustained roaring. What is always a blessing to hear however, are the periodic changes to clean vocals that take the songwriting from predominantly blistering territory and morphs it into something more accessible, yet still thoroughly in line with the essence of whatever track you may find yourself listening to. Since the songwriting phases us in and out of the more symphonic and keyboard-laden elements from start to finish, the see-sawing vocal delivery doesn’t come off so jarring or unnecessary to the band’s makeup and, therefore, the flow never feels upset or thrown off by these changes that other acts may be unprepared to try out in trepidation of unsettling their established audiences.
But if this multitude of ideas and elements is coming at us with such virulent pacing, and we can thereby identify the band’s prowess as a result of such, then much credit belongs to the mixing this record entails. It isn’t long into the record before you’ll realise how bold everything feels throughout the album, as if the band have ensured all their instrumental, vocal elements and otherwise have been firmly underlined not only to help them pop out in the sonic fray, but guaranteeing our attention becomes fixated on whatever the band are looking to throw at us. I personally appreciate how Demonstealer didn’t simply raise the volume to eleven nor supercharge the bass within the mix to ludicrous levels; everything feels to rest on the same level, there’s real equality between all varying elements which isn’t easy to pull off. The mix has been tweaked here and there, cunningly, to allow each part of the band’s performance just enough presence and spotlight to signify that our attentions ought to be focused upon whatever drumming or vocals or riffs are presently on display. It’s subtle, but certainly effective.
What I believe to be a considerable thing to take away from this record, is Death Metal doesn’t need to be completely brutal all the time to be received as a blistering album. It’s quite telling that Demonstealer’s greatest moments throughout The Propaganda Machine stem not exclusively from their total onslaughts, but when these periods of power are undercut with cleaner vocals, streamlined and concise songwriting, and those symphonic instances that allow violins and cellos to the forefront of their sound. For Demonstealer, “power” isn’t founded in blinding rage. You can hear the melancholy in their fury, the tragedy in their majesty and structure within even the most haphazard, erratic riffs. Through this lens, The Propaganda Machine is a deeply fleshed out, three-dimensional album that manages to be more than just “another death metal record”. Brutality alone cannot move an audience to praise, there must be additional substance and Demonstealer provide that in droves.
In conclusion, The Propaganda Machine is an absolute triumph of songwriting and death metal. Building on what 2021’s The Holocene Termination EP managed to achieve, Demonstealer’s newest album only takes that effort to greater heights as they cement themselves truly as a premier force amidst the International metal scene. It’s a fantastically paced work that allows us to feel as freshly invigorated for whatever the band have up their sleeves as we’re nearing the record’s end, just as much as we’d feel at the beginning. The seamless fusion of darker and melodic elements works wonders for Demonstealer; it’s present enough to indicate this is a vital aspect of their songwriting, yet isn’t employed so constantly that the band seek to rely on it. It’s a songwriting tool Demonstealer utilise but the true prowess of this band lies in their performance; this album flies by like a blur and you’ll no doubt be rewinding tracks back again and again for one more hit. It’s defiant proof Demonstealer deserve to be ranked amongst the pantheon of modern metal’s greats.